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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning! A classic for many ages!
Some Holocaust issues have remained controversial. The institution The Jewish Council, or as it was known in German as the "Judenrat" is one of them. Were the heads and members of the Councils collaborators and traitors or heroes who have done all they could in order to save their berthren from the evil machine of the Nazi hordes?
This is the subject of "The Emperor...
Published on 2 July 2011 by Paul Gelman

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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor book, a huge missed opportunity.
I have read extensively about the Lodz Ghetto and MC Rumkowski. This book has a number of failings. Firstly it lacks flow and is very difficult to follow. There are quotes inserted in different languages that are also often not translated. These issues may partly have been caused by the translation to English. Secondly what happened in the Lodz Ghetto was unimaginably...
Published on 21 May 2012 by CFS198


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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning! A classic for many ages!, 2 July 2011
By 
Paul Gelman "PAUL Y. GELMAN" (HAIFA , ISRAEL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
Some Holocaust issues have remained controversial. The institution The Jewish Council, or as it was known in German as the "Judenrat" is one of them. Were the heads and members of the Councils collaborators and traitors or heroes who have done all they could in order to save their berthren from the evil machine of the Nazi hordes?
This is the subject of "The Emperor of Lies", whose hero or anti-hero is Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, an elderly Jewish businessman, who was chosen to be the leader of the Lodz ghetto in Poland, the second greatest Jewish ghetto there. This ghetto was established by the Nazis in February 1940 and it hosted a quarter of a million Jews. It was separated by barbed wire. Rumkowski,or "King Chaim", as he was better known, was cynical, ambitious, devious, monarchical, devilish, arrogant, cunning, vain and " uneducated who resorted to the coarsest of threats and insults" and with whom "no one even wanted to share a table". He managed to establish a whole industry of workshops manufacturing many products to be sent to the Nazi army and administered tens of thousands of Jews under the slogan which he created, namely: "Our only way is Work". This is a reminder of what the Nazi beasts engraved at the entrance of Auschwitz: "Arbeit Macht Frei". Thus starts the odyssey of the reader into the dark, sombre and tragic times of the ghetto, and whose fate is well known. The novel is a stupendous achievement, because of some reasons.
First, this is a great work of imagination, which manages to recreate not only the ghetto but also the historical context of it. The book has many and various characters and episodes which come all alive and the reader has the impression that he is watching each and every moment of them.
Second, the narrator is there, sometimes commenting but most of the time remaining or trying to remain neutral, letting you, the reader, decide on major issues and alternatives. There are comic episodes as well, all of which are supported by newspaper reports from those times photos, messages and broadcasts.
In addition,there are the Jewish crooks, the smugglers, the prostitutes, the common people,
the tailors, the piano tuner and players, the doctors and carpenters, the secretaries, the Jewish orphans as well as the SS henchmen who populate most of the plot, most of them telling their stories in the form of flashbacks or short monologues. The same goes for additional characters, such as the Rumkowski family members. There are authentic passages in Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish which were not translated and left in the original. The same goes for the jokes,sayings, prayers and aphorisms, which appear in the original. Here is the point where I would like to praise the job done by the traslator of the book, who has done a brilliant job. The language is smooth and simple, yet rich and sometimes proverbial.
Personally, I believe that Rumkowski was a dirty old fellow, a traitor and an opportunist. Suffice it to mention the words of Adam Czerniakow, the head of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto. Here are his words:
"We had a meeting with Rumkowski today.
The man is unimaginably stupid, self-important, officious. He goes on and on about his own splendid qualities. Never listens to what anybody else says.
He's dangerous, too, because he insists on telling authorities that all is well in his little reserve".
One is definitely familiar with the famous speech delivered by Rumkowski in 1942 after getting an order from the Nazis to gather tens of thousands of people, including many children and sick Jews, to be deported to the planet of hell Auschwitz. This speech called : "Give me your Children" is the high and turning point of the novel. It is from here onwards where the reader can only come to one conclusion, although Mr. Sandberg does not pass any judgement on Rumkowski. Hans Biebow, who was the German administrator of the ghetto and the darling of Rumkowski, has only comtempt for the old Jew and utters this:
"You are an old man from an obsolete age, Rumkowski. You thought you could buy yourself power and influence, that you could go on extending your perverse and filthy nest within the walls of a Greater Power and then carry on embezzling and misappropiating just as people like you have done so many times before throughout history, as it is in your nature to do. But let me tell you something, Rumkowski: that age is now past. That age is auf ewig vorbei".
The end is well known: everybody perishes or is murdered at Auschwitz or other crematoria. There are no winners, only losers.
This book will haunt you for many years to come. In spite of some extremely horrible and graphic scenes, it will be engraved on you memory whether or not you like Rumkowski and his other members of the Jewish Council. A great novelist is living among us, hitherto unknown, but from this point onwards marking his place in the pantheon of the greatest writers of humanity.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Chairman had a dream...[that] when the war was over, the authorities would declare the ghetto a Protectorate.", 30 Aug 2011
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
It is really no overstatement to compare Swedish author Steve Sem-Sandberg's epic novel about the people in the Lodz ghetto during World War II to Tolstoy's War and Peace, published almost one hundred fifty years earlier. The real life dramas which the book illustrates, the memorable characters, the carefully developed themes which Sem-Sandburg treats in new ways, and the magnitude of the horrors easily make this book the equal of Tolstoy's epic. The nature of the subject matter, of course, precludes any hint of romanticism here, but Sem-Sandburg is so good at varying scenes involving a series of fully human, repeating characters, that I cannot imagine any reader not becoming fully engaged with them. Beautifully written to memorialize the people of the ghetto, rather than the horrors of the Holocaust itself, this book is an awe-inspiring literary achievement.

Taking place between 1940 and 1944, the novel opens with two contrasting passages. The first, a memorandum from December, 1939, announcing the Germans' intention to enclose the two hundred twenty-thousand Jews in Lodz within a ghetto--"a temporary measure." In the second passage, a scene from September 1 - 4, 1942, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowsky, Chairman of the Jews' Ruling Council of Elders, must give the population news so inhuman and so devastating, that the Chairman of the Warsaw ghetto, took cyanide rather then give that same news to his own people. Ten thousand residents, chosen from babies and children under the age of ten and "elderly" over the age of sixty-five, were to be handed over to the Gestapo for immediate "relocation."

After Rumkowsky makes the dreaded announcement in September, 1942, the novel backs up to 1940, providing details from Rumkowski's life and the lives of others in the ghetto, along with other decisions he has had to make in the months leading up to September, 1942. His goal has always been utilitarian--"the greatest good for the greatest number" so that ultimately some of the population could be saved from the Germans, primarily because they had become so productive that they were essential to the German war effort.

Wonderful repeating characters from various levels of society come alive here, among them Mara, a paralyzed mystic, the daughter of a rabbi; Vera Schulz, a young woman who develops an underground life; Adam Rzepin, a young street urchin who fears nothing and who has a sister who hears angels; Rosa Smolenska, the loving teacher who runs the orphanage on the outskirts of the ghetto; and Stanislaw Stein, a young orphan who finds a new home. Not all the ghetto characters are good. Street gangs and Jewish crooks act as bullies and shake down those who need favors, including the head of the ghetto police and a member of the Resettlement Commission, who is getting rich from bribes.

Throughout Rumkowsky's administration, there are also domestic issues over which he has little real control but which the German administration expects him to solve: food riots by starving people, epidemics, strikes by workers, horrific overcrowding, and the psychological trauma of the population as truckloads of "recycled" clothing, smelling of disinfectants, arrive every day, some still containing personal possessions.

Ultimately, as history tells us, Rumkowski runs out of options, and his tenure as head of the ghetto remains a controversial subject. Some believe that he was heartless, morally bankrupt, inhuman. Others, especially some who survived their eventual deportation, believe that Rumkowski was their savior--they lived because they were able to earn enough food by working. This novel provides a wide perspective from which to regard his actions. Mary Whipple
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature's power to explore history's lessons, 13 Sep 2011
By 
J. H. Bretts "jerard1" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
Steve Sem-Sandberg uses the novel form to explore one of the most controversial figures in the Holocaust, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the 'Elder' who was the spokesperson for the Jews in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Rumkowski was in effect the 'king' of the ghetto, a vain dictator who issued his own Ghetto currency and postage stamps, backed up by his own police force. Rumkowski thought that by working with his German captors he could somehow save 'his people' - but he was just a dupe of the Nazis. (It isn't a matter of historical hindsight: many of the people around him realised it at the time.) Sem-Sandberg's uses a vast cast of historical figures and fictional characters to paint an all too vivid picture of what it must have been like to live in this hellish universe, where hunger and fear turned moral values upside down. Sem-Sandberg is Swedish but his range and depth of storytelling reminded me more than anything of the great Russian novelists. This vast book is a challenging read - but is also endlessly thought-provoking and humane. Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Labour of Love, 11 Dec 2011
By 
Michael Ward (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This is a hard book to read, but well worth the effort. At times it was difficult to seperate the enormous background research iin facts from the dramadocumentary style of writing. However hard this book is to read the outcome is positive. To understand the workings of the minds of those unfortunates who were involved in this cataclysm is hard, but there are insights here that should be studied and considered by everyone. A tour de force.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact or fiction?, 7 Aug 2011
By 
S. K. Lewicki (North Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
I was initially dubious about the idea of a novel about these events, but I'm also aware that there is a real difference between reading any number of factual and historical accounts of an event, and the new insights a well-imagined and well-crafted piece novel or story can give me. In the end, Sandberg does succeed in allowing us to imagine the horror of these times, in particular individuals' fears, and their isolation and powerlessness, when they don't even know what is going on around them. His characterisation of Rumkowski is well-realised (in the end small details of historical veracity are not that important in fiction) because the complexity of the moral dilemma facing an individual is clear, and not avoided.

It's a shocking and harrowing read in places. It reminds me, in a strange way, of the power of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones. Maybe such fictional explorations are now coming into their own as we get further away in time from the events, and those who were able to bear actual witness are no longer with us.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic story of human struggle and delusion, 20 April 2012
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
What does it take to rule over a ghetto of two hundred and fifty thousand Polish Jews, when food and fuel are scarce, and your Nazi taskmasters impose ever harsher work quotas and conditions ? This is the question Steve Sem-Sandberg explores in this excellent, and justly-praised, novel, well-translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death. At the centre of the narrative is the `emperor' of the title, Chaim Rumkowski, a man whose drive to make the ghetto of Lódz run effectively as a means of ensuring the community's survival is surpassed only by his (wilful ?) blindness to the Nazis' real intentions towards its inhabitants, increasingly evident as the story unfolds between 1940 and 1945.

Sem-Sandberg has immersed himself in the archives of the period, and survivors' accounts, and the result is a credible, if frequently brutal, narrative peopled by an all too believable cast of sadists, psychopaths, damaged and therefore dangerous individuals (like Rumkowski himself), as well as suffering ordinary folk trying to preserve some vestiges of human dignity in the face of appalling odds. The author's extensive use of interior monologue allows a neat blurring of the lines between reality and characters' sometimes warped or tenuous grasp of it, while dialogue is convincingly rendered complete with Polish/Yiddish phrases (a glossary for most of which is provided). A story of human struggle and delusion/deception on an epic and fatefully consequential scale, this is a great novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful read, 21 Feb 2012
By 
Ms. S. J. Green (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is an extraordinary piece of Literature that I think really must be read. The book centres on life in a Jewish ghetto, mixing both fact and fiction, giving the reader an insight into the Jewish life and their Chairman. Whether or not we agree with the Chairman's actions, his character is very well written and is very believable.

The only downside to the book is that it gets really tedious half way through, where I think some more editing could've been done.

On the whole, its very much worth a read!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars harsh, uncomfrotable and a stark reminder of how brutal humans can be to one another, 5 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
Hard to read at times and brutal aspects of the Ghetto are illustrated in stark reality of just how hard life was in a place where systematic starvation was happening.
The life of Rumkoski is portrayed with out judgement leaving the reader to make his/her own mind up about the man and his work.
However the book does change from one year to the next as a flashback but it can take a while to catch up, often long in parts that the story didnt need to be.
This is a great reminder of how people suffered and were fed lies and propaganda from the very authorities that were supposed to protect and serve.
Quite how a brutal regime expected a human being to produce work to a high standard whilst nearly fainting of hunger is beyond comprehension, this book takes you to the heart of the people is never patronising or glib.
A really good discussion book for readers groups and it is one book that should be read by the younger generation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 16 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Emperor of Lies (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this, although it is terribly sad. Fascinating, frightening and very educational. A whole area I haven't previously known about. If you enjoy (enjoy probably not the appropriate word) this type of history, then you'll think its a great book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Experiencing the ghetto, 6 Jun 2013
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This book provides a superb realisation of life for the ghetto dwellers of Lvov, until the ghetto's final claerence in 1944. It is a powerful testimony of human perserverance and resilience amongst the deprivation and squalor. Sem-Sandberg allows the reader to look through the eyes and into the hearts of the victims and their tormenters. An account that offers compassion along with historical accuracy. Thought provoking, moving and ultimately inspiring.
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The Emperor of Lies
The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg (Paperback - 5 Jan 2012)
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