Herschel Grynszpan was born in Honover, Germany in 1919. As German Jews the family suffered persecution after Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933.
In 1936 Grynszpan moved to France to live with with his uncle and aunt living in Paris. On 7th November, 1938, Grynszpan decided to assassinate the German Ambassador in France. It appears that this was an act of revenge for the expulsion of around 15,000 Polish Jews, including his own family, who in October 1938, had been forced across the Silesian border at Zbaszyn.
However, after waiting outside for some time for the German Ambassador he shot Ernst vom Rath, a minor official at the embassy. He died two days later. Rath was in fact an anti-Nazi and was under investigation by the Gestapo at the time.
As a result of the assassination the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) organized Crystal Night on the night of 9th-10th November, 1938. During Crystal Night over 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed and 400 synagogues were burnt down. Ninety-one Jews were killed and an estimated 20,000 were sent to concentration camps.
When the German Army invaded France in 1940 Grynszpan was handed over to the Gestapo. It is not known exactly what happened to Grynszpan. One report said he was executed in 1940 while Fritz Dahms, an official in the German Foreign Office, revealed that he had died just before the end of the Second World War.
In 1957 an article written by the German historian, Helmut Heimer, claimed that he was sent to Sachsenhausen Prison and survived the war. Another article by Egon Larsen published two years later argued that Grynszpan had changed his name and was living in Paris and working as a garage mechanic.
(1) Dorothy Thompson, radio broadcast in the United States (14th November, 1938)
A week ago today an anaemic-looking boy with brooding black eyes walked quietly into the German embassy in the rue de Lille in Paris, asked to see the ambassador, was shown into the office of the third secretary, Herr von Rath, and shot him. Herr von Rath died on Wednesday.
I want to talk about that boy I feel as though I knew him, for in the past five years I have met so many whose story is the same - the same except for this unique desperate act. Herschel Grynzspan was one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees whom the terror east of the Rhine has turned loose in the world. His permit to stay in Paris had expired. He could not leave France, for no country would take him in. He could not work because no country would give him a work permit. So he moved about, hoping he would not be picked up and deported, only to be deported again, and yet again. Sometimes he found a bed with another refugee. Sometimes he huddled away from the wind under the bridges of the Seine.
He got letters from his father, who was in Hanover, in Germany. His father was all right. He still had a little tailoring shop and managed honorably to earn enough for food and shelter. Maybe he would have sent his son money, but he was not allowed to send any out of Germany.
Herschel read the newspapers, and all that he could read filled him with dark anxiety and wild despair. He read how men, women and children, driven out of the Sudentenland by a conquering army - conquering with the consent of Great Britain and France - had been forced to cross the border into Czechoslovakia on their hands and knees - and then had been ordered out of that dismembered country, that, shorn of her richest lands and factories, did not know how to feed the mouths that were left.
He read that Jewish children had been stood on platforms in front of classes of German children and had had their features pointed to and described by the teacher as marks of a criminal race. He read that men and women of his race, amongst them scholars and a general decorated for his bravery had been forced to wash the streets, while the mob laughed. There were men of his race, whom he had been taught to venerate - scientists and educators and scholars who once had been honored by their country. He read that they had been driven from their posts. He heard that the Nazi government had started all this because they said the Jews had made them lose the World War. But Herschel had not even been born when the World War ended. He was seventeen years old.
Herschel had a pistol. I don't know why he had it. Maybe he had bought it somewhere thinking to use it on himself, if the worst came to the worst. Thousands of men and women of his race had killed themselves in the last years, rather than live like hunted animals. Still, he lived on.
Then, a few days ago, he got a letter from his father. His father told him that he had been summoned from his bed, and herded with thousands of others into a train of box cars, and shipped over the border, into Poland. He had not been allowed to take any of his meager savings with him. Just fifty cents. "I am penniless," he wrote to his son.
This was the end. Herschel fingered his pistol and thought: "Why doesn't someone do something! Why must we be chased around the earth like animals!" Herschel was wrong. Animals are not chased around the world like this. In every country there are societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. But there are none for the prevention of cruelty to people. Herschel thought of the people responsible for this terror. Right in Paris were some, who were the official representatives of these responsible people. Maybe he thought that assassination is an honorable profession in these days. He knew, no doubt, that the youths who murdered the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss are heroes in Nazi Germany, as are the murderers of Rathenau. Maybe he remembered that only four years ago the Nazi Leader himself had caused scores of men to be assassinated without a trial, and had justified it simply by saying that he was the law. And so Herschel walked into the German embassy and shot Herr von Rath. Herschel made no attempt to escape. Escape was out of the question anyhow.
(2) Herschel Grynszpan, statement after being arrested on 7th November, 1938.
Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have the right to exist on this earth. Where I have been I have been chased like an animal.
(3) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions for measures against Jews (10th November, 1938)
Following the attempt on the life of Secretary of the Legation von Rath in Paris, demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected in all parts of the Reich in the course of the coming night, November 9/10,1938. The instructions below are to be applied in dealing with these events:
I. The chiefs of the State Police, or their deputies, must immediately upon receipt of this telegram contact, by telephone, the political leaders in their areas - Gauleiter or Kreisleiter - who have jurisdiction in their districts and arrange a joint meeting with the inspector or commander of the Order Police to discuss the arrangements for the demonstrations. At these discussions the political leaders will be informed that the German Police has received instructions, detailed below, from the Reichsfiihrer SS and the chief of the German Police, with which the political leadership is requested to coordinate its own measures:
(a) Only such measures are to be taken as do not endanger German lives or property (i.e., synagogues are to be burnt down only where there is no danger of fire in neighboring buildings).
(b) Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted. The police are instructed to supervise the observance of this order and to arrest looters.
(c) In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are completely protected against damage.
(d) Foreign citizens - even if they are Jews - are not to be molested.
II. On the assumption that the guidelines are observed, the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the police, who are only to supervise the observance of the guidelines.
III. On receipt of this telegram, police will seize all archives to be found in all synagogues and offices of the Jewish communities so as to prevent their destruction during the demonstrations. This refers only to material
of historical value, not to contemporary tax records, etc. The archives are to be handed over to the locally responsible officers of the SD.
IV. The control of the measures of the Security Police concerning the demonstrations against the Jews is vested in the organs of the State Police, unless inspectors of the Security Police have given their own instructions. Officials of the Criminal Police, members of the SD, of the Reserves and the SS in general may be used to carry out the measures taken by the Security Police.
V. As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts, especially the rich, as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contracted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps. Special care is to be taken that the Jews arrested in accordance with these instructions are not ill-treated.