Most people have heard of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) – the night when the Nazis targeted Jews throughout Germany – but most people do not know whose actions were used as the pretext for the attacks. That person was Jewish teenager Herschel Grynszpan who killed a Nazi diplomat in Paris. Joseph Matthews, in Everyone Has Their Reasons, writes a fictional account of Grynszpan as he escapes Germany and tries to hide in Paris as an undocumented immigrant.
Matthews writes from Grynszpan’s perspective in the form of letters to his court-appointed attorney in Germany. Although I was not sure about this style at first because it was a little disjointed, I eventually warmed to the approach. The letters are written in a formal manner that portrays a lot of information about Grynszpan’s experiences. The experiences vary from his constant struggles to find work and shelter to his pursuit of gaining legal status in France.
One part of the book that I find fascinating is the insinuation used in Grynszpan’s imprisonment. He complains to his attorney about the unhealthy air in one of his prisons – not realizing that the air is polluted by the cremation of Jews and other prisoners by the Nazis. It makes me wonder if any prisoners thought this way or if they knew the true source of the smoke.
The book also perfectly captures the tension (both class and nationality) in Paris in the 1930’s. Not only are the working class (led by Communists) in conflict with others, but there is also strife between native French and the migrants fleeing Germany and other areas in Eastern Europe. Matthews writes about these conflicts in Grynszpan’s interactions with other characters.
The book is an excellent look at the fictional musings of one of history’s little-known assassins whose actions created such chaos.