From the newspaper reports, he knew that Polish Jews were expelled from Germany at the time. Earlier that year Polish President Mościcki made a decree to revoke citizenship for those who were abroad for more than five years. Many of those people were now officially stateless and unable to cross the frontier. His Polish passport was expired and although he tried to regularise his status in France, he never succeeded.
The young man came close to the mirror. In its dirty surface, he saw his face, the fearful expression of a hunted animal. Those eyes; devoid of hope, his soul heavy – helplessness. Suicidal thoughts were emerging – it was such a tempting solution. He had nowhere to run.
However, when he woke up the next morning, an idea had formed in his mind. Just as if someone had hidden a roadmap under his pillow. He moved with purpose, long steady strides took him to the small table where he sat, placed the provided paper before him, grasped the pen in a steady hand and dipping the nib in the inkwell, he wrote in Hebrew.
“I couldn’t do otherwise. My heart bleeds when I think of our tragedy and that of the twelve-thousand Jews. I must protest in a way that the whole world hears and this I intend to do. I beg your forgiveness. Herman.”
That note was directed to his uncle. He hid that piece of paper in his wallet. Checking out from the hotel, he walked to the nearby gunsmith. Without any problems, the boy bought a revolver and rounds of ammo. Back in his hotel room, he placed the parcel he'd carried from the gunsmith on the table. Only a twitch of his lip, a blink, before he untied the string, hinted at the emotions whirling in his mind. His lips remained still, pursed tight, as he unwrapped the brown paper wrapped parcel, withdrew and loaded the gun, which he placed in his coattail.
A desire to experience bloody satisfaction was his only will to live, and it was powerful. A Jewish boy, who had been abused for his entire life, now exhilarated in a feeling that he could control destiny. He entered the Metro, walking tall, the fire of life in his eyes and he took his place beside others on the platform. He rode the train; an angelic expression on his face. In his mind, he was an emissary of justice, and everyone would stand at attention to honour him at his tribunal.
The gun in the pocket nudged him as the train rocked. It aroused him as no woman had. A voice spoke within his mind telling him that this was the right thing to do. Bordering on schizophrenic delusion, he heard only the voice of reason in his head. He strode confidently out of the subway.
Pausing on the lower steps of the German Embassy, on the rue de Lille, he enjoyed a cigarette, inhaling, holding, savouring it, as if this might be his last. Observing his surroundings, he noted everything in detail. Would this be his final appreciation of beauty? Paris, the trees, the fine exterior of the palace he was about to enter. He rolled the last of the cigarette in his fingers with pietism.
Time to go. Time flies fast.
He was surprised once he crossed the threshold. He'd expected the Ambassador to sit at his table to greet him as the door opened. Instead, a receptionist stopped him. He improvised. Sweat formed on his brow, the youthful heart muscle powered by his Achilles’ wrath pounded at a pace that would floor a lesser being. The mind and physiology of the teenager was now driven by madness, and lies came easy.
“I need help with my documents.”
They fell for it, but unluckily he wasn’t directed to the ambassador. The Receptionist led him to the small office in the hallway. It was the room of a simple official. But there is no choice – he said to himself.
Behind the desk sat a young man, few years older than he was. The gentleman was smiling courteously. His aristocratic heritage could be seen in his features. He glanced at the petitioner and saw a young, scared Jewish boy.
“How can I help you?” the official asked, but he didn’t live to hear the answer. The shot fired quickly and then the next one… and the next. Then the assassin dropped the gun. Without difficulty, Herschel Grynszpan was subdued by embassy personnel and turned over to the local police. His victim, Ernst von Rath, died two days later.
* * *
Ernst Eduard von Rath (3 June 1909 – 9 November 1938) was a Nazi German diplomat, under investigation at the time, for his sympathy for the ill-treatment of the Jews by the Nazi regime. He was assassinated in 1938 by a Polish Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynspan. The assassination provided the pretext for the Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass.”