Most people know about the pogram committed by Nazi thugs on the night of November 9-10, 1938, called Kristallnacht. It was a government ordered/sanctioned night of riots and atrocities against the Jews of Germany and Austria. (Austria had recently been absorbed into Germany as a result of the Anschluss.) Most also know about the incident - the shooting of a minor official at the German Embassy by a young Polish/German Jew named Herschel Grynszpan - which began the "Night of Broken Glass". But what happened to Herschel Grynszpan after the assassination? And how are he and his actions viewed in history? Jonathan Kirsch, in his excellent book, "The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan", explains both the before and after.
Herschel Grynszpan was not the first young Jewish man who killed a Nazi official. Two years earlier, in 1936, a medical student named David Frankfurter, murdered a Nazi government official stationed in Davos, Switzerland, at his home. Frankfurter claimed to be avenging his fellow Jews against the actions taken against them in Germany. But there was no response by the German government as there was two years later when Grynszpan murdered Ernst vom Rath. Why? Because the murder of Wilhelm Gustloff happened shortly before the 1936 Winter Olympics, held that year in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the German government didn't want to scare the tourists and the world press who had gathered to compete and cover the Games. (Frankfurter ended up surviving the war by being held in Switzerland for Gustloff's murder.)
Two years later the situation in Germany was different. The Nazis could, and did, use the murder of Rath as a rallying point for a night of death and destruction, which was only a prelude to the horrors of the Final Solution.
But who was Herschel Grynszpan? An "ost-juden", he was born in Hanover, Germany to a family who had fled from Poland to Germany shortly after WW1. Even though born in Germany, Herschel was not a German citizen. He and his family were considered by the German government as "Polish Jews living in Germany". This was an important legal distinction and in the future had direct bearing on Grynszpan's murder of Rath. At the age of 17, Herschel had dropped out of school and was hanging out in Hanover. His parents, unable to flee from Germany to the perceived "safer" areas of Europe like France and Holland, sent the young man to live in Paris, using convoluted methods of exit and entrance. He arrived in Paris and moved in with his aunt and uncle. He was living in Paris illegally, and still "hanging out" with friends in cafes.
In October, 1938, a large group of "ost-juden" were rounded up in various German cities and "dumped" across the Polish border, and left in very bad conditions. The Grynszpan family was among the taken and when Herschel heard about his family's living conditions, he was - he said - determined to avenge this wrong. He bought a small caliber pistol and headed off to the German Embassy in Paris, and once inside, he asked to see a "secretary". He was ushered into Rath's office and promptly shot him. Rath died two days later and Hitler's revenge began.
Jonathan Kirsch has written a very good history of Germany and the horrors visited on the Jews of Germany and Austria in the decade running up the start of WW2. He knows his stuff and is a master of explaining the whos and whats of the tangled mess of Grynszpan's post-murder legal wrangling between France and Germany as to the legal disposition of the case. And what were the implications of Grynzspan's murder of vom Rath in the Jewish community and in the world view of "Jewish resistance". Kirsch has written a masterful look at a young man tossed about in a much larger, international world and what his name means today. Excellent book.
on 2 July 2013
This book has some interesting insights. I have not completed the book but there is something that I found very interesting.
When the law changed, and it became illegal for a Jew to own a gun: the Jew threw his pistol into the river rather hand it in. But there was another alternative - to keep it and hide it.
So why did he throw the gun away rather than hide it?
The explanation, given in the book, is that Jews had always experienced persecution, and rather than fight back, they had always waited it out. One or two people would lose their lives, but the community would survive.
The response to persecution, was to obey the law, rather than to embark on a campaign of lawlessness.
The Nazis, were a party of law and order, and they restored 'law and order' to Germany. But they did so by creating 'lawlessness'.
The other thing is that 'some Nazis', such as Hitler, had a sense of 'Social Darwinism'. The Jews survived and prospered as a people - whereas the best of German youth had been squandered on the battlefield in the First World War. This was a new idea. That the task for the German people was to kill all Jews, particularly women and children.