The Washington Post Notable Non-Fiction of 2013
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?