A crime that marks history: episode 1/2 of the Herschel Grynszpan case podcast

November 07, 1938 in the morning, Herschel Grynszpan has just killed the third secretary of the German Embassy in Paris. The diplomat is called Ernst vom Rath and is 29 years old. Wounded to death, he died two days later. During the night that followed, in Germany, the attack was to serve as a pretext for the arrest of 30,000 Jews, the burning of 250 synagogues, the looting of 7,500 shops whose shattered windows were to be known as the “Night of crystal”. This pogrom will also kill nearly 100 people. For the Nazis, it was the people’s anger that was expressed!

The Eberswalde Synagogue, in Berlin, burnt down during "crystal night" (09-10 November 1938)
The Eberswalde Synagogue, in Berlin, burnt down during “Crystal Night” (November 9-10, 1938)

©Getty
– Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Who is Herschel Grynspan, the man who unwittingly caused this bloody night?

He is a young Polish Jew born in Hanover in 1921 and a refugee in Paris. He is 17 years old, seems quite rambunctious and goes out a lot. He no longer has valid papers. He passed through Belgium before settling temporarily in France with his uncle and aunt. His ultimate goal: to reach Palestine! After his crime, Herschel Grynszpan is immediately arrested by the French police. He justifies his act by the desire to draw public opinion to the tragic fate of his family. Because expelled from Germany, his Polish Jewish family settled in this country for 20 years is also refused by Poland and thus becomes stateless. For Grynszpan who cannot bear it, this crime is an act of revenge against the anti-Semitic Nazis!

In Paris, Herschel is imprisoned in Fresnes. At the highest level of the state, plans for German conquest and threats of war worried the Daladier government, which succeeded the Popular Front. The French authorities, who fear Hitler’s wrath, keep a low profile and keep Herschel in prison as long as possible. No question of lawsuit for the moment. And to anger the German neighbor!
For her part, aided by the World Jewish Congress and the American journalist Dorothy Thompson of the New York Herald Tribune, Grynszpan receives as a lawyer the brilliant and famous Vincent de Moro-Giafferri. A chance for the young prisoner of 17 years. His wait behind bars has only just begun…

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To talk about it

  • Corinne Chaponniere (journalist and writer) author of the book The Four Knockers of Kristallnacht dedicated to the Grynszpan case

  • John Zalane, Belgian cousin of Herschel Grynszpan
  • Joel Calmettesfilmmaker and documentary filmmaker, director of docu-fiction Deliver Grynszpan to us, written by Robert Badinter

  • John Chapoutot academic and researcher at the Sorbonne, specialist in Germany and Nazism, author of The law of blood. Think and act like a Nazi

  • Morgan Poggiolihistorian of French trade unionism during the interwar period, author of the novel My name is Herschel Grynszpan

Cover of the book by Corinne Chaponnière, "The Four Knockers of Kristallnacht"
Cover of Corinne Chaponnière’s book, “The four blows of Kristallnacht”

-Albin Michel (2015)

Selective bibliography and filmography

Prudence Castelot reads Berta’s postcard sent to Herschel Grynszpan which provokes her brother’s murderous gesture.

Ina Archive: Intervention by Robert Badinter on the radio in 2008

Herschel Grynszpan, at the Invalides and Ecole Militaire police station in Paris after his arrest for the murder of Ernest vom Rath (07.11.1938)
Herschel Grynszpan, at the Invalides and Ecole Militaire police station in Paris after his arrest for the murder of Ernest vom Rath (07.11.1938)

©Getty
– Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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A documentary by Dominique Prusak, directed by François Teste. Archives Ina, Ingrid Anne Lecointe. With the collaboration of Annelise Signoret from the Radio France Library. Production and web page assistant, Sylvia Favre-Steyaert.

In “2000 years of history”, “The Kristallnacht” (France Inter, 10.11.2008)

1 min

For further

A crime that marks history: episode 1/2 of the Herschel Grynszpan case podcast