Herschel Grynszpan - Biography
Herschel Feibel Grynszpan (March 28, 1921 — declared dead 1960) was a Polish Jew and political assassin. Grynszpan's assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on November 7, 1938, after the deportation of his family, provided the excuse for the Nazi Kristallnacht, the antisemitic pogrom of November 9–10, 1938. Grynszpan was seized by the Gestapo after the German invasion of France and brought to Germany.
Herschel Grynszpan was born in Hanover, Germany. His parents, Sendel and Rivka Grynszpan, were Polish Jews who had immigrated from Poland in 1911 and settled in Hanover, where Sendel opened a tailor's shop, from which the family made a modest living. They became Polish citizens after World War I and retained that status during their years in Germany. Herschel was one of six children of whom only three survived childhood. The first child was born dead in 1912. The second child, daughter Sophie Helena, born in 1914, died in 1928 of scarlet fever. Daughter Esther was born on January 31, 1916, and a son, Mordechai, on August 29, 1919. A fifth child, son Salomon, was born in 1920 and died in 1931 as a result of a traffic accident. On March 28, 1921, Herschel was born.
Hanover to Paris
Herschel attended a state primary school until he was 14, in 1935. He later said that he left school because Jewish students were already facing discrimination. He was an intelligent, sensitive youth who had few close friends, although he was an active member of the Jewish youth sports club, Bar-Kochba Hanover. When he left school, his parents decided there was no future for him in Germany, and tried to arrange for him to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine. With financial assistance from the Hanover Jewish community, Herschel was sent to a yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) in Frankfurt-am-Main, where he studied Hebrew and Torah: he was by all accounts more religious than his parents. After eleven months he left the yeshiva and returned to Hanover, where he applied to immigrate to Palestine. But the local Palestine emigration office told him he was too young, and would have to wait a year.
Rather than wait, Herschel and his parents decided that he should go to live with his uncle and aunt, Abraham and Chawa Grynszpan, in Paris. He obtained a Polish passport and a German residence permit, and received permission to leave Germany for Belgium, where another uncle, Wolf Grynszpan, was living. He had no intention of staying in Belgium, however, and in September 1936 he entered France illegally. He was unable to enter France legally because he had no visible means of support, while Jews were not permitted to take money out of Germany.
In Paris, Grynszpan lived in a small Yiddish-speaking enclave of Polish Orthodox Jews, and met few people outside it, learning only a few words of French in two years. He spent this period trying to get legal residence in France, without which he could not work or study legally, but was rejected by French officials. His re-entry permit for Germany expired in April 1937 and his Polish passport expired in January 1938, leaving him without legal papers.
In July 1938, the Prefecture of Police ruled that Grynszpan had no basis for his request to stay in France, and in August he was ordered to leave the country. He had no re-entry permit for Germany and in any case had no desire to go there. In March 1938, Poland had passed a law depriving Polish citizens who had lived continuously abroad for more than five years of their citizenship: this was explicitly intended to prevent the 70,000 Polish Jews living in Germany and Austria from returning to Poland. After effectively becoming a stateless person he continued to live in Paris illegally. He was active in Jewish émigré circles and was a member of the Bundist youth movement Tsukunft.
Exile to assassin
Meanwhile, the position of the Grynszpan family in Hanover was becoming increasingly untenable. Sendel's business was declining, and Berta and Mordecai both lost their jobs. In August 1938 the German authorities announced that all residence permits for foreigners were being cancelled and would have to be renewed: it was obvious that Jews would not be given new permits. Poland, however, said that it would not accept Jews of Polish origin, whom it no longer considered to be Polish citizens, after the end of October. On 26 October, to beat this deadline, the Gestapo was ordered to arrest and deport immediately all Polish Jews in Germany.
The Grynszpans were among the estimated 12,000 Polish Jews arrested, stripped of their property and herded aboard trains headed for Poland. At the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Sendel Grynszpan recounted the events of their deportation, on the night of 27 October 1938: "Then they took us in police trucks, in prisoners’ lorries, about 20 men in each truck, and they took us to the railway station. The streets were full of people shouting: ’Juden raus! Aus nach Palästina!’ " ("Jews get out! Out to Palestine!"). When they got to the border, they were forced to walk two kilometres to the Polish border town of Zbąszyń (Bentschen in German). There, however, Poland refused to admit them. The Grynszpans and thousands of other Polish-Jewish deportees were left stranded at the border, fed only intermittently by the Polish Red Cross and Jewish welfare organizations. It was from Zbąszyn that Berta Grynszpan sent a postcard to Herschel in Paris, telling him what had happened and pleading with him to rescue them and arrange for them to emigrate to America - something totally beyond his powers.
Berta's postcard was dated 31 October, and reached Herschel on Thursday 3 November. The next day was the Jewish Sabbath, and then came the weekend. On the evening of Sunday 6 November, he asked his uncle Abraham to give him money that he could send to his family, but Abraham said that he had little to spare, and that he was incurring both financial cost and legal risks by harbouring Herschel, an illegal and unemployed youth. There was a furious scene, and Herschel walked out of his uncle's house, with about 300 francs to his name. He spent the night in a cheap hotel.
On the morning of 7 November, Grynszpan wrote a farewell postcard to his parents, which he put in his pocket. He then went to a gunshop in the Rue du Faubourg St Martin, where he bought a 6.35mm revolver and a box of 25 bullets, for 235 francs. He then caught the metro to the Solférino station, and walked to the German Embassy at 78 Rue de Lille. At 9.45am at the Embassy reception desk, Grynszpan said that he was a German resident and that he wanted to see an Embassy official - he did not ask for anyone by name (an important point in the light of later events). The clerk on duty asked Ernst vom Rath, the more junior of the two Embassy officials available, to see him. When Grynszpan entered vom Rath's office, he pulled out his gun and shot vom Rath five times in the abdomen. According to the French police account, he shouted "You’re a filthy boche" and said he was acting in the name of 12,000 persecuted Jews.
Grynszpan made no attempt to resist or escape, and identified himself correctly to the French police. He freely confessed to shooting vom Rath (who was in critical condition in a hospital), and again said that his motive for doing so was to avenge the persecuted German Jews. In his pocket was the postcard to his parents. It said:
- "With God's help.
My dear parents, I could not do otherwise, may God forgive me, the heart bleeds when I hear of your tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do. Forgive me.
Hermann [his German name]"
Despite the best attentions of French and German doctors, including Adolf Hitler's personal physician Karl Brandt, Ernst vom Rath died on 9 November. On 17 November, he was given a state funeral in Düsseldorf, which was attended by Hitler and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop with considerable publicity. In his funeral oration, Ribbentrop described the shooting as an attack by the Jews on the German people: "We understand the challenge, and we accept it", he said. By then, however, vom Rath's assassination had already had the most dire consequences for the people Grynszpan had apparently been trying to help—the German Jews.
The day of Rath's death was the fifteenth anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, the "Tag der Bewegung" (Day of the Movement): the greatest day of the Nazi calendar. That evening Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, after consulting with Hitler, made an inflammatory speech at the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich where the Putsch had been organized, in front of a crowd of senior veteran Nazis from all over Germany. It would not be surprising, he said, if the German people were so outraged by the assassination of a German diplomat by a Jew that they took the law into their own hands and attacked Jewish businesses, community centres and synagogues. Such "spontaneous outbursts", he said, should not be openly organized by the Nazi Party or the SA, but neither should they be opposed or prevented.
Within hours, Nazi militants launched a massive pogrom against Jewish communities throughout Germany, known to history as Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), which lasted all night and into the next day. Over 90 people were killed, more than 30,000 Jews arrested and sent to concentration camps (where over a thousand died of mistreatment before the remainder were released some months later), and thousands of Jewish shops, homes and offices and more than 200 synagogues smashed up or burned. More than 1 billion Reichsmarks' damage to property was reported - and Jews were unable to claim insurance for property losses. These events shocked and horrified world opinion and helped bring to an end the climate of support for appeasement of Hitler in Britain, France and the United States. They also caused a new wave of Jewish emigration from Germany.
Grynszpan was distraught that his action had triggered such a violent assault on the German Jews (although his own family, having already been deported to the Polish border, were safe from this particular manifestation of Nazi anti-Semitism). The assassination of vom Rath was merely a pretext for the launch of the pogrom. The Nazi government had been planning a new level of violence against the Jews for some time and were waiting for an appropriate pretext. Eric Johnson notes that in the year preceding Kristallnacht the Nazis "had entered a new radical phase in anti-Semitic activity". A Jewish leader in Palestine wrote in February 1938 based on "a very reliable private source – one which can be traced back to the highest echelons of the SS leadership, that there is an intention to carry out a genuine and dramatic pogrom in Germany on a large scale in the near future."
The death of vom Rath and the horrors of the Kristallnacht pogroms brought Herschel Grynszpan international notoriety. On 14 November Dorothy Thompson, who in 1934 had become the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany, made an impassioned broadcast to an estimated 5 million listeners in defense of Grynszpan, pointing out that the Nazis themselves had made heroes of the assassins of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss and German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau.
- "I am speaking of this boy [she said]. Soon he will go on trial. The news is that on top of all this terror, this horror, one more must pay. They say he will go to the guillotine, without a trial by jury, with the rights that any common murderer has... Who is on trial in this case? I say we are all on trial. I say the men of Munich are on trial, who signed a pact without one word of protection for helpless minorities. Whether Herschel Grynszpan lives or not won't matter much to Herschel. He was prepared to die when he fired those shots. His young life was already ruined. Since then, his heart has been broken into bits by the results of his deed.
- "They say a man is entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers, and a man's kinsmen rally around him, when he is in trouble. But no kinsman of Herschel's can defend him. The Nazi government has announced that if any Jews, anywhere in the world, protest at anything that is happening, further oppressive measures will be taken. They are holding every Jew in Germany as a hostage. Therefore, we who are not Jews must speak, speak our sorrow and indignation and disgust in so many voices that they will be heard. This boy has become a symbol, and the responsibility for his deed must be shared by those who caused it."
Liberal and left-wing newspapers and commentators in many countries echoed her sentiments. While deploring the assassination, they argued that Grynszpan had been driven to his act by the Nazi persecution of German Jews and of his family in particular.
Jewish organizations were horrified by Grynszpan's action, which they condemned more severely than most non-Jewish liberals, while echoing the plea of extenuating circumstances, and condemning the subsequent victimization of all German Jews in response to the act of an isolated individual. The World Jewish Congress "deplored the fatal shooting of an official of the German Embassy by a young Polish Jew of seventeen", but "protested energetically against the violent attacks in the German press against the whole of Judaism because of this act" and especially against the "reprisals taken against the German Jews." The Alliance Israélite Universelle in France "rejected all forms of violence, regardless of author or victim", but "indignantly protested the barbarous treatment inflicted on an entire innocent population."
Several appeals were launched to raise money for Grynszpan's defense. In the U.S., Thompson launched an appeal which raised more than $40,000 in a few weeks: she asked that Jews not donate to the fund, so that the Nazis could not attribute Grynszpan's defense to a Jewish conspiracy. Jewish organizations also raised money. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, two Paris Jewish lawyers, Szwarc and Vésinne-Larue, were engaged by the Grynszpan family. Once the case became internationally known the family sought a well known lawyer and retainedone of Paris's leading advocates and President of the Central Committee of the Alliance of Revisionists-Zionists, also known as Hatzohar. Isidore Franckel wanted a well known non-Jewish lawyer as co-counsel and engaged Vincent de Moro-Giafferi, a flamboyant Corsican, leading anti-fascist activist and a former Education Minister in Radical government of Édouard Herriot and a Yiddish-speaking lawyer, Serge Weill-Goudchaux, as his associate. Legal fees and costs were paid by Dorothy Thompson's defense fund.
Until Franckel and Moro-Giafferi took over the defense, everybody had accepted that Grynszpan went to the Embassy in a rage and shot the first German he saw, as a political act to avenge the persecution of his family and German Jews in general. Grynszpan's own statements after his arrest supported this: he reportedly said to the Paris 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."
Franckel and Moro-Giafferi, however, took the view that if Grynszpan was allowed to claim that he had shot vom Rath with such a motive, this would result in his certain conviction and possibly take him to the guillotine (despite his being a minor), since French law took a severe view of political assassination. If, on the other hand, the crime could be shown to have had a non-political motive, this might lead to an acquittal, or at least to a lesser sentence, since French law traditionally took a lenient view of the crime passionel (crime of passion). His legal strategy was thus to "depoliticize" Grynszpan's actions.
The homosexual theory
This seems to have been the origin of the theory that Grynszpan was acquainted with vom Rath prior to the shooting, and that vom Rath was his intended victim. According to this version of events, vom Rath was a homosexual, and met Grynszpan in a Paris bar, Le Boeuf sur le Toit. It is not clear whether Grynszpan was himself alleged to be homosexual, or whether he was said to be using his youth and appearance to win an influential friend. According to this theory, vom Rath had promised to use his influence to get Grynszpan's position in France regularized. When vom Rath reneged on this promise, Grynszpan went to the Embassy and shot him.
In support of the theory, Hans-Jürgen Döscher, a leading German authority on the period and author of Reichskristallnacht, published documents in 2001 which he said showed that Grynszpan and vom Rath had had a sexual relationship. Döscher quoted extracts from the diary of French author André Gide, himself homosexual and well-informed regarding Parisian gay gossip. Vom Rath, Gide wrote, "had an exceptionally intimate relationship with the little Jew, his murderer." Later Gide said: "The idea that such a highly thought-of representative of the Third Reich sinned twice according to the laws of his country is rather amusing."
There are arguments against the theory that vom Rath had a sexual relationship with Grynszpan. There is no evidence that they had ever met other than second-hand gossip of the type recorded by Gide. The officials at the German Embassy were clear that Grynszpan had not asked to see vom Rath by name, and that he saw vom Rath only because he happened to be on duty at the time Grynszpan visited the Embassy, and because the desk clerk asked vom Rath to see Grynszpan. While interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1941, Grynszpan told fellow inmates that although he was intending to claim at his trial that he had had homosexual relations with vom Rath, this was not true.
Most postwar writers, including Ron Roizen, the French historian Dr. Alain Cuenot, and the American investigator Gerald Schwab, maintain that Moro-Giafferi fabricated the story about a homosexual relationship with vom Rath after the murder, in order to assist in Grynszpan's defence. Michael Marrus wrote:
- The origin of the story of homosexuality was the defendant's French attorney, Maitre Moro-Giafferi. He claimed in 1947 that he simply invented the story as a possible line of defense, one that would put the affair in an entirely new light. In fact, however, rumors about vom Rath's homosexuality were in the air in Paris immediately after the assassination. Whatever the origins of the story, its utility was obvious: the murder could be presented not as a political act but as a cause passionelle - a lover's quarrel, in which the German diplomat could be judged incidentally as having seduced a minor. Moro-Giafferi shared the fears of the Grynszpan committee at the time of Kristallnacht that a political trial would be a catastrophe for the Jews of Germany and elsewhere. By adopting this legal strategy, they hope to defuse the affair and also reduce the penalty drastically, possible even prompting a suspended sentence.
Further evidence is presented by Gerald Schwab in the form of a letter, sent to Ernst vom Rath's brother in 1964 by Erich Wollenburg, a communist exile from Nazi Germany who claimed to be an associate of Moro-Giafferi:
- One day, and unless I am mistaken it was in the spring of 1939, I met Moro-Giafferi on Boulevard St. Michel, and I asked him for news of Grunspahn (sic) for whom he was the defence lawyer. He had just come from visiting him in his cell, and was revolted by the attitude of his client. "That young man is a fool, infatuated with himself", he said. "He refuses to give a non-political character to his act by saying for example that he assassinated vom Rath because he had had money quarrels with him following homosexual relations. Yet, such an attitude in regard to the murder of vom Rath is necessary, in order to save the Jews of the Third Reich, whose lives are becoming more and more precarious in regard to the prosperity, their health, their futures, etc. If only... he would deny the political motives of his crime, and assert that he had only personal vengeance in mind, vengeance as a victim of homosexuality, the Nazis would lose their best pretext for exercising their reprisals against the German Jews who are victims of his fit of madness and now, of his obstinacy." I asked him if Grunspahn really had had relations with vom Rath. He replied, "Absolutely not!" I said to him then, "But as a defender of Gruhnspahn shouldn't you protect not only the interests of your client, but his honour as well?" It was at that moment that Moro-Giafferi exclaimed, "Honour! Honour! What is the honour of that absurd little Jew in the face of the criminal action of Hitler? What does the honour of Grunspahn weigh in the face of the destiny of thousands of Jews?"
Paris to Berlin
From November 1938 to June 1940 Grynszpan was imprisoned in the Fresnes Prison in Paris while legal arguments continued over the conduct of his trial. The defence sought to delay the trial as long as possible by making procedural difficulties, in the hope that the publicity surrounding the vom Rath murder would quiet down and the trial would be less politicized. But the prosecution was also in no hurry.
The heavyhanded actions of the Germans did not help. A German lawyer, Friedrich Grimm, was sent to Paris, supposedly representing the vom Rath family, but in fact was widely known to be an agent of Goebbels. Grimm tried to argue that Grynszpan should be extradited to Germany, even though he was not a German citizen - there was no way the French government could agree to this. The Germans argued that Grynszpan had acted as the agent of a Jewish conspiracy, and their fruitless efforts to find evidence to support this contention further delayed the trial. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 made it impossible for the Germans to participate further (although they engaged a Swiss lawyer to represent their interests), and also causing the French authorities to lose interest in prosecuting Grynszpan. Grynszpan applied for release from detention so that he could join the French Foreign Legion, but this was refused.
Once the war broke out, Moro-Giafferi changed his tactics and demanded an immediate trial, confident that the anti-German mood, and the inability of the Germans to present evidence, would result in Grynszpan's acquittal. But the investigating judge had joined the army, the Ministry of Justice did not want the trial to proceed, and the Swiss lawyer engaged by the Germans employed various delaying tactics. As a result, there was no trial, and Grynszpan was still in prison when the invading German Army approached Paris in June 1940.
The French authorities evacuated the inhabitants of the Paris prisons to the south in early June. Grynszpan was sent first to Orléans, from where he was sent by bus to the prison at Bourges. En route, however, the convoy was attacked by German aircraft. Some prisoners were killed, while others escaped in the confusion. One of these was apparently Grynszpan, since he was not among the survivors who arrived in Bourges. But Grynszpan had not escaped; he had merely been left behind. Remarkably, instead of making good his escape, he walked to Bourges and turned himself in to the police. From Bourges he was sent to make his own way to Toulouse. Presumably the French expected him to disappear, but he duly presented himself at the prison in Toulouse and was incarcerated. Grynszpan had no money, knew no one in France, and spoke little French. Apparently he believed he would be safer in a French prison than wandering the countryside.
The Nazis, however, were on Grynszpan's trail. Friedrich Grimm, by now an official of the German Foreign Ministry, and SS Sturmbannführer Karl Bömelburg arrived in Paris on 15 June with orders to find Grynszpan. They followed him to Orléans, then to Bourges, where they learned that he had been sent to Toulouse, which was in the Unoccupied Zone to be run by the authorities of Vichy France. France had surrendered on 22 June, and one of the terms of the armistice gave the Germans the right to demand that France surrender all "Germans named by the German Government" to the German occupation authorities. Although Grynszpan was not a German citizen, Germany had been his last place of legal residence, and the Vichy authorities made no objection to Grimm's formal demand that he be handed over. On 18 July Grynszpan was delivered to Bömelburg at the border of the Occupied Zone. He was driven back to Paris, flown to Berlin and locked up in the Gestapo headquarters at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse.
Grynszpan versus Goebbels
Grynszpan spent the remainder of his life in German custody, being shuttled between Moabit Prison in Berlin and the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg. At Sachsenhausen he was housed in the "bunker" reserved for "special prisoners" - he shared it with the last Chancellor of Austria, Kurt Schuschnigg. He received comparatively mild treatment because Goebbels intended that he be made the subject of a propaganda show trial, to prove the complicity of "international Jewry" in the vom Rath murder. Grimm and an official of Goebbels's ministry, Wolfgang Diewerge, were put in charge of the preparations, using the files which had been seized from Moro-Giafferi's offices in Paris (Moro-Giafferi himself had escaped to Switzerland).
Goebbels, however, found it just as difficult to bring Grynszpan to trial in Germany as he had done in France. The Nazis held unchallenged political power, but the state bureaucracy retained its independence in many areas (and in fact harboured the most effective networks of the German Resistance). The Justice Ministry, still staffed by lawyers concerned to uphold the letter of the law, argued correctly that since Grynszpan was not a German citizen, he could not be tried in Germany for a murder he had committed outside Germany, and since he had been a minor at the time he could not face the death penalty. These arguments dragged on through 1940 and into 1941.
The solution was to charge Grynszpan with high treason, for which he could be legally tried and executed if convicted. It took some time to persuade everyone concerned of the "legality" of this, and it was not until October 1941 that he was formally indicted. The indictment argued that Grynszpan's objective in shooting vom Rath had been to "prevent through force of threats the Führer and Reichschancellor from the conduct of their constitutional functions" at the behest of international Jewry. In November Goebbels saw Hitler and gained his approval for a show trial that would put "World Jewry in the dock." The trial was set for January 1942. It was arranged for the former French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet to testify that "World Jewry" had been responsible for dragging France into a war with Germany. This was the political objective of the trial.
January 1942 came, however, and the trial did not take place. This was partly because of more momentous events. The United States had entered the war in December, the same month that the German armies had suffered a major setback on the eastern front before Moscow. In February the Riom Trial of Blum and other French politicians was due to begin - Goebbels did not want two show trials at once. It was partly also because of further legal difficulties. It was feared that Grynszpan would challenge the legality of his deportation from France, which the Justice Ministry officials felt had been "irregular."
Most disturbing of all, however, was the revelation that Grynszpan would claim that he had shot von Rath because he had had homosexual relations with him. This was communicated to Grimm, Diewerge and other officials by Roland Freisler, later the head of the People's Court, but at this time State Secretary of the Justice Ministry, on 22 January. Apparently Grynszpan, having rejected the idea of using this line of defence when Moro-Giafferi had thought of it in 1938, had decided that it was worth a try. He had told one of his Gestapo interrogators, Dr Heinrich Jagusch, that he intended using this defense as long ago as mid 1941, but the Justice Ministry had not informed Goebbels, who was furious. He wrote in his diary:
- "Grynszpan has invented the insolent argument that he had a homosexual relationship with... vom Rath. That is, of course, a shameless lie; however it is thought out very cleverly and would, if brought out in the course of a public trial, certainly become the main argument of enemy propaganda."
In March Goebbels again saw Hitler, and assured him that the trial would get under way in May. He did not, however, warn Hitler of the problem of the possibility that Grynszpan might claim that he had had homosexual relations with vom Rath. In April he was still grappling with the problem. He wrote:
- "I am having lots of work preparing the Grynszpan trial. The Ministry of Justice has deemed it proper to furnish the defendant, the Jew Grynszpan, the argument of Article 175 [the German law against homosexuality]. Grynszpan until now has always claimed, and rightly so, that he had not even known the Counsellor of the Legation whom he shot. Now there is in existence some sort of anonymous letter by a Jewish refugee, which leaves open the likelihood of homosexual intercourse between Grysnpan and vom Rath. It is an absurd, typically Jewish, claim. The Ministry of Justice, however, did not hesitate to incorporate this claim in the indictment and to send the indictment to the defendant. This shows again how foolishly our legal experts have acted in this case, and how shortsighted it is to entrust any political matter whatever to the jurists."
On 10 April the acting Justice Minister, Franz Schlegelberger, wrote to Goebbels demanding to know whether Hitler, when he had authorized the trial, had been aware that Grynszpan was planning to use the "homosexual defense." The issue that was troubling the Justice Ministry was not the allegation that vom Rath had had a sexual relationship with Grynszpan - they knew that to be false, and in fact they knew Grynszpan had told some of his fellow prisoners at Sachsenhausen that it was false. The problem was their belief that vom Rath had in fact been homosexual, that Grynszpan knew details of this (these had been given to him by Moro-Giafferi in Paris), and that he would reveal them in court. This would embarrass both the vom Rath family and the Foreign Ministry. It was also learned that vom Rath's brother Gustav had served a prison sentence for homosexual offences.
Soon after this, Hitler was made aware of the problem - by whom it is not clear, but it is probable that the matter had reached the ears of Martin Bormann, head of the Party Chancellery and Hitler's private secretary, who thought it his duty to inform Hitler that Goebbels had not told him the whole truth about the Grynszpan case. It is probably not coincidental that the Riom Trial was called off on 4 April, after Blum and the other defendants had used it as a platform to attack the Vichy regime. This no doubt helped influence Hitler against a further risky show trial. In any event, by the beginning of May 1942 it was clear to all that Hitler did not favour a trial. The matter was raised on and off for several months more, but without Hitler's approval there could be no progress. In recognition of this, Grynszpan was moved in September to the prison at Magdeburg.
Grynszpan's fate after September 1942 is not known. Since his trial was never actually called off, merely postponed indefinitely, he was probably kept alive in case circumstances changed and a trial became possible. He was still alive in late 1943 or early 1944, when he was interrogated by Adolf Eichmann at Gestapo headquarters in Berlin. Ron Roisen reports rumours that he was still alive in Magdeburg Prison in January 1945, but there is no definitive evidence of this. There were rumours after the war that he had survived and was living under another name in Paris, but there is no evidence for this. He was declared legally dead by the West German government in 1960. His parents, having sent him to "safety" in Paris while they and his siblings stayed in Germany, survived the war. Having been deported to Poland, they escaped in 1939 to the Soviet Union. After the war they migrated to Israel. Sendel Grynszpan, Herschel's father, was present at the Israeli premiere in 1952 of Sir Michael Tippett's oratorio about Grynszpan, A Child of Our Time.
Eichmann on Grynszpan
Extract from Adolf Eichmann's testimony at his trial, 1961:
- Grynszpan [I was told]...in...was late in the War...in...during the War - it must have been in 43 - or 44 - I was hardly - in 43 Grynszpan was...this is it: I received some...some...in the line of my duty I received an order that Grynszpan was in custody in Prinz Albrechtstrasse 8, and he had to be further examined concerning who was likely to have been behind the scenes. Accordingly I gave instructions to bring Grynszpan no, not this way - accordingly Krischak gave orders - Krischak was dealing with the matter - to bring Grynszpan and...either way it would have been useless, I said to myself. I still remember exactly, for I was curious to see what Grynszpan looked like.
- For this reason I can still remember this very well, and I still said: Will they - more or less thus - if they had not found this out during all those years, then this will also...this examination will also be pointless, this would be useless, but an order was an order. Grynszpan - er - Krischak questioned him and took notes. Nothing, obviously, emerged from the whole thing and I merely said then to Krischak that if he had completed the interrogation, I wanted him to bring him to me upstairs, for I very much wanted - for once - to look at the man Grynszpan. I wanted to talk to him. And I did then, exchange a few words with Grynszpan. He was very brief [abweisend] and brusque, was indifferent and gave short replies to all the questions. I wanted to ask him, since I had no knowledge at all of the whole matter, where he had been and things of that kind. On the whole he looked well, he was small - he was a smallish lad - I have absolutely - I don't know if I am wrong but this I remember - such a...he was such a little man - this is still preserved in my memory; and then he was again returned to custody in Prinz Albrechtstrasse 8. What happened then I don't know. Again I delivered my report, that is to say, the report was again conveyed through the service channels by Krischak. It was a short report - because nothing came of it.
- Do you know what happened to him subsequently?
- No, I do not know.
- Was he taken to some camp, or, or was he shot or something?
- Evidently to some camp. He cannot have remained in prison, so I believe.
- I was not authorized on this...
- Didn't you interest yourself later as to what had happened to him - or possibly by chance did you hear something?
- No, it...it...it completely vanished ...completely vanished from my memory. Perhaps this was a short while before my departure for...for...perhaps this was the end of 1943...this I do not know. I don't know what...what happened to him. I did not hear anything more. I didn't hear anything more about it. At any rate I cannot ...I cannot recollect. I also don't know where...where he stayed for the rest of the time, until the day on which I [received] the...on which the Department received the order, to interrogate him with regards to possible supporters.
- This article draws heavily on Gerald Schwab's The Day the Holocaust Began (Praeger, New York, 1990. ISBN 978-0275935764). Schwab, who was born in Germany of Jewish parents in 1925, witnessed the events of Kristallnacht as a boy and was interested in the Grynszpan case from the 1940s. He interviewed many of the key figures, such as Vincent de Moro-Giafferi, who are now long dead.
- Also of interest is Ron Roizen "Herschel Grynszpan: the fate of a forgotten assassin", Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol 1 No 2, 1986