Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust
NO CRIME TO BE JEWISH
The progressive steps to remove the Jews from German society still allowed them to remain in their homes, & most still enjoyed a certain degree of comfort. The most serious indication that Jews were no longer welcome in Germany occurred on October 27th, 1938, when about 18,000 Jews from around the Reich were arrested & transported by train to the Polish border. They were allowed to take only one suitcase with them, & all of the rest of their possessions were either looted by their neighbors or seized by the Nazis. Only 4,000 were allowed into Poland; the rest were stranded at the border.
The expulsion of the Polish Jews ultimately had an unexpected & even more devastating impact on those who remained in Germany.
Among the Jews sent to Poland was the Grynszpan family. They had been expelled from Hanover where they had lived for the previous 27 years. Their oldest son, 17-year-old Herschel, escaped the deportation because he was living in Paris, where he had been arrested & sent by cattle car at night without food or water to the Polish Border. Once they reached the frontier, the Nazi SS guards forced the Jews to run, whipping those who were not obedient or quick enough to escape the lash. Inside Poland, the Jews were housed in filthy horse stables. The starving people eventually received a shipment of bread, but not enough arrived to feed everyone.
The postcard infuriated Herschel. He decided to seek revenge for the treatment of his family.
At 8:35am on November 6th, Herschel went to a sporting & hunting goods store in Paris & bought a gun. About an hour later he calmly presented himself at the German Embassy & asked to see the ambassador, Johannes von Welczeck. The ambassador was actually heading out & overheard the request, but ignored it & continued on his way. Herschel insisted on seeing someone to whom he could deliver what he claimed was an important document. His persistence lead him to Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath.
Ironically, vom Rath was under investigation by the Gestapo because he was suspected of lacking the proper zealotry expected of a Nazi official, particularly toward the Jews. Grynszpan knew nothing about the man except that he represented the government that had deported & abused his family. When vom Rath asked to see the document he was carrying, Herschel shouted, “You are a sale boche (filthy kraut) & here, in the name of 12,000 persecuted Jews, is your document!” He then fired five shots at close range; the first two penetrated the diplomat’s stomach, the rest missed. Vom Rath was wounded but still conscious. Herschel seemed surprised he wasn’t dead & remained standing calmly in the office as the scene grew chaotic. Herschel did not resist when police came & escorted him from the embassy to a nearby police station. “I did it to avenge my parents, who are living in misery in Germany,” Herschel informed the officers. He later told his interrogators, “It’s not a crime to be Jewish. I’m not a dog. I have the right to live & the Jewish people has the right to exist in this world. Everywhere I am persecuted like an animal.”
Vom Rath was rushed to the hospital after the shooting, but he succumbed to his injuries & died at 5:30pm on November 9th.
From 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust, by Mitchell G. Brad, Ph.D.