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With King of the Jews, Epstein dared to do something for which too many remain unprepared to forgive him: portray Jews dying in the Holocaust as ordinary sinners—and therefore bristling with all the flawed humanity the Nazis tried to deny, rather than martyred saints (a humanity-denying perspective of its own). As the Judenrat chairman I. C. Trumpelman haggles for Jewish lives with the gusto of a grandmother at market (“With ten [sacrificed] Jews, I save a hundred. … If your hands are clean, it’s because mine are dirty!”), Epstein resurrects Isaac Babel’s old teaching: Saints are boring, not to mention a lie.





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