Herschel Grynszpan in French police car, after shooting.  No photos appeared in my article--I provide this one after the fact.

Reference: Ron Roizen, "Herschel Grynszpan: the Fate of A Forgotten Assassin," Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 1, No.2. pp. 217-228,1986.


Ron Roizen

Abstract -- Herschel Feibel Grynszpan assassinated Nazi foreign service officer Ernst vom Rath in Paris on 7 November 1938. The event provided the Nazi establishment with an occasion for Kristallnacht, a brutal pogrom launched against Jews and Jewish institutions inside the territory of the Third Reich on the night of 9-10 November 1938. Grynszpan was taken into French custody. A number post-war sources have contended that Grynszpan survived French and later Nazi captivity only to resume his Paris residence after the war and start a family. A search of relevant literature, however, fails to support this conclusion. It is argued that Grynszpan probably perished while still in Nazi captivity. It is also argued that Grynszpan's present historical obscurity may reflect the painful and still unresolved status of the moral issues his action symbolized.

*The author would like to thank David Rome, of Beverly Hills, California, for providing a copy of Cuenot's memoir on the Grynszpan case, Agnes Peterson of the Hoover Institution Library for her help in locating sources and Gisela Roizen and Illeana Benhamou for their translations of various German and French materials.

Herschel Feibel Grynszpan was the young Polish-German Jew who shot Nazi German foreign service officer Ernst vom Rath at the German Embassy in Paris on 7 November 1938. Vom Rath was hit twice in the abdomen and died two days later. His death provided the occasion for a massive and organized attack by Nazi brownshirts against the Jewish community inside the boundaries of the Third Reich, which by this date included not only Germany itself but Austria and the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland as well. On the night of 9-10 November 1938--ever since known as Kristallnacht1or night of broken glass--hundreds of synagogues were set fire, thousands of shops destroyed and twenty to thirty thousand Jewish men imprisoned in concentration camps. This night of terror marked a dramatic departure in Nazi public policy toward Jews by raising for the first time the prospect of organized violence officially contrived and carried out.

Grynszpan was a beleagured 17-year-old refugee living with his aunt and uncle in Paris.2 He was born in Hannover, but since the age of 14 had moved frequently. His biography is an archetype of the plight of many Jews during those years. He could not find a place to live and work. At 14, he wanted to emigrate to Palestine. The boy travelled to Frankfurt-am-Main to study Hebrew at the Yeshiva of Dr. Jacob Hoffman.3 After a year of study, Grynszpan returned to Hannover and his family home. There, in vain, he looked for work as an apprentice plumber or mechanic and, equally in vain, tried to secure a visa for Palestine. The visa was denied apparently because he was under age or too small. He could not find work because he was a Jew. At the advice of an acquaintance Herschel turned his attentions toward France.4

Herschel and his father made arrangements for the boy to live with his uncle and aunt, Abraham and Chawa Grynszpan, in Paris. In mid-July 1936, now 15, Herschel began his journey there. At the time he held a valid Polish passport and a German exit visa. Having heard stories that both German and French border officials were denying transit to Jews, Herschel did not try to cross the border directly into France. Instead, he made for Brussels, via Essen, Germany. In both places family put him up. In Brussels, however, his welcome was chilly. Herschel moved to the house of a neighbour--also a distant relative--but only on condition his stay would be no more than a few days. When this welcome expired; Herschel slipped into France illegally. This he accomplished in mid-September 1936 by taking a streetcar regularly used by working people between the adjacent border towns of Quievran and Valenciennes. Passengers without baggage were rarely checked during rush hours.5

France, the historic friend of refugees, shunned the current wave of homeless Jews. Immigration policies were tight and tightening. Hard economic times gave rise to labour protectionism. For nearly a year Herschel struggled to put his papers in order and legitimize his French residency. His uncle took all of the steps available for this end, including the payment of a 100 F fine for the lack of a visa and promises of financial support and the teaching of a trade. But the hostile official mood brought only rejection. On 11 August 1938 Grynszpan was ordered by French authorities to leave France within four days.6 It was an order he chose to elude, and from mid-August he lived surreptitiously in a vacant garret room. In October French police conducted an unsuccessful search for him.7

His German visa and Polish passport expired, Herschel had no country to which he could legitimately go.8 In a poignant statement taken after the assassination Grynszpan is quoted to have tearfully exclaimed to the police: 'Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have a right to exist on this earth. Wherever I have been I have been chased like an animal.'9 The proximate cause of the assassination was an event of the last days of October 1938. Grynszpan's father, mother, sister and brother--who were still living in Hannover--were suddenly removed from their home and transported by the Nazi Gestapo to the Polish frontier town of Zbaszyn on the rail line between Berlin and Warsaw.10 The family, along with some twelve to seventeen thousand other German-resident Polish Jews, had been caught between two competing antisemitisms, one German and the other Polish. The German government was trying to deport all Jews of Polish origin living inside Germany in response to a decree of 16 October 1938 issued by the Polish government. The Polish decree threatened to deprive Polish citizens living in Germany of their Polish passports, and thus the right to return to Poland. The Polish measure was widely regarded as an action directed primarily at Jews.11 The decree was believed by the Germans to allow only two weeks for passports to be checked and reaffirmed. The Germans, fearing that thousands of Polish Jews were about to be marooned in Germany, turned the tables on the Poles and rapidly deported Jews with Polish citizenship. Polish officials had not anticipated this sort of German response. When Gestapo guards arrived at the border with their cargoes of Jews, Polish border guards refused to permit entry into Poland. Thousands were stranded at the border, some living in a no-man's-land between the two border stations, some in railroad cars, in barracks, or in schoolhouses. A few, with more means, could rent rooms in guest houses or in the homes to townspeople. Young Herschel kept abreast of these developments in the Paris Jewish press, but it was a postcard from his sister Berta received on 3 November, detailing the family's plight and asking Herschel to send money, that determined him to take revenge.

For a day or two the assassination occupied the attentions of press around the world. The German press, in particular, emphasized the event. On the evening of 7 November, Josef Gobbels, Minister of Propaganda, issued instructions to all German newspaper editors, via the German news service, that the assassination attempt 'must completely dominate the front page'. A speech by Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop was relegated to inside pages.12

In the rest of Europe and the United States the Grynszpan case initially attracted considerable attention. In the United States reporter Quentin Reynolds13 wrote that Herschel 'promised to become one of the most renowned murderers of our time'. Reynolds compared Grynszpan to Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo in 1914 had opened the floodgates of World War I. A week after the assassination, Dorothy Thompson14 devoted one of her CBS radio columns to the boy's story. In the course of the next month $30,000 in unsolicited contributions were contributed by American listeners. With these funds Thompson formed a Journalists' Defense Fund with a board of directors drawn from her friends and colleagues.15 Some of this money was used to hire lawyer Vincent Moro-Giafferi--the Clarence Darrow of European trial courts of the day--to head the boy's defence team. But the attention of press in the democracies soon faded. The New York Times, for example, ran sixteen articles on the Grynszpan case in November1938, then seven articles in December, ten in all of 1939, four in 1940, one in 1941, and, finally, none at all in 1942

In his own time Grynszpan was regarded by the great majority of Jews as a bearer of great evil.16 The central rhetorical objective in Nazi reactions to the assassination was to establish 'collective Jewish responsibility' for the killing. This theme was constantly repeated in the official Nazi pronouncements and the Nazi press.17 The Nazi preoccupation with collective responsibility prompted a natural rhetorical opposition on the part of the Jewish press. Many Jewish commentators hastened to condemn the action and distance the Jewish community from it, and at the same time shift the focus of attention to the brutality of the Kristallnachtpogrom. In a like vein, the World Jewish Congress issued the following statement on the evening of 10 November 1938:18

Though the Congress deplores the fatal shooting of an official of the German Embassy in Paris by a young Polish Jew of seventeen, it is obliged to protest energetically against the violent attacks in the German press against the whole of Judaism because of this act and, especially, to protest against the reprisals taken against the German Jews after the crime.
David Weinberg,19 in his study of the French Jewish community in the 1930s, emphasized the trepidation with which news of the assassination was received. Dorothy Thompson made a point of calling specifically for American Grynszpan support from non-Jews only, in order to thwart Nazi threats of further oppression against Jews for defending the assassin.20 It was also commonly argued that Grynszpan had been driven mad or near to madness by Nazi oppression of Jews.21 This theme simultaneously served to disclaim the assassination itself (as irrational) and focus responsibility for it on the intolerable circumstances the Nazis themselves had created for Jews inside the Third Reich. Echoes of the madness theme persisted for a long time in historical accounts of Grynszpan's action.22 For a time almost anything said about the boy or the assassination seemed only to serve Nazi efforts to keep public attention focused on the kuling and thereby make the assassination a prop in both the persecution of Jews and the justification for war. Therefore, the less said the better. That reticence stuck--little was written about Grynszpan at the time (save by the Nazis themselves23) and still less was written after the war. It might be said the literature on Herschel Grynszpan is about as fugitive as the boy himself.

Grynszpan was held in the Fresnes juvenile prison in Paris from the time of the shooting until the Germans marched on the city in June of 1940. He was never brought to a French trial, though a great deal of legal manoeuvring surrounded his case. As Paris fell, French authorities sent French prisoners, including the boy, southward by train.24 In transit, this train was strafed by German planes, and Grynszpan found himself temporarily free, making his way with the great human mass fleeing from the approaching Nazi army. For reasons that are not clear, Grynszpan made efforts to be admitted to two French prisons--at Toulouse and at Bourges. Toulouse prison rejected him, but the prison at Bourges took him in. And there the boy stayed until he was illegally extradited to Germany on 18 July 1940. This much, at least can be learned from the contemporary press.25

But what was the boy's ultimate fate?

Shortly after the war, one of Grynszpan's original lawyers, Weill-Goudchaux, reported that Grynszpan had been executed--indeed, beheaded--by the Germans after his transfer into their hands in 1940.26 After 1957, however, this view gave way to the notion that Grynszpan had actually survived his German captivity and the war and was once again living in Paris. Reitlinger,27 for example, wrote that Grynszpan was 'alive in 1957 and still living in Paris. Like numerous other Jews who found themselves in the hands of the courts, his very expendability saved him from the gas chambers which were functioning well and truly in May, 1942.'

How did the story of Grynszpan's survival come into being? The facts of the matter are not easily traced. At the war's end Nuremberg document hunters, sifting through tons of captured German documents, turned up a number of files on Grynszpan. These revealed that the Germans had planned a massive show trial for him, a huge propaganda occasion by which to prove their insane theory that an international Jewish conspiracy had caused the war's outbreak. A more or less complete judicial screenplay for the trial was unearthed. The proceedings were to last a week, and the testimony of prosecution witnesses was roughly scripted out. But the trial was never held. These same documents revealed that the German prosecutors had been stymied by one of the boy's intended lines of defence: namely, to argue that vom Rath and he had been involved in a private, homosexual relationship and, therefore, that the assassination was not politically motivated.28 This defence--as far as I can determine--was wholly a ruse. But it worked.

A young U.S. War Department research analyst, Gerald Schwab, came upon the Grynszpan files and translated them. Later, upon returning to the United States in 1947, Schwab wrote to Dorothy Thompson29 of his discovery and invited her to make use of the materials. Neither she nor Schwab put the story into print, however, and so the evidence of Herschel's interim survival in Germany did not see daylight immediately.30

In 1952, ex-Nazi writer Michael Soltikow published two articles on Grynszpan in Wochenend,31 a German illustrated weekly news magazine. These articles retold the story of Grynszpan's homosexuality and argued for its authenticity. According to newspaper accounts published later on, Soltikow felt he was doing Jews a service by 'revealing' Grynszpan's homosexuality. 'It is a necessity and a pleasure', he is quoted to have said,32 'for me here to be able to show that world Jewry had nothing to do with this deed [i.e. the killing of vom Rath.' The homosexuality theory bears relation to the story of Grynszpan's fate because it provides one sort of explanation for why Grynszpan would not have shown himself after the war. An explanation for his putative self-concealment must be a crucial element in any argument for Grynszpan's actual survival of the war.

The next important event in this chronology was the publication of a scholarly paper on Grynszpan by Munich historian Helmut Heiber in 1957.33 Heiber knew the Nazi pre-trial documents, and so knew that Herschel had survived at least part of his German captivity. Heiber, however, flatly asserted that Grynszpan was presently living in Paris under an assumed name. Kurt R. Grossman latched onto this survival claim in his own article--summary of Heiber's paper--published in the New York, German-Jewish newspaper, Aufbau.34Grossman's paper, in turn, became the most popular reference for the notion that Grynszpan actually survived the war. We can be certain, however, that Grossman had no direct evidence of Grynszpan's survival because he published a second article on the subject a year later in which he retreated from his earlier article's survival claim and this time suggested merely that Herschel's fate was a matter of conflicting opinions and continuing mystery.35 In any event, Heiber's assertion caused the blossoming of a mini-literature on Grynszpan's fate in the late 1950's.

In November 1959 the London-based magazine, World Jewry, ran an article by German journalist Egon Larsen titled, 'The Boy Who Pulled the Trigger; German Documents Reveal How Feibel Grynszpan Survived It All'.36 Beyond reaffirming the survival hypothesis, it reported that

Grynszpan was kept in prison until the end of the war and finally freed by the Allies. He returned to Paris, adopted a new name, and started a new life. Now [in 1959] in his late thirties, married and with two children, he works in a Paris suburban garage. His apparent fear that if it were known who he really is he might one day become himself the victim of revenge, may not be too far-fetched.
Neither wife and children nor the garage job had been mentioned in Heiber's earlier paper. Larsen mentioned no sources, but his report implied that new ones had been unearthed. Although captured German documents might show how Grynszpan survived German custody, they could hardly vouch for Grynszpan's circumstances in 1959. In Paris, Heiber's and Larsen's survival claims caught the attention of the editors of the Paris magazine l'Arche. In a December 1959 article they added a new bit of evidence: it was reported that an unnamed Jewish press agency located in London had cross-checked and confirmed the conclusions of Mr. Larsen. Based on these promising leadsl'Archehad commissioned Andreas Freund, a respected former Associated Press foreign correspondent and editor, to track down the true story.37 Freund supported the survival hypothesis. He listed five favourable facts:
(1) There existed no documented evidence to confirm the boy's death ~ this supported the survival hypothesis because Grynszpan's notoriety would surely have created some sort of notice of his death.

(2) Grynszpan's father, Sindel Grynszpan, was told by the Bonn government that a pension he was to receive as reparation for the loss of his son was cancelled - why? Freund asked, 'Might the German government have proof that Herschel is alive?'

(3) Freund reported he had contact with a relative of vom Rath who was convinced Grynszpan was alive.

(4) Heiber's article was in accordance with the survival hypothesis.

(5) A German journalist, who lives in Paris, said that an unpublished document confirmed that Grynszpan was alive; this document was the testimony of a French police commissioner still in touch with Grynszpan.

Freund's argument, however, was far from compelling. His case was further vitiated by a closing notice which conveyed that the Grynszpan family had requested that anyone knowing the whereabouts of Herschel should contact them. Like Heiber and Larsen before him, then, Freund had not actually laid eyes on Herschel. These articles by Grossman, Larsen and Freund represented the belated awakening of the popular press to the discovery that German documents did indeed show that Grynszpan had survived, at least for a time, in Nazi captivity. That the boy had survived at all seems to have been sufficiently surprising to float the belief that he had survived the war altogether.

In February 1958 Gerald Schwab submitted a master's thesis on Nazi trial plans for Grynszpan.38 Though it gave no verdict on the survival question, this work detailed the German trial preparations and internecine conflicts among the German ministries involved. Also, three relevant court proceedings were about to begin: (1) a Hannover court would directly address the question of Grynszpan 5 survival; (2) a Munich court would hear a suit for libel filed by the vom Rath family against Michael Soltikow for his allegations of homosexuality in his newsmagazine articles concerning Ernst vom Rath and Herschel Grynszpan; and (3) in Jerusalem, Eichmann was put on trial. By 1965, both Friedrich Kaul,39 an East German lawyer, and Alain Cuenot,40 a French physician with a taste for history, completed lengthy monographs on the Grynszpan case.

The Hannover court's interest in Grynszpan's fate was occasioned by a request from Herschel's father, Sindel Grynszpan, for reparation payments from the Bonn government for Herschel's death. The Grynszpan family had survived the war in Russia and later emigrated to Israel. This request was presented on 26 September 1958.41 In the course of the court's investigations a number of depositions were taken. Both Herschel's brother, Mordechal, and his father affirmed their view that Herschel had perished. Their arguments turned on the fact that their strenuous and far-reaching efforts to find him had failed. Herschel himself, moreover, had not tried to contact the family, though this could easily have been done, they said. The request for reparations may well have been motivated by the family's desire to turn the resources of a German court to the mystery of Herschel's fate. The court did indeed conclude that Herschel Grynszpan was dead, and issued a death certificate for him on 1 June 1960. Perhaps the most interesting product of the Hannover proceedings, however, was the light shed on Helmut Heiber's original survival claim. According to Cuenot, the Hannover court investigators asked Heiber, 'to state his reasons for thinking that Grynszpan was still alive'. The following passages from his 24 March 1959 reply, were reproduced in Cuenot's monograph:

The source of my information is to be found in the records of the Munich tribunal in the pre-trial investigation. . . . As I remember, I found in the dossier, a communication stating that Grynszpan was then living in Hamburg, but nevertheless I cannot remember where this information came from. Thereafter, during a conversation with the pre-trial judge, I brought his attention to the fact that it would be useful to look for Grynszpan in Hamburg, or in Paris, where he had lived before the war. The judge agreed with me and told me that he was going to take up the matter with INTERPOL, the International Police Organization. When we met a few months afterwards, I asked him what results his request had brought. He replied that according to infomnation from INTERPOL, Grynszpan was living in Paris under another name. . . . Besides this, I would like to point out that Grynszpan had been seen during the last daysof January 1945 in Brandenburg prison, where he had been registered under the name of Otto Schneider, born on March 28,1921 and under the entry number of 3.520/44. I had confirmation of this from two different sources after the printing of my article. Walther Hammer, archivist and registrar of public records in Hamburg, wrote me that Grynszpan was under strict surveillance there and that he transferred on January 20, 1945 to the local police headquarters in Magdeburg. However, I.was told by another source that he was transferred to Hamburg.42
In other words, Heiber's information was insubstantial. His claim stemmed from a conversation based in turn on an unspecified INTERPOL report. Heiber also has noted that two confirmations of Grynszpan's survival of the war came to him after his paper was published-but these, it seems, contained conflicting reports and, in any case, referred only to putative sightings many years earlier and while Grynszpan would still have been in German hands. Cuenot reported that the pre-trial judge in the Munich trial also questioned INTERPOL regarding their information on Grynszpan. INTERPOL responded that 'the information that [Grynszpan] might be living in Hamburg under a false name is based on unsubstantiated reports transmitted by an employee of the French security police in Baden-Baden in April 1954. This information has never been confirmed.'43 I wrote Heiber myself in March 1981. He responded that in view of the absence of evidence of Grynszpan's survival over the period since the end of the war, he too had come to the conclusion that the boy had died during the war.44

The trial and re-trials of Michael Soltikow, the first of which was held in Munich, form a bizarre chapter in the Grynszpan story.45 Soltikow's misguided enthusiasm for exculpating Jews of responsibility for the war may well have seemed to him to provide the best method for dramatizing his own would-be denazification. In any event, Soltikow appeared fervently to believe that Grynszpan was alive. He went so far as to ask the Munich court to subpoena Grynszpan, and claimed at one point in his trial that the assassin had actually been present at a previous day's proceedings. When the Munich judge noted that German law would require Grynszpan to be arrested if present in the court, an outraged Soltikow argued that now the fugitive would never voluntarily show himself. Soltikow believed that Grynszpan's testimony would affirm the truth of the homosexual account.46 For our purposes here, the significance of the Soltikow trial is simply that so energetic an effort to demonstrate Grynszpan's survival could produce no significant new information.

Finally, there was the Eichmann trial, in Jerusalem, where Herschel's father and brother testified once more that all their previous efforts to find Herschel had failed.

Claims for Grynszpan's survival were invariably based on a mix of rumour and chance sightings of the boy prior to the end of the war. Such claims invariably crumble before serious prodding. Of the two more extensive works on Grynszpan completed in the mid1960s (those of Kaul and Cuenot{ only Cuenot's took a probing look at the survival question. Cuenot concluded that Grynszpan died in German captivity, probably because of illness rather than execution, and probably in late 1942 or sometime in 1943.47 The French physician's case rested on a scattering of evidence, some favouring the boy's death and some undercutting other survival claims, but its strongest argument was no doubt the complete absence of word from Herschel himself since the war's end. Cuenot cited a letter from Fritz Dahms to Helmut Heiber. Dahms was the highest-ranking official of the Nazi establishment with contact to the Grynszpan case to render evidence in the question of the boy's fate. Dahms worked in the Nazi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and attended several meetings surrounding the Grynszpan trial's preparation in 1942.

The death of Grynszpan occurred shortly before the end of the war, but I am no longer able to say if he died of natural causes or if he lost his life by violence. At the time, the Foreign Affairs Ministry received no precise details on the manner in which he died.48
Cuenot also notes the testimony of the pre-trial judge of the Munich trial, who was given access to sealed archival volumes in Bonn and could find no official docutnent concerning the Grynszpan case after 1942. 'If Grynszpan had survived the years 1943, 1944 and 1945, it would seem quite unusual that documents would not have been added to those already gathered', wrote Cuenot.49 Cuenot's contention that Grynszpan may have died of illness rather than execution derives from the political significance Hitler attached to the case. Despite the nettlesome difficulty posed by the homosexuality defence, Nazi brass may well have desired to keep Herschel alive and in good health for a trial some day. We know that Grynszpan was accorded special treatment and ample food during his confinement. Had Grynszpan's health given way in this circumstance, Cuenot argues, those responsible for Grynszpan's well being may have tried to keep the boy's death from the Führer. This concealment, in turn, may help account for why the facts of the Grynszpan case remain so heavily shrouded to this day.

But there is another sense in which we ought to consider the question of the boy's survival-namely, regarding Grynszpan's historical rather than his physical survival. It would seem fair to say that today Herschel Grynszpan is largely a forgotten figure. Quentin Reynolds' 1939 prediction (see above) that the boy's crime would become as well known as Gavrilo Princip's simply has not come to pass. Why? There is no shortage of possible reasons. For one, it can be argued that Grynszpan's story was soon dwarfed by greater events sweeping over Europe and the world--by Kristallnacht, the war itself, and in due course by the Holocaust. For another, the more the assassination came to be viewed as a mere 'pretext' for the Nazis' Kristallnacht response, the more the assassination could be regarded as historiographically incidental. For a third, subsequent rumours of homosexuality may have served to make Grynszpan's story seem murky and unseemly--not one likely to distribute honour or dishonour along coherent lines. On all three grounds, then, Herschel Grynszpan's story could come to be regarded as little more than an intriguing footnote to the history of the time.

Yet one wonders whether there are other reasons for Grynszpan's forgottenness as well. We might ask, for example, whether there is anything convenient in this obscurity? I am inclined to think so. Grynszpan's case profoundly symbolizes two thorny and painful moral issues, issues more easily sidestepped than grappled with. First, there is the nettlesome question of whether assassination is ever morally justified. In Grynszpan's case--particularly in hindsight and with knowledge of the subsequent Holocaust experience--we confront a kind of 'best-case' test for the proposition that assassination is not always an evil. Was Grynszpan justified? Would the assassination of Hitler in late 1938 have been justified? How shall we decide? Who is martyr, who murderer? Second, there is the painful moral issue associated with the rejection and abandonment of Grynszpan by contemporary European Jews. Is Grynszpan's historical abandonment linked to the abandonment he experienced in those terrible days in late 1938? Is to forget Grynszpan also to obscure one's own guilt or confusion over one's own inaction or fright under fire? Here, in other words, we confront potential explanations for Grynszpan's forgottenness that are much more difficult and painful to contemplate.

It can be counterargued that Grynszpan has been forgotten simply because his act was rash and costly, not something to be remembered, still less studied or revered. This sort of argument is implicitly pragmatic in character--that is, it would judge the boy's action in terms of its immediate consequences. But such argumentation is always problematic. With hindsight, for example, we know that Jewish emigration from Germany was too slow, in the years 1933-8, to rescue German Jewry. Roughly thirty-five per cent of all Jews who emigrated from Germany between the beginning of 1933 and the end of 1939 would do so in the fourteen-month period after Kristallnacht.50In this sense, Grynszpan's act was a catalyst and may on balance have saved lives. As Feingold has noted,51 Kristallnacht had two main effects: 'It alerted the public to the drastic measures taken against Jews in Germany and left for them [i.e. Jews] a residue of good will. At the same time, even the most Germanized Jew was now forced to think in terms of emigration.' Similarly, Kristallnacht's savage devastation marked the effective end of appeasement in government thought and public opinion in the democracies. After 9 November 1938, most reasonable men and women recognized the beast for what it was. The British looked on in dismay and a growing resolve. The United States withdrew its Ambassador to Berlin days afterward, and a new one would not return to Germany until well after the war's end. In my own view, then, Grynszpan's action cannot be condemned or justified on pragmatic grounds alone.

And what of the myth of the boy's survival? Has it had any impact on his historical status? It seems that this myth, if it has any historiographic influence at all, has probably acted as yet another source of historical inattention. The survival myth tends to trivialize Grynszpan's action. On an individual level, Grynszpan's survival makes him unaccountable for his violent deed, thus thinning its moral density. Grynszpan's abandonment seems a little less problematic, too, once it is believed that the boy miraculously survived the war. Grynszpan alive permits us to avoid more easily the painful moral issues his case so profoundly symbolizes. Was Grynszpan's action that of a heroic martyr or a misguided pariah? Were the reactions to Grynszpan's action among those for whom it was carried out appropriate or inappropriate? Though nearly a half century has passed since Herschel Grynszpan's assassination of Ernst vom Rath, little or no progress has been made on these painful questions.


1. For Kristallnacht sources see John Mendelsohn, ed., The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes: 3. The Crystal Night Pogrom (New York: Garland, 1981).

2. My account of Herschel's early life is based primarily on material drawn from Alain Cuenot. The Herschel Grynszpan Case, trans. Joan Redmont (privately published by David Rome of Beverly Hills, California, July 1982). See also Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, Crystal Night, trans. Gilles Cremonesi (New York: Holocaust Library, 1974), pp. 3~55.

3. Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, p.10, wrote of Grynszpan's term at the Yeshiva that 'he studied Hebrew but not as has been said Jewisrt literature and theology, which was far beyond the reach of Herschel'.' A New York Times article ('Berlin Raids Reply to Death of Envoy', 10 November 1938), on the other hand, said Grynszpan 'had attended a rabbinical school at Frankforton-the-Main but had had no intention of becoming a rabbi, only of studying the Hebrew language and literature'.

4. Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, p.12

5. Ibid., p.15.

6. Ibid., p.24.

7. Ibid., p.27.

8. Ibid., p.25, suggests that Grynszpan could still legally enter Poland, though 'he didn't know the language and hardly knew the members of his family who still remained there'. In Thalmann and Feinermann's view, Crystal Night, p.39, however, Grynszpan could neither legally stay in France nor enter Germany, Poland or Belgium.

9. 'Berlin Raids Reply to Death of Envoy', New York Times, 10 November 1938.

10. For the Zbaszyn deportation, see Sybil Milton. The Expulsion of Polish Jews ~rom Germany October 1938 to July 1939. A Documentation', Leo Baeck Institute of Jews from Germany Year Book XXIX (1984), pp. 169-99.

11. Poland's Ambassador to Germany, Jozef Lipski, notified Foreign Minister Jozef Beck on 12 November 1938 that he 'gave an order to the consulates that Jewish passports are very rarely to be stamped' [Lipski, Diplomat in Berlin 193~1939 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 464].

12. See Lionel Kochan, Pogrom: 10 November 1938 (London: Andre' Deutsch, 1957), p.42-Kochan's source for Göbbels' press directives of the day is Fritz Sönger.

13. Quentin Reynolds, Portrait of a Murderer', Collier's Magazine, 25 February 1939, pp. 9-10, 64-5.

14. See Dorothy Thompson, Let the Record Speak (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939), pp. 25-60 for the text.

15. The board was made up of Hamilton Fish Armstong, Heywood Broun, John Gunther, Hugh Johnson, Frank R. Kent, Tony Laviero, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Westbrook Pegler, Chester Rowell, Leland Stowe, Frank Sullivan, Raymond Gram Swing, Oswald Garrison Villard, William Allen White and Alexander Woollcott. The George Arents Research Library at Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY 13210, U.S.A.), home of Dorothy Thomson's papers, holds a number of documents and letters pertaining to the Grynszpan case. The above list was taken from the Journalists' Defense Fund's letterhead.

16. For a particularly dramatic characterization of anti-Grynszpan feeling among contemporary Jews, see Konrad Heiden, The New Inquisition (New York; Modern Age, 1939), pp. 24-32.

17. See Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, pp. 74-5. According to Thalmann and Feinermann, Crystal Night, p.1 20, kristallnacht Jewish prisoners at Sachsenhausen were forced to chant, We killed Secretary vom Rath!'.

18. Quoted from Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, p.76.

19. David H. Weinberg, A Communitv on Tha4 The Jews of Pans in the 1930s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), p.183. Weinberg writes:

The reaction of French Jews to the vom Rath assassination showed the abnormal fears that motivated their actions in the period after Munich [i.e. the Munich Pact]. On November 18 L 'Univers israelite published an open letter to the mother of the murdered Nazi in which the editors expressed great sorrow on the death of her son. At the same time, the letter implored her to show some pity for Jews persecuted in Germany while arguing that it was unjust to olame all Jews for her son's death. In their concluding remarks the editors sought to downplay the seriousness of Krystalnacht [sic). The events of November 9-10 were obviously the work of rabble, the letter wishfully explained, and not of German notables who undoubtedly felt indignation and horror at the violence perpetrated against Jews.
20. Thompson, Let the Record Speak, p.260. Thompson's efforts on behalf of Grynszpan nevertheless were regarded warily by both American and non-American Jews in Germany at the time. American Charge, Prentice Gilbert, at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin conveyed the anxiety of Jews who had made their views known to him in a telegram to the Secretary of State, sent on 19 November 1938 (telegram No.638; NARS 862.4016/1856):
There is a growing universal expression of apprehension lest anti-German incidents and expressions in other countries [in response to Kristallnacht] may cause renewed action against them here. In this respect in their extreme anxiety they naturally regard such happenings in their practical aspects as affecting them rather than in a general moral light. On this score several have noted in a recent number of the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune an account of a reported movement of Americans to provide a fund for the legal defense of Grynszpan. They express regret that the action of Grynszpan which they from every point of view condemn and deplore is thus by inference at least condoned. They do not wish to appear to be associated despite the storming [stormy?] circumstances with anything but unqualified condemnation of the act itself [from Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers 1938, Vol. II (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1955), pp. 403-4.]
21. See, for example, G. Warburg, Six Years of Hitler. The Jews Under the Nazi Regime (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1939), p.253.

22. Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking, 1963) suggested that 'Herschel Grynszpan was a psychopath, unable to finish school, who for years had knocked about Pads and Brussels, being expelled from both places' (pp. 206-7).

23. For book-length accounts of the Grynszpan case published by the Nazis, see: (1) Wolfgang Diewerge, Anschlag gegen den Frieden; em Gelbbuch über Grünspan und seine heifershelfer (München F. Eher nachf., 1939); (2) Friedrich Wilhelm Grimm, Der Grünspan Prozess (Nürnberg: F. WilImy, 1942); (3) Pierre Dumoulin [pseudonym for F. W. Grimm], Laftaire Grynspan, un attentat contre France (Paris: Editions Jean-Renard, 1942); and (4) Gustave vom Rath [pseudonym?], Affaire Grynspan; memoire (Berlin: Imp. M. Muller 1939(?)). Concerning the fourth book, Gustave vom Rath was the victim's father. It is very doubiful he actually authored this work-more likely, his name was merely appropriated to it by the Nazis in order to enhance the book's propagandistic value.

24. For Nazi efforts to capture materials relating to the Grynszpan case during the takeover of Paris, see Friedrich Wilhelm Grimm, Denkschrift über die in Paris im Juni-Juli 1940 von derDeutschen Geheimen Feldpolizei in der Grünspan-Sache beschlagnahmten Akten, 194? [typescript]. A microfilm copy is available at the Hoover Institution Library, Stanford University, Stanford, California. Gerald Schwab ('The Grynszpan Affair', M.A. thesis, School of Government, The George Washington University, 22 February 1958) said of this source that it contains a great deal of material, mainly regarding the serious strife among the various [French] lawyers interested in defending Grynszpan, the wasting of defense funds, newspaper articles before and after the assassination, communications and visitors received by Grynszpan in his cell, material concerning voluntary contributions to the Grynszpan defense and similar information. (p.17)

25. See 'Grynszpan Given to Nazis by Vichy', New York Times, 8 September 1940.

26. See Weill-Goudchaux, 'La fin de Gruenspan', Evidences (Paris) 1 (May 1949). 19-20. See also, Henry Torres, Accuses hors serie (Paris: Gallimard, 1957).9

27. Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe 1939-1945, 2nd rev. and augmented edn (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1968), p.33. Reitlinger's source was Kurt R. Grossman's article, 'Herschel Grunspan lebt! Auibau, New York, 10 May 1957.

28. Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, pp.35-6, and Schwab, 'The Grynszpan Affair' pp. 22, 52, 72, credit Grynszpan with instigating the homosexuality defence himself. Raul Hilberg ['The Nature of the Process', in Joel E. Dimsdale, ed., Survivors, Victims, and Perpetrators. Essays on the Nazi Holocaust (New York: Hemisphere Press, 1980), pp. 5-54], however, suggests that the Nazi justice ministry made the overenthusiastic mistake of adding homosexuality to the charge against Grynszpan (p.26). See also, Lucien Steinberg, 'Document allemands sur 'affaire Grynszpan', Le Monde Juif(n.s.) 19 (1964), 17-25.

29. Two letters from Schwab--dated 15 April and 14 May 1947--can be found in the Dorothy Thompson collection at the Syracuse University Library.

30. The Wiener Library file on Grynszpan reveals at least one contemporary newspaper clipping dated 24 March 1941 (though the '1' in '41' is difficult to make out on my xerox copy) in which the German trial plans were reported. (I cannot make out the paper's name either, though it is Englishlanguage.) The article was titled, 'Gestapo to Stage "Big Plot" at Young Jew's Trial'. The dateline, Vichy. It began:

Germans will attempt to depict a big assassination plot against prominent Germans when Herschel Grynszpan the young Jew, whose shooting of vom Rath, Counsellor to the German Embassy in Paris in 1938 precipitated a vast anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany, is brought to trial soon, it is learned in Vichy. Maitre Moro-Giaffen., the Paris criminal lawyer, and others will be depicted as being involved, it is said. Grynszpan is reported to have confessed to having been a tool of a 'Jewish masonic plot', after two months' questioning by a special Himmler (Gestapo) commission, reports British United Press.
31. Michael Soltikow, Wochenend (Nürnberg) 2 and 9 April 1952.

32. '"Dead Man" Sought as Witness', London Times, 16 November 1960.

33. Helmut Heiber 'Der Fall Grünspan', Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte 5 (1957), 13~72.

34. Grossman, 'Herschel Gruenspan lebt!'

35 Kurt R. Grossman, 'The Trial Against World Jewry That Never Took Place', National Jewish Monthly 10 (1958), 2~57.

36. Egon Larson, 'The Boy Who Pulled the Trigger; German Documents Reveal How Feibel Grynszpan Survived It All', World Jewry 11(1959), 1O~1 1.

37. Andreas Freund, 'Herschel Grynszpan le revenant', l'Arche 36 (1959), 30; also Andreas Freund, 'Herschel Grynszpan~Man or Phantom?' Jewish Digest, September 1961, pp. 6~71.

38. Schwab, 'The Grynszpan Affair'.

39. Friedrich Karl Kaul, Der Fall des Herschel Grynszpan (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1965).

40. Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case.

41. Ibid., p.153.

42. Cuoted in Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, pp. 15~6. Cuenot does not give his specific source.

43. Ibid., p.156.

44. Helmut Heiber, personal communication, 25 March 1981. The full text of Heiber's letter:

Zu lhrem Screiben vom 13. Marz teile ich lhnen mit, dass ich Gru'nspan nie gesehen und mich seit über zwanzig Jahren auch nicht mehr mit dem Fall beschäftigt habe. Meiner Errinnerung nach gab es seinerzeit emen Anhaltspunkt (eme Interpol-Meldung?), der darauf hindeutete, dass Grünspan den Kneg überlebt hat und untergetaucht ist. Da aber seitdem nichts in dieser Richtung aufgetaucht bzw. bestätigt worden ist, möchte ich heute eher vermuten, dass er vor Kriegsende umgebracht worden ist.
45. On the Soltikow tnals (there were three in all) see Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, pp.177-81. Also, 'Der Tote lebt', Der Spiegel, 31 August1960, pp.22-S; Heinrich Gruber, letter, Der Spiegel, 14 September 1960; 'Soltikow-Prozess. Bis zum bitteren Ende', Der Spiegel, No.1 for 1961 (no publication date shown on this issue), pp. 20-1; Karl R. A. Wittig, letter, Der Speigel, 5 October 1960, pp. 14, 16, 17.

46. Cuenot, The Herschel Grynszpan Case, p.179.

47. Ibid., p.161.

48. Ibid., pp.152-3.

49. Ibid., p.160.

50. This estimate is based on Table VII (p.326) in Herbert A. Straus, 'Jewish Emigration from Germany. Nazi Policies and Jewish Responses (I)', Leo Baeck Institute of Jews from Germany, Year Book XXV (1980), 31~1. The table provides yearly estimates of total emigration from Germany. According to these, a total of one hundred and twenty-nine thousand emigrated between 1933 and 1937, inclusive. Seventy-eight thousand emigrated in 1939 alone--which, incidentally, is equivalent to sixty per cent of the 1933-7 total. Forty thousand emigrated in 1938. I assigned ten thousand of these 1938 emigrés to the post-Kristallnacht portion of the year, from 10 November 38 to 31 December 38, and thirty thousand to the pre-Kristallnacht portion of the year. That interpolation implies that emigration from 1933 to Kristallnacht totalled one hundred and fifty-nine thousand whereas emigration from Kristallnacht to the end of 1939 totalled eighty-eight thousand, which figures provide proportions cited in my text.

51. Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue. The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945 (New York; Holocaust Library, 1970), p.44.