Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan by Jonathan Kirsch - Book Review

BookThe Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris
AuthorJonathan Kirsch
Genre: History
Publisher/Publish DateLiveright / May 6, 2013
SourceARC courtesy of publisher
Pages: 352
Rating: 3.5/5
GoodReads  •  Amazon

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.

Eventually France handed him over to Germany, and while they were wanting to hold a show trial, the date kept on being put off due to the war. What exactly came of Herschel as the war went on may never be known. His last known communications with his parents was in 1940, and German documents lead researchers to believe he was alive until at least 1942. Many rumors surround his death, with no clear story of how he died.

His short life was full of twists, scandal, mystery, and provided the Nazi regime with pretax for the escalation in the persecution of the Jews.

I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust, but from this book I learned more about the time in Nazi Germany before the concentration camps as well as Germany's political relations with other European countries, specifically France. The book is heavy on history with a little juicy inside information here and there. I think anyone who enjoys reading about history would find this book gripping.

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