Jonathan Kirsch, book edi­tor of The Jew­ish Jour­nal, con­tributes book reviews to the print and online edi­tions and blogs at www​.jew​ishjour​nal​.com/​t​w​e​l​v​e​t​welve. Ear­li­er this week, he wrote about Jew­ish resis­tance and Her­schel Gryn­sz­panHe will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

My new book, The Short, Strange Life of Her­schel Gryn­sz­pan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplo­mat and a Mur­der in Paris (Liv­eright), is the biog­ra­phy of a 17-year-old boy who sought to write him­self into his­to­ry but, iron­i­cal­ly, has been almost whol­ly ignored in the schol­ar­ship of World War II and the Holocaust.

Her­schel achieved a brief moment of fame in 1938, when he entered the Ger­man embassy in Paris and shot a Nazi diplo­mat. Indeed, his deed was the focus of a media fren­zy, and one famous Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist, colum­nist and broad­cast Dorothy Thomp­son orga­nized a defense com­mit­tee that hired a famous French attor­ney to rep­re­sent him in the courts. No less a world-his­tor­i­cal fig­ure than Leon Trot­sky wrote about the case for the news­pa­pers, and Eng­lish com­pos­er Michael Tip­pett was inspired to write an ora­to­rio about Her­schel Gryn­sz­pan, A Child of Our Time.

At the out­break of World War II in 1939, how­ev­er, the world press moved on from cov­er­age of the Gryn­sz­pan case, and he dis­ap­peared into a Gestapo prison cell after the Ger­man inva­sion of France. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the Jew Gryn­sz­pan,” as the Nazis invari­ably called him, was well known to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, and Hitler was eager to mount a show tri­al that would jus­ti­fy the mass mur­der of the Jews by focus­ing on the armed resis­tance of one Jew. For Hitler and oth­er high-rank­ing Nazis, the Gryn­sz­pan case was not less than an obsession.

But Her­schel him­self, no longer rep­re­sent­ed by famous lawyers or cham­pi­oned by cel­e­brat­ed colum­nists, was forced to find his own to foil Hitler and his hench­men. As I explore in my book, and will revis­it in my next blog, the scan­dalous sex­u­al secret that he revealed to his Ger­man inter­roga­tors — Adolf Eich­mann among them — suc­ceed­ed in con­vinc­ing Hitler to post­pone the show tri­al, but it also explains why Her­schel Gryn­sz­pan is not embraced as the Jew­ish hero he sought to be.

Today, the world is divid­ed into a large num­ber of peo­ple who have nev­er heard of Her­schel Gryn­sz­pan, and a much small­er num­ber who recall his name and deed, although even these peo­ple rarely know the whole sto­ry or the real sto­ry. My mis­sion in writ­ing The Short, Strange Life of Her­schel Gryn­sz­pan has been to restore the 17-year-old boy to the pages of his­to­ry. Iron­i­cal­ly, that’s exact­ly where he aspired to put him­self when he took up arms against Nazi Ger­many in a sym­bol­ic act of vio­lence in Paris in 1938.

Hitler knew Gryn­sz­pan by name. So did Goebbels and Eich­mann. And so should we.

Jonathan Kirsch is author of 13 books, book edi­tor of The Jew­ish Jour­nal, and an intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty attor­ney in Los Angeles.

Jonathan Kirsch is the author of the best-sell­ing The Har­lot by the Side of the Road and A His­to­ry of the End of the World, the book edi­tor of the Jew­ish Jour­nal, and a long­time con­trib­u­tor of book reviews to the Los Ange­les Times. He lives in Los Ange­les, California.