Vienna, Austria – A post World War II photograph recently discovered in the archives of Vienna’s Jewish Museum may have finally solved a mystery that has intrigued historians for years, as they pondered the fate of a single Polish Jewish teen and whether or not he survived the carnage of the Nazi regime.
Herschel Grynszpan was just 17 years old and living with relatives in Paris when he learned that his parents and siblings had been deported from Germany to Poland in boxcars and were living in terrible conditions, according to the Auschwitz.dk website. Enraged by the way his family and thousands of others were being mistreated, Grynszpan walked into the German embassy in Paris on November 7th, 1938, shooting an embassy worker Ernst vom Rath as an act of revenge.
Two day later, chaos erupted in Germany, with Grynszpan’s actions blamed as the catalyst for the violence of Kristallnacht. Nazi officials describing the bloody pogrom as a spontaneous reaction to vom Rath’s death.
Grynszpan was arrested and held in jail for nearly two years until he was taken prisoner by the Nazis when they invaded Paris in 1940. Although he was taken to a detention center in Berlin for interrogation in preparation for what was to be a very public trial, Grynszpan talked himself out of the situation by claiming that he had had a sexual relationship with his male victim which would have been an embarrassment to the Nazis. Instead, Grynszpan was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where the last documentation of his existence was dated September 1942.
Whether or not Grynszpan, who was viewed as a hero by some and a traitor by others, survived the Holocaust has been a subject of much debate, and numerous articles and several books have been written on the subject.
A 1959 report in a London magazine said that German documents proved that Grynszpan had been imprisoned until the end of the war, and after being liberated by the Allies he took on a pseudonym and was working in a suburban garage.
One of Grynszpan’s original lawyers, however, said that his client had died after being taken prisoner by the Nazis in 1940. The Guardian reported that Grynszpan’s father, Sendel, testified during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 and said that he had no proof that his son had survived the war.
Yet proof of Herschel Grynszpan’s survival may be exactly what was uncovered at the Vienna Jewish Museum. A picture found in the museum’s archives showing a 1946 gathering of displaced persons in Bamberg, Germany caught the eye of Austrian archivist Christa Prokisch, who recognized Grynszpan immediately.
Prokisch showed the picture to German historian Armin Fuhrer, a leading authority on Grynszpan who published a book titled Herschel on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Fuhrer confirmed her suspicions.
“There is little doubt this is Herschel Grynszpan,” said Fuhrer. “The photo is just a snapshot, a picture taken purely by chance. But it is so significant because the Grynszpan’s fate has remained a mystery and the question as to whether he survived the war and Holocaust has remained unsolved for over 70 years.”
A face recognition test performed on the photograph provided a 95 percent probability that the man in the 1946 photograph is Grynszpan.
How Grynszpan may have survived the war and how he lived his life is another mystery that has yet to be solved.
“How did he manage to survive the Nazis?” asked Fuhrer. “Was he protected? And if so, by whom?”
Prokisch is hopeful that the photograph may prompt someone with information to come forward, allowing historians to finally solve the Grynszpan mystery, although she concedes that the answers could be disturbing.
“It was so unusual for someone of his prominence to have survived as very few others did,” said Prokisch. “The suspicion has to be that he collaborated with the Nazis.”
And the possibility does exist that after all these years, Grynszpan may still be alive.
“It’s not out of the question,” said Fuhrer. “He would be 95. He could be living under an assumed name in Israel or the United States.”