Most people have heard of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) – the night when the Nazis targeted Jews throughout Germany – but most people do not know whose actions were used as the pretext for the attacks. That person was Jewish teenager Herschel Grynszpan who killed a Nazi diplomat in Paris. Joseph Matthews, in Everyone Has Their Reasons, writes a fictional account of Grynszpan as he escapes Germany and tries to hide in Paris as an undocumented immigrant.
Matthews writes from Grynszpan’s perspective in the form of letters to his court-appointed attorney in Germany. Although I was not sure about this style at first because it was a little disjointed, I eventually warmed to the approach. The letters are written in a formal manner that portrays a lot of information about Grynszpan’s experiences. The experiences vary from his constant struggles to find work and shelter to his pursuit of gaining legal status in France.
One part of the book that I find fascinating is the insinuation used in Grynszpan’s imprisonment. He complains to his attorney about the unhealthy air in one of his prisons – not realizing that the air is polluted by the cremation of Jews and other prisoners by the Nazis. It makes me wonder if any prisoners thought this way or if they knew the true source of the smoke.
The book also perfectly captures the tension (both class and nationality) in Paris in the 1930’s. Not only are the working class (led by Communists) in conflict with others, but there is also strife between native French and the migrants fleeing Germany and other areas in Eastern Europe. Matthews writes about these conflicts in Grynszpan’s interactions with other characters.
The book is an excellent look at the fictional musings of one of history’s little-known assassins whose actions created such chaos.
Everyone Has Their Reasons
October 1, 2015
At a time when the issues of identity, immigration, and class remain both universally important and enormously controversial, this book is an accessible and captivating tale of one boy's historically famous experience in the extraordinary setting of roiling pre-WWII Paris. On November 7, 1938, a small, slight 17-year-old Polish-German Jew named Herschel Grynszpan entered the German embassy in Paris and shot dead a consular official. Three days later, in supposed response, Jews across Germany were beaten, imprisoned, and killed, their homes, shops, and synagogues smashed and burned—Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Based on the historical record and told through his "letters" from German prisons, this novel begins in 1936, when 15-year-old Herschel flees Germany, and continues through his show trial, in which the Nazis sought to demonstrate through his actions that Jews had provoked the war. But Herschel throws a last-minute wrench in the plans, bringing the Nazi propaganda machine to a grinding halt and provoking Hitler to postpone the trial and personally give an order regarding Herschel's fate.
Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods. View all posts by Jeff Grim →