A sizzling spy adventure. Has the author led a few prior lives under a few prior names?

Michael Wright has written a sizzling spy adventure. It is the story of an American intelligence agent who goes free lance to discover the killer and avenge the murder of his boarding school pal and sometime lover. As the agent masters contorted twists and sharp turns in the plot, thrilling fights, and precise professional killings, the author informs the reader of the lifestyle, religion, culture and politics of present day Iran.


The writer claims to be an American expat living in Mexico. Judging by his degree of knowledge, I suspect that he has led a few prior lives under a few prior names. Is he living in Mexico only because of the low cost of living or does he have another story to reveal?


Chaim Rumkowski: The evil of collaboration

The only way to demonstrate the soul of Chaim Rumkowski is through a novel, explains Swedish author Steve Sem-Sandberg. In Emperor of Lies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Sem-Sandberg gives a gripping and grim account of the Lodz Ghetto and its boss Chaim Rumkowski.


Months after conquering Poland and parts of the Soviet Union, the Nazis ordered the Jews into ghettos, usually fenced in and sealed, and located in the poorest parts of a city.   The Nazis held the Jews in ghettos until they could be deported to concentration camps and ultimate death.   As native Jews were moved out of the ghettos, their places were filled by Jews evacuated from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

The Nazis appointed a Judenrat (Jewish Council) to oversee the civil administration of the ghetto, taking care of food distribution, public health, housing, social services and policing.   Persons appointed to the Judenrat had little choice but to serve. Even if the members had good intentions, they ended up carrying out Nazi orders.

The Nazis found their ultimate collaborator in Chaim Rumkowski, a businessman and director of the largest orphanage in Lodz.   They appointed him Eldest of the Jews of Lodz.

Rumkowski devised a survival strategy. He turned the Lodz Ghetto into an industrial complex—a city of workers—manufacturing uniforms, military equipment and consumer goods for the Germans. Rumkowski hoped that Lodz would be so productive and so valuable that the Germans would never liquidate the ghetto.

He was wrong. In July and August 1944, the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated. Rumkowski and his family were placed on the last train to Auschwitz, where he died.


Steve Sem-Sandberg

Sem-Sandberg bases his fictional account of the Lodz Ghetto on the daily Chronicle published by the Judenrat, diaries left behind in the Ghetto, memoirs and interviews with survivors. However, one cannot distinguish actual events from incidents made up by the author.

Nevertheless, the character portrayed by Sem-Sandberg is clear, strong and disgusting. Rumkowski was not a politician. He was a stooge of the Germans and dictator over the Jews. He carried out German orders.   He had little bargaining power with the oppressors. He directed the Ghetto administration to prepare lists of Jews for deportation.

Rumkowski was corrupt. Compared to the other Ghetto residents, Rumkowski lived like a king. He had adequate food, clothes and at least two residences. He gave his friends and family jobs in the Ghetto administration. He was a child molester and sexual predator.   He built a cult of personality. His face appeared on postage stamps. Automobiles were banned inside the ghetto. He was driven around in a fancy carriage drawn by a white horse.


Lodz Ghetto postage stamp shows picture of Rumkowski.  The Germans renamed the city Litzmannstadt.

Ultimately, Rumkowski’s strategy failed.   When the Russians arrived in Lodz in January 1945, only 800 of the 200,000 Jews who once lived in the Ghetto, remained. They were detailed to dismantling the industrial equipment and cleaning up the Ghetto, before they themselves would have been deported.

Chaim Rumkowski, The Emperor of Lies, exemplifies the evil of collaboration.

Steve Sen-Sandberg discusses book at Kansas City Public Library.


Why the Soviet Union is history


Cold War junkies will find affirmation, and anticommunists will get validation from Louis Sell’s new book From Washington to Moscow (Duke University Press).

Sell retired after 27 years in the foreign service.  Sell spent most of his time at the American embassy in the Moscow and at the Soviet desk in the State Department.

Sell recounts the last two decades of the Soviet Union and its East European client states, from the reign of Leonid Brezhnev until its disintegration under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

Sell says that the Soviet system collapsed from internal rot.   The Soviet Union was governed by a succession of old, sick men.  The economy was burdened with excessive bureaucracy.  The military was over extended with the war in Afghanistan.

Sell depicts President Ronald Reagan as a smart, strong leader, who knew what he wanted to do.   He tells how Reagan encouraged Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, causing a drop in world oil prices.   The Soviet Union’s revenues from oil exports thereby dropped, adding strain to the Soviet economy.

louis sell - small

Louis Sell

He writes how the Reagan Administration, the American labor movement, and the Vatican supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, which led to the unraveling of the Communist system in Eastern Europe.

Sells recounts the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and how the Soviet leadership bungled crisis management.  He discusses the tedious arms control negotiations which led to agreements helpful to both sides.

In Moscow, Sell acted as liaison to Soviet dissidents.  He discusses Reagan’s diplomatic efforts for human rights, which widened cracks in the Soviet system.

Sell gives a rapidly moving account of the collapse of the Soviet client states in Eastern Europe. Particularly exciting is his telling of the disintegration of the German Democratic Republic and the opening of the Berlin Wall.

He praises the restrained but firm leadership of President George H. W. Bush.

Sell’s writing is fresh and in most places fast paced.  He interjects his personal experiences.  He adds a bit of humor.

He first visited the Soviet Union as part of a student summer tour.  He learned that easy money could be made by bringing currency into the Soviet Union.

He and a classmate were stopped by Soviet customs inspectors.   Sell and his companion thought they were in big trouble.  It turned out that they had written their birth dates on their transit papers in the American (month/date/year) rather than the European style (date/month/year).  They were required to fill out new forms.

Little did the customs officials know that they had stuffed currency, but I won’t tell you where.