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.
Boris Fishman is the author of the novels Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, A Replacement Life, and Savage Feast, a family memoir told through recipes.
Boris Fishman is the author of the novels Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo and A Replacement Life, and Savage Feast, a family memoir told through recipes.