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Herschel Grynszpan: the hot-headed youth who played straight into Hitler’s hands

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

There exists a vast and sometimes overwhelming amount of literature dedicated to the Nazi era in Germany; a natural consequence of the millions of individuals that made up the complex tapestry of this notorious period of German History. One such individual is Herschel Grynszpan, who in November 1938, and at just 17 years old, walked into the German embassy in Paris and assassinated Embassy Secretary Ernst vom Rath.

Herschel Grynszpan. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1988-078-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

An article published in February in The Spectator follows Grynszpan’s remarkable story. Born into a Jewish family, he was sent to Paris in 1936 for his safety; his parents, brother and sister were all rounded up two years later, expelled from Germany and forced across the border into Poland.

It was in this same year – 1938 – that Grynszpan shot and killed Vom Rath. According to the article, the Secretary’s murder played into the hands of Nazi propagandists; the murder of a German at the hands of an exiled German-Polish Jew was sold as proof of a Jewish conspiracy against the Reich. However, following years of delayed trials and moving between French and German hands, the young Herschel was determined to no longer be a pawn of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda.

As a defendant in a ‘grotesque Nazi show trial’ - that aimed to prove to the world that Jews posed an immediate and existential threat to the German people - Herschel Grynszpan used a defence strategy that aimed to bring shame on Von Rath and the Nazi Party.

He declared that the killing had been the culmination of a ‘sordid gay love affair’; that he was successful in undermining the trial is suggested by the fact that in May 1942 Hitler ordered that it be permanently suspended. To read more about Herschel, click here.


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