An Act of Desperation (English summary)
On November 7 1938 a young Polish-Jewish boy called Herschel Grynszpan entered the German embassy in Paris and shot legation secretary Ernst vom Rath. The diplomat was rushed to a nearby hospital and treated by, amongst others, Hitler’s personal physician. On November 9 Vom Rath died from his injuries. The assassination of Vom Rath triggered a series of violent attacks on Jews and their property and synagogues, which became known as the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).
In An Act of Desperation (De wanhoopsdaad, Amsterdam 2013) Dutch author Sidney Smeets retraces Grynszpans steps from his schooldays in Hanover to his imprisonment in the Third Reich. Using original documents from the German State Archives as well as excerpts from Joseph Goebbels’ long lost diaries Smeets shows just how an act of desperation by a young Jewish boy was manipulated by Joseph Goebbels into an excuse for physical violence against the Jewish community on a previously unprecedented scale. The Night of Broken Glass is rightly considered the beginning of he Holocaust.
After the assassination attempt Grynszpan found himself in French custody but he never went to trial. When the German army invaded France in 1940 Grynszpan miraculously escaped and was chased by an elite team of German military police. Eventually Grynszpan was captured and extradited to the Reich, where he was to be the subject of a massive show trial. The trial never took place.
The book explores why the trial, which according to Goebbels was to show beyond any doubt that the Jews of Europe were responsible for the Second World War, was cancelled. The author uses previously unpublished sources to reveal the truth about the relationship between Grynszpan and Vom Rath and shows how Grynszpan was able to thwart Goebbels’ efforts to use him as an excuse for anti-Jewish violence a second time.
An Act of Desperation shatters several myths that have surrounded the case for years. New research includes previously undisclosed files from archives in Düsseldorf and Munich regarding the slander-suit Vom Rath’s brother filed against the German con-man Michael Soltikow, which leave no doubt about the veracity of claims about a homosexual affair.
De wanhoopsdaad, Sidney Smeets, Balans, Amsterdam 2013, ISBN 978-9-460-03718-4.