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The Lodz Ghetto


Seanie Lemass

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Just finished reading 'The Emperor of Lies' by Sandberg. It is based on the chronicles kept by the administration of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz in Poland, which was the second largest after Warsaw.

It was ruled by Chaim Rumkowski who co-operated with the Nazis through the production of Wehrmacht uniforms and housing materials in turn for what he claimed was slowing down the deportations to the death camps. Indeed it appears to have been fairly late before he accepted that they were going to death camps. Others claim that he knew all along.

He was an unpleasant character who sexually abused children in the orphanages and who profited from the ghetto factories. He came to an unfortunate end in that he thought he had negotiated a deal for himself and family when the ghetto was closed down in August 1944 but was in fact sent to Auschwitz where he was killed the moment he arrived or perhaps even by other deportees on the train.

Brilliant book and higlights the complexities of the war where locals including ghetto Jews were collaborating with the Nazis. Indeed the Jewish ghetto police in Lodz were a particualry nasty gang.
 


meriwether

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Thanks for the tip on the book.

The issue of Jewish collaboration with Nazi's really gets to the heart of the complexities of human nature, IMO.

You will always get collaborators, and while some indeed may be simple quislings, others may feel that collabopration can lead to longer term benefit than direct conflict.
 

Seanie Lemass

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That is the argument regarding Rumkowski. The recieved view is that he was a collaborator who benefitted from delivering over 200,000 people to the Nazis. Revisionist view is that he helped stave off the end of the ghetto and that more people survived than in Warsaw.

In fact only 7,000 survived and over 800 of those were people who had refused to leave when ordered by Rumkowski and so avoided the death camps. Other survivors were those who had arrived in the final transport and who the Nazis hadn't got around to killing.

My view is that he was a horrible human being and would like to think he had a horrible end.

Book is brilliant. It is fiction but based on real characters and to a great extent on the chronicles of the ghetto. Would make a fantastic TV series.

There is also the issue of those who survived the camps only because they were part of the Sonder groups. As far as I know, almost no Jehovahs Witnesses survived the camps because they refused to work in the ovens or as camp police or other roles that sometimes guaranteed food and survival.
 

Mitsui2

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Just finished reading 'The Emperor of Lies' by Sandberg. It is based on the chronicles kept by the administration of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz in Poland, which was the second largest after Warsaw.

It was ruled by Chaim Rumkowski who co-operated with the Nazis through the production of Wehrmacht uniforms and housing materials in turn for what he claimed was slowing down the deportations to the death camps. Indeed it appears to have been fairly late before he accepted that they were going to death camps. Others claim that he knew all along.

He was an unpleasant character who sexually abused children in the orphanages and who profited from the ghetto factories. He came to an unfortunate end in that he thought he had negotiated a deal for himself and family when the ghetto was closed down in August 1944 but was in fact sent to Auschwitz where he was killed the moment he arrived or perhaps even by other deportees on the train.

Brilliant book and higlights the complexities of the war where locals including ghetto Jews were collaborating with the Nazis. Indeed the Jewish ghetto police in Lodz were a particualry nasty gang.
I just read that in January! It's a bloody terrific book, but I found readng it a very strange experience - my compulsion to keep reading was fought all the way by a growing desire to just stop hearing about the terrible events and situations it was recording. Did you have any feelings of that sort, Seanie?
 

Seanie Lemass

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I just read that in January! It's a bloody terrific book, but I found readng it a very strange experience - my compulsion to keep reading was fought all the way by a growing desire to just stop hearing about the terrible events and situations it was recording. Did you have any feelings of that sort, Seanie?


Yes. Read the whole book on Sunday and was not a great way to cheer oneself up home alone! Quite depressing but compelling reading. Can't remember last time I read a 600 page book in almost one sitting.
 

Franker65

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Haven't had a chance to read the book yet but I spent a lot of time in Lodz and managed to visit where the Ghetto was. Very sad and depressing place...
 

Mitsui2

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Yes. Read the whole book on Sunday and was not a great way to cheer oneself up home alone! Quite depressing but compelling reading. Can't remember last time I read a 600 page book in almost one sitting.
The most important but depressing subtext (and not very sub- at that) in the book for me was the implicit question - which grew more and more stark as things within the ghetto deteriorated - of exactly what constitutes collaboration and/or betrayal in conditions of such severe, unremitting and deliberate brutalisation - when people are driven to a point at which most of them would sell someone out for a mouthful of watery soup, never mind anything substantial.

Betrayal by the German authorities is simply treated as a given; it's the inner disintegration (whether quick or slow, and in whatever form it takes place) of the Jewish characters that's really depressing. It's very difficult not to think that this is just what would happen to most people (probably including oneself) in similar circumstances.

It was a very odd coincidence for me to find a thread on The Emperor of Lies here this morning: I'm just about to start reading Jonathan Littell's highly-praised The Kindly Ones, the fictional memoirs of a former SS intelligence man. I bought it at the same time as Emperor but put off reading it because that was such a devastating read. So I was actually thinking about Sandberg's book when I logged in and saw this thread.
 

Seanie Lemass

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'The Kindly Ones' is good. There are very few contemporary 'big books' that are worth reading but it is one of them. One problem I have is that I find it difficult to recall the details of books after I have read them but retain more of an overall impression and it is a good one of Littell's book.

Regarding your first point, it is unsettling to realise how quickly people can accept what appear to be unbearable living conditions and worse than that, spiritual degradation. Most people it would seem will choose that abject condition to avoid death even when death appears inevitable in the long run no matter what compromises you are prepared to make.

I would like to think that I would choose an honourable death and if I had children that I would kill them as well to spare them a living hell. But one never knows what one will do when faced with such choices.

McCarthy's 'The Road' has similar theme.

And I wonder why I am depressed :)
 

meriwether

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'The Kindly Ones' is good. There are very few contemporary 'big books' that are worth reading but it is one of them. One problem I have is that I find it difficult to recall the details of books after I have read them but retain more of an overall impression and it is a good one of Littell's book.

Regarding your first point, it is unsettling to realise how quickly people can accept what appear to be unbearable living conditions and worse than that, spiritual degradation. Most people it would seem will choose that abject condition to avoid death even when death appears inevitable in the long run no matter what compromises you are prepared to make.

I would like to think that I would choose an honourable death and if I had children that I would kill them as well to spare them a living hell. But one never knows what one will do when faced with such choices.

McCarthy's 'The Road' has similar theme.

And I wonder why I am depressed :)
There was always something about you that reminded me of Goebbels.
 

Hitch 22

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People are weak. Simple as that.
When the Nazis ordered the Jews into the ghettos they used violence to coerce people but most people obeyed without any resistance or actual need to force them.
They were ordered by uniformed men in authority and that was that.
There were very few Jews who fought back e.g. in the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943, the mass escape of prisoners from Sobibor later the same year or the four Bielski brothers who rescued 1,236 Jews.
Resistance was very much the exception.
The Jews who died in Auschwitz formed obedient queues from the trains to the gas chambers. Very few of the Jewish sonderkommandos who helped dispose of the bodies offered any resistance even though they were regularly killed themselves and replaced with new sonderkommandos.
 

former wesleyan

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There's a Swiss analyst who defines resistance. You'll find it on the Lodz page of Wiki. I'm not sure why anyone would want to write a fictionalised account of this stuff....no accounting for taste I suppose.
 

Burnout

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I have a life.
Are you all in a book club per chance?
 

Seanie Lemass

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People are weak. Simple as that.
When the Nazis ordered the Jews into the ghettos they used violence to coerce people but most people obeyed without any resistance or actual need to force them.
They were ordered by uniformed men in authority and that was that.
There were very few Jews who fought back e.g. in the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943, the mass escape of prisoners from Sobibor later the same year or the four Bielski brothers who rescued 1,236 Jews.
Resistance was very much the exception.
The Jews who died in Auschwitz formed obedient queues from the trains to the gas chambers. Very few of the Jewish sonderkommandos who helped dispose of the bodies offered any resistance even though they were regularly killed themselves and replaced with new sonderkommandos.

Same applies to all people. How many people tried to resist in the Gulags? How many Irish people rebelled during the Famine? Most people will hope that if they keep their heads down that despite all evidence to the contrary they will survive. A minority of them will even debase themselves as collaborators as did the Sonderkommando.
 

Mitsui2

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Regarding your first point, it is unsettling to realise how quickly people can accept what appear to be unbearable living conditions and worse than that, spiritual degradation. Most people it would seem will choose that abject condition to avoid death even when death appears inevitable in the long run no matter what compromises you are prepared to make.
While I'm like you with the details of books - and in such a big book only a machine could remember all the detail - I really found that with Emperor of Lies what stuck with me was the (clearly intended) questions that never appeared in so many words in the text, but were set up by the situations narrated and (in the way that the best fiction functions) continued to work themselves out in my mind long after I'd finished reading.

The whole question of acceptance was a major one of these. Various characters in the book have different forms of "acceptance" of their situation - or rather accommodation with it - ranging from immediate despair to sheer fatalism to various attempts to find advantage. Some see immediately where it will go, others see it too but fool themselves into thinking it will be otherwise, still others see the probable outcome clearly but deliberately peddle fantasies to their fellows in hopes of gaining some temporary advantage from it. But all the time the situation worsens, so those who would fool either themselves or others (or both) have to go further and further into fantasy just to stay sane - to the extent that some of them literally go mad, while others end up becoming every bit as brutal as the Germans prefer to think they are anyway.

I would like to think that I would choose an honourable death and if I had children that I would kill them as well to spare them a living hell. But one never knows what one will do when faced with such choices.
We'd all like to think we'd do that, I suspect. And almost certainly the vast majority of us wouldn't do it. Possibly the "cruellest" thing the Emperor of Lies does is demonstrate how often the persistent but utterly groundless hope of many of its characters does no more than prolong their humiliation and inner destruction.

Actually death is probably the least bad thing that happens to most of the characters in the book.

And I wonder why I am depressed
Because you insist on reading books like this instead of something bright and uplifting?

As you're into depressing books about the human condition, you've possibly already read Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin, the story of a half-baked, futile and doomed-from-the-git-go anti-Nazi propaganda campaign undertaken by a not-very-bright middle-aged couple. If not, and you want to retain the mood that Emperor of Lies provokes, you should give it a spin.
 

Mitsui2

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There's a Swiss analyst who defines resistance. You'll find it on the Lodz page of Wiki. I'm not sure why anyone would want to write a fictionalised account of this stuff....no accounting for taste I suppose.
Just as a matter of interest, former Wes, would you say the same thing about (for example) Ivan Denisovich?

Emperor of Lies struck me very much as being a book about human nature in very extreme circumstances rather than simply one about the Lodz Ghetto full stop.
 
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Seanie Lemass

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Must get the Fallada book. Think I spotted it on a bargain shelf recently.

Was only partially serious about depressing myself with reading certain books!

Fictionalising Lodz - and it is more on the lines of Mailer's factually based novels given it's adherence to the facts - provides an insight into events that you would not get from simply a referenced history.
 

Carl Claudius

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Just finished reading 'The Emperor of Lies' by Sandberg. It is based on the chronicles kept by the administration of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz in Poland, which was the second largest after Warsaw.

It was ruled by Chaim Rumkowski who co-operated with the Nazis through the production of Wehrmacht uniforms and housing materials in turn for what he claimed was slowing down the deportations to the death camps. Indeed it appears to have been fairly late before he accepted that they were going to death camps. Others claim that he knew all along.

He was an unpleasant character who sexually abused children in the orphanages and who profited from the ghetto factories. He came to an unfortunate end in that he thought he had negotiated a deal for himself and family when the ghetto was closed down in August 1944 but was in fact sent to Auschwitz where he was killed the moment he arrived or perhaps even by other deportees on the train.

Brilliant book and higlights the complexities of the war where locals including ghetto Jews were collaborating with the Nazis. Indeed the Jewish ghetto police in Lodz were a particualry nasty gang.

Not sure if the Jewish lobby will approve of the book. we should get it fact before Irish bookshops refuse to stock it.

The issue of the Jewish ghetto police and kapos is often overlooked.
 

flavirostris

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The complicity of some of their own in Nazi genocide must be a source of torment for Jewish people. I was watching "The Pianist" recently and it showed Jewish ghetto police supervising the deportation of families to Treblinka and knowing what their fate would be.
 

The System Works

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That is the argument regarding Rumkowski. The recieved view is that he was a collaborator who benefitted from delivering over 200,000 people to the Nazis. Revisionist view is that he helped stave off the end of the ghetto and that more people survived than in Warsaw.

In fact only 7,000 survived and over 800 of those were people who had refused to leave when ordered by Rumkowski and so avoided the death camps. Other survivors were those who had arrived in the final transport and who the Nazis hadn't got around to killing.

My view is that he was a horrible human being and would like to think he had a horrible end.
Had the Russians entered Lodz slightly earlier, there may very well have been statues of Rumkowski there today. His plan to keep the ghetto productive kept many alive well after other ghettos had been completely 'liquidated'. There were about 75,000 there by August 1944.

There were cases of appointed Jewish leaders elsewhere who told their charges publicly what was happening and them people to flee, but they and everybody else still inevitably ended up dead.
 
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Seanie Lemass

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Had the Russians entered Lodz slightly earlier, there may very well have been statues of Rumkowski there today. His plan to keep the ghetto productive kept many alive well after other ghettos had been completely 'liquidated'. There were about 75,000 there by August 1944.

There were cases of appointed Jewish leaders elsewhere who told their charges publicly what was happening and them people to flee, but they and everybody else still inevitably ended up dead.

Only 7,000 of the Lodz Jews survived, and 800 of them only because they hid from Rumkowski's collaborators. The rest were mostly in the camps where they had been sent with Rumkowski's collaboration. He was no hero. His equivalent in Warsaw committed suicide when he discovered where the deportees were going. Rumkowski continued to collaborate and tell lies about the camps.
 

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