cover image Herschel: The Boy Who Started World War II

Herschel: The Boy Who Started World War II

Andy Marino, Andy Mariho. Faber & Faber, $24.95 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-571-19921-1

One morning in November 1938, a 17-year-old Jewish boy, Herschel Grynszpan, walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot Baron Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat. Prompting this action was the fact that the youth had just learned that his parents in Germany, who had sent him abroad to be out of harm's way, had been deported to Poland and were starving. Arrested by the French police, he was remanded to Toulouse to await trial. Vom Rath died and Germany's Nazi leaders, seizing on the incident as an example of Jewish villainy, demanded jurisdiction. Grynszpan was extradited to Germany, his act coming to be blamed for the ensuing Kristallnacht. What eventually happened to him is a mystery. There is speculation about almost every aspect of the affair: for example, vom Rath may have been an anti-Nazi mole for the French, killed not by his wounds but by the two doctors Hitler sent to attend him; or he may have been Grynszpan's lover, with the shooting the result of a falling-out between them. Depending largely on a manuscript by a French doctor whose relation to the case is unclear and a book by an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials (Gerald Schwab's The Day the Holocaust Began), Marino, a Londoner who has written studies of American novelists, examines the possibilities in a jejune account filled with equivocation and expostulations that add little new material and serve mainly to renew attention to the case. The book's subtitle is inexcusably misleading. (Sept.)