The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris

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W. W. Norton & Company, May 6, 2013 - History - 352 pages
18 Reviews

On the seventy-fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht comes this untold story of a teenager whose act of defiance would have dire international consequences.

On the morning of November 7, 1938, a seventeen-year-old Jewish refugee, Herschel Grynszpan, walked into the German embassy in Paris and in an act of desperation assassinated Ernst vom Rath, a low-level Nazi diplomat. He did it, he said, out “of love for my parents and for my people.” Two days later, vom Rath lay dead, and the Third Reich exploited his murder to inaugurate its long-planned campaign of terror against Germany’s Jewish citizens, in the mass pogrom that became known as Kristallnacht. In a bizarre concatenation of events that would rapidly involve Ribbentrop, Goebbels, and Hitler himself, Grynszpan would become the centerpiece of a Nazi propaganda campaign that would later describe his actions as "the first shot of the Jewish War."

In The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan, best-selling author Jonathan Kirsch brings to light this wrenching story, reexamining the historical details and moral dimensions of one of the most enigmatic cases of World War II. Was Grynszpan a crazed lone gunman, or was he an agent of the Gestapo, recruited to provide a convenient pretext for a major escalation of Nazi aggression? Was he motivated by a desire to strike a blow for the Jewish people as an early partisan fighter, or did his act of violence speak to an intimate connection between the assassin and his target, as Grynszpan later claimed?

In re-creating the life of this German-Polish refugee turned assassin, Kirsch convincingly demonstrates that the life of Herschel Grynszpan remains just as fascinating as the conspiracy theories that surround him. Challenging the perception of the European Jew as docile and unwilling to resort to violence in the face of aggression, Grynszpan was almost unanimously assailed by most German Jews, who were rightly fearful that the Nazis would use the murder to wreak widespread retribution. Yet he was at the same time embraced by the American journalist Dorothy Thompson, who rallied others to his international defense. Condemned by the likes of Goebbels at the time, he was still labeled as a "psychopath" and an agent provacateur by Hannah Arendt at the Eichmann trial two decades later.

As Kristallnacht increasingly becomes known as an international day for remembrance, Jonathan Kirsch brilliantly succeeds here in illuminating both a single life cast into the shadows of history as well as the "countless tragic lives of Eastern European Jews in the terrible days leading up to World War II."

  

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Review: The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris

User Review  - Marilyn Wolpin - Goodreads

An interesting well-researched story about a young Jew in Paris that added yet more awful information of the acts of the Nazis. Every time I read another book about WWII I learn more horrible things ... Read full review

Review: The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris

User Review  - Naomi - Goodreads

What makes a hero? Ultimately, this is the question Kirsch asks as he explores the tangle of stories of what Herschel Grynszpan did and who he was. For this reason, and because Kirsch admits there is ... Read full review

Contents

THE PRODIGAL SON
16
TOUT VA BIEN
44
SPECIAL HANDLING
74
PQrr II
95
THE BLOOD FLAG
119
HIGHER POWERS
147
PHONY WAR
179
Porrlll
207
PARAGRAPH ONE HUNDRED
228
GRYNSZPANS GHOST
247
THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL
265
Chronology
285
Acknowledgments
291
Bibliography 515
315
Index 521
321
Copyright

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About the author (2013)

Jonathan Kirsch is the author of the best-selling The Harlot by the Side of the Road and A History of the End of the World, the book editor of the Jewish Journal, and a longtime contributor of book reviews to the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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