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The Emperor of Lies

by Steve Sem-Sandberg

No novel about the Łódź ghetto is going to be an easy read. The Jewish inhabitants suffered intolerable cruelty and starvation. Overseeing it all was Mordecai Chaim Rumkovski, Chairman of the ghetto. Was he a collaborator or was turning the ghetto into a Nazi sweatshop the only possible strategy to save any Jewish lives? It left me feeling wrung out and angry, but I guess that's what it's supposed to do.

Extract

They said he was a traitor to the ghetto. But perhaps treachery, like heroism, is something that requires a long period of preparation before it can be crowned with success. In that case, the treachery was already there on the first day of the szpera operation, when Rumkovski acted his part most heroically and refused to carry out the actions the authorities had ordered him to carry out. But hero or traitor? Saviour or executioner? Perhaps it made no difference in the long run. Rumkovski was the ghetto. Whatever actions he took, whichever or however many Jews he saved or did not save, the only stage prepared for him was that of the traitor. His only task was to step up onto that stage when the time was ripe and the powers that be commanded it.
Translated by Sarah Death

Parallels

Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally
The Pianist : the Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45 by Wladyslaw Szpilman
 

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