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.