Heroism in Jakob the Liar

Heroismin Jakob the Liar

Jurek Becker in an act of absolute storytelling tells the story of aJewish community’s disastrous fate during the holocaust gently andamusingly. In the ‘Jakob the Liar’ the story is established in aPolish shanty near the close of WW2 and revolves around the unworldlyand unheroic character of Jakob Heym, a former administrator of amodest teashop. Accidently, Jakob hears a German broadcast report ofSoviet military advances, upon which he communicates the news.However, word spreads all over the shanty that he has a smuggledradio and to his consternation he finds himself a hero. In fact,Jakob becomes an eponymous hero and the inventor of an imaginaryradio that becomes a source of hope for the whole ghetto. AlthoughBecker recreates the world of wholeness through Jakob, one sees thecreation of a new means of survival for the Jews thus, thedevelopment of heroism in the novel. In this regards, the discoursepresents an analysis on the theme of heroism as demonstrated in thenovel as well as demonstrates that the novel has a fair share ofheroic acts within.


WhenJakob relays the news of Soviet advances, people think that he owns acontraband radio. In the subsequent situations, Jakob does notdisappoint, but plays along those lines, in a critical creation oflies. In this regards, people in the shanty find hope through thefictitious stories of Jakob. In fact, these people hold onto theselies, which help them cope in spite of the hardships they encounter.The ‘contraband radio’ hidden by Jakob somewhere in the shantycreates heroic effects in the novel. However, Gargett asserts thatthe ending of the novel shows that Jakob’s heroic acts or lies donot change the lives of the people, but only gives them hope (272).In the end of the novel, the inhabitants of the ghetto aretransported to an extermination camp, which negates Jakob’s acts.However, Danow defines a hero as an individual who gives his life orpossession to something bigger than himself or herself (23). As such,the novel has a fair share of heroic effects and heroism. Assuggested, Jakob gives the inhabitants of the ghetto something‘bigger’ i.e. his stories or lies give them hope, for example,those who attend to the lies become hooked and even his close friendscontinually pester him for war news. It is not astounding that theinhabitants become voracious for any news he might offer, no matterhow partly. For instance, the following lines demonstrate peoplecrave for hope through Jakob

“Besides, you have told me very little today,” Kowalski says…

‘For crying out loud, Kowalski, why do you keep badgering me?Aren’t things difficult enough?… I can’t take it anymore! WhenI know something I’ll tell you, but surely in my own room at leastyou can leave me in peace!” (Becker 102)

Despite such suggested pestering, Jakob continues to give people hopeand undoubtedly succeeds in a way. In fact, this endurance shows theheroic deeds of Jakob as he struggles and risks to come up with radiostories. Gargett contends that heroic acts include physical acts andspiritual acts in which a person performs a courageous action to savea situation or a person’s life (23). During the onset of the book,the reader is introduced to a scenario, where Jakob takes in abereaved child, Lina. In another instance, Jakob secretly goes to aGerman lavatory in the rail backyard because he had seen magazinesthere. Becker says,

“Jakob ducks and runs like a professional the stacked cratesshield him almost all the way from the eyes in the brick building,except for the last few feet. But they are part of it and he managesthem too. Jakob closes the outhouse door behind him” (86).

Jakob knows the danger of falling under the trap of the Germans, buthe makes a sprint for the outhouse to steal discarded pieces ofmagazines. Jakob’s heroic acts become essential to the developmentof the story with the cognizance that he is a Jews living during theholocaust, a disastrous period for Jews. The stories of Jakob andthose of the narrator shows how the events of the Nazi rule uprootedthe lives of the Jews, but Jakob seems to inject a ray of hope intopeople’s lives. In fact, his broadcast that the Soviet army were toinvade the Germans, present a heroic effect, cemented on a Semitismpossibility rather than a black-white thinking.


Becker through the narrator, Hans manages to create a discourse forthe Jews. The novel has two culminations: one historical, where theRussians do not save the Jews and Jakob is gassed and the othermake-believe where Jakob dies a hero and the Russians free the Jews.Either way, the novel does not project the ordinary form of heroism,but projects the unsung heroism. One should understand the events ofthe day to realize the heroic effects of Jakob as well as theaudacious action of accepting to own a radio, given the punishmentfor such possession. As suggested, Jakob presents some forms ofSemitism heroic effects that unfortunately do not align to theordinary black-white thinking.


Becker, Jurek.&nbspJacob the liar. Skyhorse Publishing Inc.,2012.

Danow, David K. &quotTruth and Lie in extremis: Holocaust Literature(Jakob the Liar, The Final Journey).&quot&nbspCanadian Review ofComparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée&nbsp29.4(2011). Print.

Gargett, Graham. Heroism and Passion in Literature: Studies in Honorof Moya Longstaffe. Rodopi, Vol 77. 2004. Print.