|Born||28 Mar 1921|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseHerschel Feibel Grynszpan was born in Hanover, Germany to Polish Jews Sendel and Rivka Grynszpan who had moved from Poland to Germany in 1911. He attended a public school until the age of 14. His parents began to arrange to move him to Palestine, meanwhile, he studied at a rabbinical seminary in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany for 11 months. As he was told that his application to emigrate to Palestine was rejected (he was too young, and was told to re-apply in a year), his parents decided to instead send him under his uncle Wolf Grynszpan's care in Belgium; he entered Belgium using a Polish passport and German residence papers. In Sep 1936, he illegally entered into France and lived in a Polish Orthodox Jewish enclave in Paris. His German residential permit expired in Apr 1937 and his Polish passport expired in Jan 1938, thus after that time he was with no legal papers. In Aug 1938, French authorities ordered him to leave the country, but he resisted the order and remained.
ww2dbaseIn late Oct 1938, Grynszpan's family in Hanover was arrested, and on 28 Oct they were deported to Poland. Grynszpan learned of the news on 3 Nov from his sister Berta who sent a postcard from one of the refugee camps currently housing the thousands of deportees with nowhere to go. "No one told us what was up, but we realised this was going to be the end.... We haven't a penny. Could you send us something?", she wrote. There was nothing Grynszpan could do, and the inability to help his family frustrated him. He attempted to convince his uncle Abraham Grynszpan to loan him the money to attempt to move his family to the United States, but his uncle refused, adding that he was already taking on too much risk harboring Grynszpan, an illegal immigrant. He stormed out of his uncle's house with only 300 Francs in his pocket and stayed at a cheap hotel during the night of 6 Nov. On the morning of 7 Nov, he purchased a 6.35 caliber revolver and 25 bullets for 235 Francs, and then headed toward the German embassy in Paris, arriving at 0945 hours. He said he was a German resident and asked to see an embassy official without naming anyone in particular, and was taken to the office of diplomat Ernst vom Rath. Grynszpan shot Rath three times in the abdomen and remained in the embassy for the police to arrest him. He confessed to the assassination without reservation. French police found a postcard in his pocket addressed to his parents; on it, he wrote:
ww2dbaseWith God's help.
ww2dbaseMy 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.
ww2dbaseErnst vom Rath died on 9 Nov from his wounds. Using this event as a trigger, the Nazi Party leadership launched a series of demonstrations that turned violent, destroying Jewish businesses and synagogues in a night that was later named Kristallnacht, or "Crystal Night" or "Night of the Broken Glass". The event marked the beginning of anti-Semitism in Germany turning from rampant prejudice to a state-sponsored program.
ww2dbaseAlthough Grynszpan had gone to the German embassy with the intention of committing a political assassination, his attorney Vincent de Moro-Giafferi claimed that it was non-political, as French laws dealt with political assassinations harshly. Moro-Giafferi hired private investigators who uncovered the fact that Rath was a homosexual, and Moro-Giafferi presented the fact that Grynszpan and Rath had a sexual relationship, and the murder was a crime of passion; all of Moro-Giafferi's presented evidence was based on gossip, although some of the gossip were from reputable figures from the Paris diplomatic circle. Moro-Giafferi's story was later largely considered to be fabricated in an attempt to defend his client. Grynszpan did not cooperate with Moro-Giafferi, as Grynszpan's aim was to spread the news of the trial as widely internationally as possible in order to inform the world about the plight of German Jews. Thus, the only strategy Moro-Giafferi could effectively carry out was to drag on the case as long as possible. Meanwhile, the German government repeated requested that Grynszpan be extradited to Germany to face trial the murder of a German official; the French government repeatedly turned down these requests, noting that Grynszpan was not a German citizen (his citizenship had been revoked by Nazi anti-Semitic policy) and the German-issued residence permit for Grynszpan had already expired.
ww2dbaseWhen the European War began in Sep 1939, Moro-Giafferi changed his strategy and demanded immediate trial, as he thought the anti-German attitude would aid the case. With the war grabbing the government's attention, especially with the investigating judge now serving in the French Army, no trial took place, and Grynszpan was still in prison when German troops invaded France in 1940. He was evacuated by the French to Orléans then Bourges. En route to Bourges, the convoy was strafed by German aircraft, and Grynszpan was left behind in the confusion that ensued. He turned himself in at Bourges shortly after. With large areas of France quickly falling under German control, he was told to go to Toulouse by himself, which he obeyed, for he had nowhere else to go and thought he would be safer under the care of the French government. Meanwhile, the Germans dispatched Foreign Ministry official Friedrich Grimm and SS officer Karl Bömelburg to France specifically to search out for Grynszpan; they found out that Grynszpan had made it to Toulouse. Per the agreement between Germany and Vichy France, Grynszpan was named an enemy of the nation of Germany, thus Vichy France must extradite him. Bömelburg took custody of Grynszpan on 18 Jul 1940.
ww2dbaseGrynszpan was at first held at the Gestapo headquarters at Prinz Albrechtstrasse in Berlin, Germany, then was transferred to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. While at Sachsenhausen in 1941, he was imprisoned with political prisoners, including the last Chancellor of Austria Kurt Schuschnigg. He told fellow prisoners that he did not have a homosexual relationship with Rath, and it was a story fabricated to use to his advantage for the trial that never took place. While the German propaganda machine worked hard to make a case for Grynszpan's trial in Germany (which the German judicial branch repeated turned down, for the murder was committed in a foreign nation thus there was no grounds for a trial in Germany), he was treated relatively nicely. In Oct 1941, high ranking officials in the propaganda ministry finally were able to convince judges to indict Grynszpan with high treason. In Nov, Joseph Goebbels secured authorization from Adolf Hitler for a trial against Grynszpan that would present to the world that the "international Jewry" was behind the war between France and Germany. By Jan 1942, two major reasons halted the German pursuit of such a show trial; the entry of the United States gave the propaganda ministry a different list of priorities, and that Grynszpan was said to be planning to use the homosexual relationship story in the planned trial, which would disrupt the claim that his motivation was political. Additionally, the propaganda ministry was concerned that an open announcement that Rath had been a homosexual might damage the image of the German foreign ministry. By May 1942, Hitler began to learn of more details about this case, and made it known that this show trial might be risky. With the trial postponed indefinitely, he was moved to the prison in Magdeburg, Germany in Sep 1942.
ww2dbaseGrynszpan's fate after Sep 1942 was not known. During Adolf Eichmann's trial in Israel after the war, he claimed to have interrogated Grynszpan in Berlin in late 1943 or early 1944. There were also rumors of him still being alive after the war, living under a different name in Paris, but with no concrete evidence. In 1960, the West German government legally declared him deceased.
Last Major Revision: Dec 2009
Herschel Grynszpan Timeline
|28 Mar 1921||Herschel Grynszpan was born.|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945