Herschel Grynszpan is a name you are likely not familiar with, unless you are a World War II scholar. He is, however, the central figure in Jonathan Kirsch’s new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris.”
Kirsch, bestselling author of thirteen previous books, will be appearing at the Newport Beach Public Library in two weeks to discuss his latest work, chronicling the life of the enigmatic figure that many credit with being the public impetus to the Holocaust.
Grynszpan, like many other Jewish youths of his time, was a disaffected young man who was frustrated with his circumstances.
Unable to emigrate to Palestine, as he was still just seventeen, and also unable to find work at home due to rampant anti-Semitism, he left his family in Hannover and relocated to Paris to pursue other career options.
While there, his family was among 10,000 Jews rounded up and “repatriated” to Poland. After receiving word of his family’s brutal abduction, Grynszpan took vengeance by heading to the German embassy, intent on killing the ambassador as a protest to the actions of Hitler’s Reich.
Instead, he ended up assassinating the Third Secretary, Ernst vom Rath, and later, uttering the famous quotation, “Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have a right to exist on this earth. Wherever I have been I have been chased like an animal.”
Used by Hitler and the Nazis, Grynszpan’s actions became an excuse to call the German people to “rise in bloody vengeance against the Jews,” and spawned the pogrom that came to be known as Kristallnacht, during which Nazis destroyed 265 synagogues, looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, smashed Jewish cemeteries, hospitals and schools, brutalized countless Jews, and sent 30,000 to concentration camps. It is widely regarded as the symbolic beginning of the Holocaust.
Seen by some as a hero who was the first to fight back against Nazi persecution, and others as a rash youth whose actions rained down brutal consequences on an entire people, Grynszpan’s story is, in reality, not as straightforward as either depiction.
A case ripe with conspiracy theories, and swirling with mystery and innuendo, it provides a perfect backdrop for Kirsh’s book – an examination of some of the more prominent theories.
Among those theories are the notion that Grynszpan was, in fact, an agent for Goebbels, charged with inciting a fury amongst the German people.
Another points to a rumored homosexual relationship between Grynszpan and vom Rath as the real motive behind the murder.
Yet others believe that despite Grynszpan’s capture and incarceration in several facilities, including Sachsenhausen concentration camp, he survived the war, and lived out his days under an assumed name.
Kirsch’s book is a well-researched volume that sheds light on not only the history itself, but also the historical significance of these events.
Scott Martelle, writing for the Washington Post, says of the book:
“It’s a remarkable story Kirsch tells here, deeply researched and compellingly drawn. And as the calendar drifts further away from those horrific days, and the world careens toward more moments of insanity and violence, Kirsch’s book is a solid reminder that we still have a lot to learn about the past we think we know. And, thus, about ourselves.”
Through Kirsch’s appearance, library patrons will have the opportunity to hear him share his insight firsthand.
As part of the Library Live series, he will appear at the Central Library on Thursday, September 19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. While admission is free, a ten-dollar donation at the door is suggested. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, and will be given seating priority.
To make a reservation or for more information, visit nbplfoundation.org or call (949) 717-3890.
Edie Crabtree is an avid reader and the mother of three active boys. She can be reached at [email protected]