“Hitler’s Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust” by Stephen Koch— A Forgotten Seventeen-year-old

Koch, Stephen. “Hitler’s Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust”, Counterpoint, 2019. A Forgotten Seventeen-Year-Old Amos Lassen A forgotten seventeen-year-old Jew, Herschel Grypszpan,  was blamed by the Nazis for the anti-Semitic violence and terror of Kristallnacht, the pogrom seen as an initiating event of the Holocaust. It seems that
after learning about the Nazi persecution of his family, Grynszpan,  an impoverished seventeen-year-old Jew living in Paris, bought a small handgun and on November 7, 1938, went to the German embassy and shot the first German diplomat he saw. When the man died two days later, Hitler and Goebbels made the shooting their pretext for Kristallnacht and it is still understood by many to be the  initiating event of the Holocaust.

Overnight, Grynszpan, who has been a bright but naive teenager and a political nobody became front-page news and a pawn in a global power struggle. When France fell, the Nazis captured Grynszpan and flew him to Berlin. The boy became a privileged prisoner of the Gestapo while Hitler and Goebbels plotted a massive show trial to blame “the Jews” for starting World War II. Grynszpan understood Hitler’s intentions and waged a battle of wits to sabotage the trial, knowing that even if he succeeded, he would certainly be murdered. Let me say here that this is not the only book written about Grynszpan. There are here at this website three other reviews of three other books about him. What makes this one different is the Stephen Koch’s research and storytelling. Koch’s account reveals how this fragile yet steadfast young man devised a plan that outwitted Goebbels. After shooting the Nazi official with a tiny handgun, Gryszpan surrendered himself and he survived several prisons and concentration camps before dying under unknown circumstances. Koch’s storytelling talent gives us the story and provokes us to ask why they haven’t heard about him before. Herschel Grynszpan was one of some 18,000 Ostjuden living in Germany who with his own family, had been rounded up and deported across the Polish border and left to fend for themselves in the bitter winter weather. He could not have known that Hitler and Goebbels would use this assassination to rally the SS to begin Kristallnacht and then use Grynszpan to mount  huge show trial, where it could be proven that this boy was the pawn of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to murder Aryans. Grynszpan was not going to allow himself to be used a second time, and Koch shares his complicated plans while highlighting the rise of fascism in the Nazi period and telling us about the opportunists and their power plays, the crafting of the “big lie” and the staging of pogrom in ways that allow us as readers to think about the parallels to today’s world politics.

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