A remarkable story of a forgotten seventeen-year-old Jew who was blamed by the Nazis for the anti-Semitic violence and terror known as the Kristallnacht, the pogrom still seen as an initiating event of the Holocaust.
Concise and dramatic ... a riveting tale. Mr. Koch—novelist, biographer of Andy Warhol, sometime teacher of creative writing at Princeton and Columbia—is not the first to tell it, but he tells it with notable verve. Jonathan Kirsch in The Short Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan and Armin Fuhrer in his German-language Herschel (both published in 2013) give fuller, more considered historical accounts. Mr. Koch cuts to the essentials. In a work of fact that reads like fiction, with a novelist’s relish for incident and character, he brings his troubled, troubling protagonist to life.
Stephen Koch’s book vividly describes the sordid, compromised world of 1930s Europe after the Munich agreement of September 1938, especially the attempts by France both to appease and resist the baleful Nazi threat. There are many fine cinematic set-pieces ... Koch chiefly brings the lone, frail, adolescent Herschel back to life, as he comes to terms with his hot-headed act of resistance and understands that he has become a pawn of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda ... Koch has done great service to his memory, with this tale of revenge, remorse, subterfuge, and the stubborn courage of one teenage boy determined to outwit the Nazis’ plans for him. In a powerful book about justice, outrage and the preservation of truth, perhaps the most affecting account is by Herschel’s father, Sendel Grynszpan.
It is a real tribute to Stephen Koch’s storytelling talent that he manages not only to draw readers into the young man’s story, but to leave everyone asking why they haven’t heard about him before ... Koch masterfully unfolds the boy’s complicated plans. He also highlights the rise of fascism in the Nazi period—the opportunists and their power plays, the crafting of the 'big lie', the staging of mass pageantry—in such a way that readers can’t help but think about the parallels to today’s world politics. By avoiding explicit comparisons, Koch wisely allows readers to make these connections themselves.