I read book review “A pawn in a deadly game” by Colin Greenwood in the UK Spectator issue 2 Feb 2019, a while ago and remembered it for today, the first day of Passover in the Jewish calendar. Greenwood was reviewing “Hilter’s Scapegoat: The boy Assassin and the Holocaust” written by Stephen Koch published by Ambereley Press.
It’s an interesting tale.
On 7 November 1938, an impoverished seventeen-year-old Polish Jew living in Paris, obsessed with the whereabouts of his family — A few days earlier, German authorities had expelled thousands of Jews of Polish citizenship living in Germany from the Reich; Grynszpan had received news that his parents, residents in Germany since 1911, were among them.
The previous month, close to 18,000 Polish German Jews had been dumped by train on the Polish border. Among those rounded up in Hanover for the Aktion were Grynszpan’s family: his parents Sendel and Rivka, his brother Mordecai and his sister Berta. Herschel himself had been sent to Paris two years earlier by his parents for his own safety, and lived there with his aunt and uncle, in Casablanca-esque limbo, along with some other 50,000 refugees from Nazi persecution.
But his parents found themselves stranded in a refugee camp near the town of Zbaszyn in the border region between Poland and Germany. Living illegally in Paris Grynszpan sought to exonerate his guilt by making a “guilt offering” of the Nazi, embassy secretary, Ernst vom Rath.
When the secretary died two days later, Adolph Hitler, previously highlighted ove here, and Goebbels used the event as an excuse that Jews were conspiring against the Reich and started commemorations of the the Kaiser’s abdication in 1918; the Munich Putsch of 1923 (the ersatz Nazi birth day), the ‘Movement Day Banquet’. Hitler slipped away from the celebrations while Goebbels whipped up the mob, all in preparation of their pre-planned anti-Semitic terror program known as Kristallnacht where a 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 sent to the camps.
Overnight Herschel Grynszpan, found himself world-famous, his face on front pages everywhere, and a pawn in the Nazi machine. Instead of being executed, he was privileged prisoner of the Gestapo while Hitler and Goebbels prepared a show-trial — an excellent propaganda opportunity.
Incarcerated in Paris, Herschel was now facing a murder trial and the eventual guillotine. Worse, he too was taken in by the propaganda and believed to be responsible the tragedy:
God, oh my God!’,he wrote from prison, ‘I did not want that. Is this the price [Kristallnacht] for the act of one desperate, foolish man like me?’herschel grynszpan wrote in his diary in jail
The French government prevaricated over the trial. If Herschel were to be found guilty, anti-Nazi opinion would be inflamed. If innocent, then Hitler would be enraged. In any event, the trial was derailed by the invasion of France in June 1940. Herschel was shuttled from town to town as the legislature fled south, before being seized by the Gestapo and transported to their Nazi headquarters on Prinz Albrecht Strasse 8 in Berlin.
Grynszpan soon realised that he was being kept alive writing he was ‘the safest Jew in Germany.’ As he calmed down and began to be removed frmo the Kristallnacht propaganda, Herschel saw that his appearance as star defendant at a grotesque Nazi show trial was another pretext for even greater terrors against his people and family. He began to rethink his strategy.
First thing, he decided against was the previous defense strategy his French lawyer suggested — anger against Vom Rath and the Nazis seeing that would have no footing even with a supposed unbiased French court. Instead he decided that the killing had been a sordid gay love affair gone wrong when Vom Rath jilted him for another because of his Jewishness. The idea worked and cast a pall over proceedings. Vom Rath had been single and had no girlfriends to come forward — he had been a hardworking Nazi and that was now working in Herschel’s favour. When they could not come up with any evidence to the contrary, Hitler ordered the trial to be permanently suspended in May 1942; Herschel then fades from history.
- The Guardian uncovered evidence that Herschel got out of prison but died in the bombing.