When, a Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan walked into the German embassy in Paris and assassinated an official in retaliation for the Nazis’ persecution of his family, Adolf Hitler immediately used it as a pretext to launch violent attacks on Jews throughout the Third Reich. Saturday marks the 81st anniversary of these pogroms, which came to be known as Kristallnacht. Stephen Koch, whose biography of Grynszpan was reviewed in Mosaic, explains how Grynszpan—arrested by the Gestapo in 1940—foiled Nazi plans to use him as a pawn:
Hitler had decided to turn [Grynszpan] into the defendant in a major show trial in Berlin, “proving” that World War II had been started by the “World Jewish Conspiracy,” using the “evil” Herschel as their trigger. . . . Enormous amounts of Nazi money, time, and energy went into planning this charade. Hitler was kept constantly informed. The star witness was to be no less than the former French foreign minister Georges Bonnet, a covert Nazi fellow-traveler and major player in Munich, who promised the Nazis to tell the world that, yes, indeed, France went to war in 1939 only because of relentless, irresistible, warmongering pressure from “the Jews.”
The trial . . . never took place because Herschel Grynszpan kept it from taking place. As a prisoner of the Nazis, Herschel had quickly grasped that he was being primed for more anti-Semitic propaganda. To prevent that disgrace, he concocted an extraordinarily ingenious lie. He claimed that he had not really killed the German diplomat for any political reason at all. His “protest” had merely been his cover for a deeper secret: the unspeakable truth that he’d killed the diplomat in the midst of a homosexual lovers’ quarrel.
This inspired falsehood was certain to turn into the trial’s most scandalous news story. It made an enraged Goebbels advise Hitler to postpone the whole thing. It stayed postponed forever.