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The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris Hardcover – May 6, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The shooting of Ernst vom Rath, a low-level German diplomat, in Paris in November 1938 provided an immediate pretext for Kristallnacht, the Nazi government–encouraged vicious pogrom against the Jews throughout Germany and parts of Austria. It has never been clear why the Jewish killer, a teenage refugee from Poland by way of Germany, committed the act. Was he a hero, a psychopath (as Hannah Arendt believed), a tool of the gestapo? Had there been a homosexual relationship between Rath and Grynszpan? Nor is it known what became of Grynszpan during and after the war. The legal proceedings against him were interrupted by the German occupation of Paris, and a later show trial was put off by high Nazi officialdom. Grynszpan was sent to a concentration camp, but there is no definitive evidence of his death there. His case, prominent at the time, faded into obscurity. Kirsch has eloquently and carefully remedied a gap in the historical literature and provided a dramatic real-life mystery with potentially broad appeal. His concluding meditations on the nature of resistance, of which this may (or may not) be a compelling example, are thoughtful and illuminating. --Mark Levine

Review

In his well-crafted study… Jonathan Kirsch manages to put some meat on the skinny frame of his protagonist and also to put a human face on his victim. In so doing, Kirsch has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of Kristallnacht, whose 75th anniversary falls this year. (David Clay Large - Los Angeles Times)

Kirsch expertly picks through the murky details to shed new light on the historical significance. A compelling study. (Kirkus Reviews)

No novelist could invent a story with as many twists of history and character as the one Jonathan Kirsch tells about Herschel Grynszpan…The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan illuminates the countless short and tragic lives of eastern European Jews running for shelter in the terrible days leading up to World War II. (Alice Kaplan, author of The Collaborator and Dreaming in French)

With a storyteller’s touch and a lawyer’s insight, Kirsch elevates this tragic tale and makes it read like a legal and moral thriller. (Thane Rosenbaum, author of Payback: The Case for Revenge and The Myth of Moral Justice)

Herschel Grynszpan wanted nothing more than to be remembered for his rash, heroic actions. In Kirsch, he has finally found an objective, yet passionate, chronicler. (Ronald C. Rosbottom, professor of French and European studies, Amherst College)

On Nov. 7, 1938, a troubled Jewish teenager walked into an embassy in Paris, got in to see a low-level Nazi attache and shot him dead―a killing that gave Hitler a pretext for the savage, anti-Semitic orgy of Kristallnacht. (Scott Martelle - Washington Post)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (May 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404524
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404527
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Most Americans learn history in survey level courses that only skim the surface, leaving the smaller stories that make up that history and which often set it in motion. The story of Herschel Grynszpan is one of those stories, perhaps better known to scholars of the Jewish Studies, the Third Reich and Kristallnacht as his murder of a German attaché in Paris is often looked to as flash point for Kristallnacht. There are actually many historiographical debates surrounding Grynszpan, vom Rath his victim, Grynszpan's motives, changing explanations, and eventual disappearance, whether Kristallnacht was already planned or put in motion by the event, and continuing debates in the Jewish community over the whole matter. The story of Grynszpan and his family is sadly typical of so many Jewish families at the end of World War I as empires were dismembered and boundaries redrawn. Originally from what would become Poland they settled in Hamburg in 1911. After the war they became Polish citizens yet remained on in Hanover. As described by Kirsch young Herschel was unambitious and dissolute, his education thwarted by anti-Semitism of the era. Unable to immigrated to the Mandate of Palestine due to his young age he was instead passed along amongst various relatives into Belgium and then on into France which he entered illegally. Without legal entrance Herschel couldn't get a job and if detained by a gendarme would face certain deportation. Not only would Germany not want him back, but neither would Poland. In October 1938 Germany announced it was repatriating 12,000 Polish Jews back to Poland, including Herschel's parents and siblings. The Jews were rounded up, placed in cattle cars, and driven to the German-Polish border and forced across at gunpoint.Read more ›
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Walt Whitman Fan on May 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book will really delight those who belong to the Herschel Grynszpan cult. Yet little attention is paid to how Grynszpan once in German hands was able to get away with making outrageous statements. It is more probable that he said what he did because someone in the Third Reich wanted him to. It is also remarkable that he believes the embassies of the Third Reich were open places. Grynszpan could not have gotten inside without someone there expecting him. Why is Kirsch so willing to believe the statements of those working at the embassy?

Mr. Kirsch's belief that Grynszpan has somehow been neglected by history and Jews is hard to understand. Almost all books on Kristallnacht deal with Grynszpan. This includes fiction as well as non-fiction. Kirsch has some information on the Jewish resistance but fails to mention the case of Shlomo ben Yosef who was hanged by the British in June of 1938 in Acre, Palestine. He also fails to mention the work of Ze'ev Jabotinsky who was training Jews in self-defense for a very long time as well as warning them. Shlomo ben Yosef was a genuine hero. Grynszpan was not.

Worse still Kirsch fails to mention Andy Marino's book: "Herschel,The boy who started WWII" in which Marino has explored the matter of vom Rath being a spy for the French., (a possibility also mentioned by Dr. Cuonot). Then too no matter Kirsch has the German historian Hans Juergen Doescher's book on Kristallnacht on his list of books (footnotes list) , he should certainly have discussed the dubious nature of Doescher's discussion of certain aspects of vom Rath's foreign service record. Then too there is Doescher's mention of an alleged letter from Grynszpan to his parents before the assassination.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By christie on July 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating story of a 17 year old Jewish avenger and the Nazi regime that lead him to murder. This is a longer than normal review, and mostly an overview of the story the book is about.

Herschel Grynszpan grew up a Jew in Nazi Germany, but escaped to France in 1936 to live with hi aunt and uncle. A series of events leads to him to the German Embassy, where he shot and killed an Embassy official, Ernst vom Rath, to avenge the atrocities done to the Jews.

The news of the murder spread quickly with lots of people finding his story engaging. American radio broadcaster and journalist Dorothy Thompson, the second most influential woman in America in 1939, was sympathetic to Herschel. Her radio program about him lead to over $40,000 in donations, enabling the hiring of top quality lawyers for his case. British composer Michael Tippett composed an oratorio in Herschel's honor, titled A Child of Our Time.

Herschel sat in prison waiting as the trial was delayed over and over again. In September 1939, after France declared a state of war with Germany, the trial was put on the back burner, as his lawyers and the trial's judge were call upon to serve in the army. Herschel urged the new judge to move ahead with trial, as he had been in prison for two years, and he was afraid if the war was over quickly, people would care less about the trial and he's be more likely to be found guilty.

As Germany took control of Paris, the prison guards transferred the prisoners, including Herschel to prisons in southern France. But since no one really wanted the responsibility of housing him in their prison, they kept sending him off to the next prison south of them, usually forcing him to walk from town to town. He would show up at the next prison, begging to be let in and fed.
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