The Emperor of Lies: A Novel, by Steve Sem-Sandberg is quite the ambitious undertaking, and filled with exceptional, emotional and horrific captures of history. The book has left me for weeks unable to totally formulate a review due to the unimaginable content.
The novel revolves around Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski and his dynamics within the Lodz Ghetto in Poland during World War II. His actions have been debated, applauded and also detested throughout the decades. His motivations have been questioned. Sem-Sandberg brings us depictions of the man and his dynamics within the demeaning setting of the ghetto environment.
Rumkowski was the Jewish Elder, and, in his mind, the ruler of the Lodz Ghetto, with the power to make decisions regarding the Jewish population within the ghetto walls. From the children, the aged and the disabled to the strongest of adults, Rumkowski held their lives in his hands. He tried manipulating the system to save lives at the expense of others, and also to his advantage, always eager for recognition and admiration. His decisions portrayed a man who valued the strength, power and total control in life, and the strong were the worthy ones. He drove the steering wheel within the harsh, horrendous and brutally demanding life within the ghetto. He controlled every minute detail.
He made decisions as to whether one would live or die, and some see him as a savior for his thinking process, yet others see him as a brute, a man possessed with demons of his own. He seemed to me to be a man who did not have a deep regard for humanity, although he would probably state otherwise. His decisions forced men, women and children into labor (labor that was exchanged for life, labor that demanded long hours and hard toiling), and the end result was that the majority of those individuals eventually succumbed to the harsh environment or being deported and finally murdered by the Nazis.
Rumkowski felt and thought that if he had factories built and organized a workforce, that the ghetto would be productive and keep the Nazis from sending the Jewish population to an ultimate death. He seemed to have the mind of a manic personality, from the way Sem-Sandberg describes his actions, with him being euphoric one minute, cruel the next minute, and a man with extreme narcissism, and quite the tyrant.
Every horror imaginable fills the pages of The Emperor of Lies, every minute devastation and form of demeaning and degredadation of humanity, and every depiction of a man crazed with the thirst for power fills the pages. I was riveted and overwhelmed by the haunting depictions.
He felt he had it all, and that his life was one of importance to the Nazis. He was so possessed with his ideas and arrogance that he never imagined the final outcome for himself, just like those 250,000 before him…
Steve Sem-Sandberg has written a historical novel like no other. The Emperor of Lies is so much more than a novel, it is a stunning and historical novel filled with extreme visuals and documentations that were heavily researched. the intensity of the story is compelling, leaving one to wonder, in the end, what was the reasoning and desire in Rumkowski’s mindset. Was he friend or foe? Did he intentionally save lives or destroy other lives under the guise of saving others? Was he a savior or was he a villain in a plot in which he was a co-conspirator? Steve Sem-Sandberg leaves it up to the reader to decide for themselves through his masterful and brilliant writing.
In my opinion The Emperor of Lies is a major piece of Holocaust Literature and a masterpiece. I highly recommend it to everyone.
I personally own and have read this book.
February 20, 2012 – 27 Sh’vat, 5772
All photography, writing, poetry, etc. is my copyright and may not be reproduced without my express written permission.