Book Review | Hitler’s Scapegoat: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust by Stephen Koch

Book Review | Hitler’s Scapegoat: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust by Stephen Koch

Most historians of Third Reich Germany will know the story of the killing of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris who died of an assassination attempt in November 1938. His death is said to have provided the pretext for the infamous Kristallnacht, or ‘The Night of Broken Glass’, a violent pogrom against Jews across Nazi Germany carried out within hours of vom Rath’s demise. Relatively few, however, could probably name Herschel Grynszpan, an impoverished Polish Jewish teenager living in the French capital, who carried out the deadly shooting. Fewer still could tell you Grynszpan’s personal story, how and why he came to carry out the murder and what is thought to have happened to him afterwards. Thankfully, author and historian Stephen Koch provides us with details of this lesser known side of events.

Anyone unfamiliar with the story might be forgiven for thinking that, following his arrest by French police and what appears to be an illegal extradition to Germany, Grynszpan met a grizzly end at the hands of the Gestapo. Yet this did not happen, at least not immediately. He was in fact kept in relative comfort as a prisoner while Hitler ordered preparations for his prosecution. Grynszpan had caused a worldwide media frenzy, his photograph appearing on the front page of newspapers across the globe, and the Nazis were determined to show the world – through Grynszpan’s trial – that the Jews were responsible for starting World War II. His trial, of course, was nothing more than a show trial and his guilty verdict already decided.

What then happened to Grynszpan was uncertain. Some believed he was subsequently executed in 1940, others claim he died towards the end of the war, and others still believe he survived. Officially declared dead in 1960, Grynszpan’s fate has been the subject of intrigue and mystery for many years. However, Koch, who has produced a well-researched and well-written account using previously unused archival material, finally brings a little more clarity to the current narrative. Hitler’s Scapegoat is a highly readable and fascinating account of a lone, courageous teenager who fought back against Nazi oppression. Everyone should read his story.

Hardcover: 280 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 January 2019)
ISBN: 978-1445689500
RRP: £20

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