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King of the Jews, Leslie Epstein (1979)

A portrayal of Holocaust victims as flawed, but real

by
Boris Fishman
September 17, 2013

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.

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