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

Jonathan Kirsch. Norton/Liveright, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-87140-452-7
In November 1938, a 17-year-old Polish Jew walked into the German embassy in Paris and assassinated diplomat Ernst vom Rath in reprisal for the deportation of his family and 12,000 other Jews. Grynszpan couldn’t have foreseen the consequences of his vigilante justice—just two days later, the Nazis would use the assassination as a pretext for Kristallnacht. In telling Grynszpan’s story, Kirsch (The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual) is particularly strong in his treatment of the killing’s strung-out aftermath. Framing the murder as part of an international Jewish conspiracy, the Germans made elaborate plans for a lengthy scripted show trial. But Grynszpan derailed attempts to try him by claiming that he and vom Rath had been engaged in a homosexual relationship. The scandalous assertion embarrassed German leaders, and Kirsch questionably calls it “his greatest act of courage.” Ultimately, “the sheer scale of German mass murder” overshadowed the Grynszpan case. While Kirsch undertook little original research (he did interview half a dozen historians of the Holocaust), he’s done an excellent job of combing through the secondary literature on the Grynszpan case. Though unnecessary details distract from the narrative, this is still a lively and suspenseful tale. 8 pages of photos. Agent: Laurie Fox, Linda Chester and Associates Literary Agency. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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