Herschel Grynszpan: The Man Who Got Revenge On The Nazis, Sparking World War II

By Grace Taylor
Polish assassin 17-year-old Herschel Fiebel Grynszpan (c.1920–1938) after his arrest in Paris. (Getty Images)

When it comes to one single act affecting the entire world for generations to come, people often cite the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the bizarrely implausible incident that kicked off a chain of events that led to World War I. But did you know that some historians claim another assassination was equally responsible for a potentially even more significant war? Unlike the Ferdinand case, there's no massive conspiracy involving a shady organization like the Black Hand. It's simply the tale of a moody teenager who just decided one day that enough was enough.

A Troubled Childhood

Although Hershel Grynszpan was born in Hanover, Germany on March 28, 1921, his parents were from Poland and most often spoke Yiddish, making him a de facto outsider even among other German Jews. His family was far from wealthy, and his attempt to get an education from the public school system was met with virulent anti-semitism, including being forced to sit in the back of his classes. He dropped out of school at only age 14 after having been expelled numerous times for getting into fights over racial slurs. Even as a child, Grynszpan did not hesitate to stand up for himself, no matter the consequence.