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Hitler's Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust


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A remarkable story of a forgotten seventeen-year-old Jew who was blamed by the Nazis for the anti-Semitic violence and terror known as the Kristallnacht, the pogrom still seen as an initiating event of the Holocaust

After learning about Nazi persecution of his family, Herschel Grynszpan bought a small handgun and on November 7, 1938, went to the German embassy and shot the first German diplomat he saw - Ernst vom Rath. When the man died two days later, Hitler and Goebbels made the shooting their pretext for the state-sponsored wave of anti Semitic terror known as Kristallnacht, still seen by many as an initiating event of the Holocaust.

Grynszpan transformed his political assassination into a crime of passion, by fabricating a gay relationship with vom Rath in order to discredit the victim and the Nazis more generally. Even knowing their prisoner was lying, the Nazis feared the smear so much that case never went to trial. Although Grynszpan succeeded in preventing a trial from going forward, all traces of him vanish after 1942. Whether he was murdered by the Nazis at that time or later has continually been debated. Historians have generally claimed the Nazis killed him before the end of the war, as no trace of him ever appeared afterwards.

Overnight, Grynszpan, a bright but naive teenager, was front-page news and a pawn in a global power struggle.

Author: Stephen Koch

Paperback,  Published 2020, 272 pages

"A blink-of-the-eye episode in the history of the Third Reich sets the events of Kristallnacht in motion, anticipating the years of terror that followed . . . [Hitler's Pawn] will appeal to careful readers of modern European history." ―Kirkus Reviews

"Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi―these are the pivotal figures who will forever stand against the twentieth century's submission to Auschwitz. Yet history urges the inscription of still another indestructible touchstone: Herschel Grynszpan, the seventeen-year-old Polish Jew whose desperate assassination of a German official became the pretext for the fires of Kristallnacht, the ferocious pogrom that initiated the Holocaust. Stephen Koch's heart-stopping account reveals how, in the very pit of Nazi perfidy, this fragile yet steadfast young man devised the ingenious trap that outwitted Goebbels. In the light of Koch's scrupulous unearthings, we must now count the brief, tormented life of Herschel Grynszpan among the lasting necessary chronicles." ―Cynthia Ozick, author of Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays

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