An engagingly written, if often speculative and flawed, biography of the Polish-German-Jewish youth Herschel Grynszpan,...


HERSCHEL: The Boy Who Started World War II

An engagingly written, if often speculative and flawed, biography of the Polish-German-Jewish youth Herschel Grynszpan, whose November 7, 1938, assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris served as the Nazis' pretext for Kristalinaeht. Marino, a young British critic and screenwriter, has engaged in no original research, but relied almost exclusively on two previous biographies of his subject. Grynszpan apparently was motivated by short-term rage; his parents were among the 12,000 Polish Jews residing in Germany whom the Nazis ""dumped"" back in their native land in October 1938, and who suffered in a border ""no man's land"" when the Poles refused to accept them. In the hyperventilated and sometimes hagiographic prose that too often characterizes this book, Marino tries to transform the 17-year-old Herschel's deed into something far larger; he makes the utterly unsubstantiated and ludicrous claim that Grynszpan somehow intuited the Holocaust: ""Herschel saw into Hitler's black heart and knew what the dictator was planning."" Marino does provide some interesting circumstantial evidence that vom Rath may actually have been cooperating with the French intelligence service, but he is unable to document anything conclusively. The second half of his book is the more interesting, for here the author looks at the strange series of bureaucratic accidents and foul-ups, historical contingencies and wild charges (such as that vom Rath had sexually exploited him) that caused the Germans never to try Grynszpan. In fact, his ultimate fate is unknown; the Gestapo may have murdered Grynszpan in 1942, after he spent time in the VIP section of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, or in 1945, a few months before the war ended. Rumors have even circulated that he survived under an assumed identity. Marino muses at length on this and a great deal more. Thus, what emerges is a padded, somewhat superficial biography that, from its subtitle on, makes highly inflated claims about its subject.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997


Page Count: 228

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997

Close Quickview