The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust
- Stephen Koch
15th February 2020
On 7 November 1938, an impoverished seventeen-year-old Polish Jew living in Paris, obsessed with Nazi persecution of his family in Germany, brooding on revenge - and his own insignificance - bought a handgun, carried it on the Metro to the German Embassy in Paris and, never before having fired a weapon, shot down the first German diplomat he saw. When the official died two days later, Hitler and Goebbels used the event as their pretext for the state-sponsored wave of anti-Semitic violence and terror known as Kristallnacht, the pogrom that was the initiating event of the Holocaust.
Overnight this obscure young man, Herschel Grynszpan, found himself world-famous, his face on front pages everywhere, and a pawn in the machinations of power. Instead of being executed, he found himself a privileged prisoner of the Gestapo while Hitler and Goebbels prepared a show-trial. The trial, planned to the last detail, was intended to prove that the Jews had started the Second World War. Alone in his cell, Herschel soon grasped how the Nazis planned to use him, and set out to wage a battle of wits against Hitler and Goebbels, knowing perfectly well that if he succeeded in stopping the trial, he would certainly be murdered.
Until very recently, what really happened has remained hazy. Hitler’s Scapegoat, based on the most recent research - including access to a heretofore untapped archive compiled by a Nuremberg rapporteur - tells Herschel’s extraordinary story in full for the first time.