Everyone Has Their Reasons

Written by Joseph Matthews
Review by Lorraine Norwood

Joseph Matthews has created a fictional picture of the little-known Herschel Grynszpan, a “teenage assassin” whose killing of a consular official in the German embassy in Paris in 1938 provided the pretext for an outbreak of violence against Jews—Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Thousands of Jewish properties and synagogues were destroyed, while Jews throughout Germany were beaten, imprisoned, or killed.

The novel is epistolary in character, told through Grynszpan’s “letters” to his attorney from 1940 to 1945. Grynszpan writes of his early life in Germany as storm clouds of the Holocaust gather, his flight to Paris when he was 15, and his subsequent shadow existence in the seamy Paris nightlife. After he is handed to the Gestapo, he is moved to several prisons then to concentration camps.

Matthews beautifully captures the tone of a schoolboy’s German tinged with Yiddish. The sentence structure and phrasing seem true to the voice. Likewise, his portraits of pre-World War II Germany and Paris are filled with extensive and accurate detail.

Although based on Matthews’ extensive research and on the historical record, the novel’s format distances the reader and confines any action and dialogue to letter-form. Readers who like novels told through letters will no doubt find this book interesting. Matthews has said he chose the letter-form because the historical record is so incomplete. While Grynszpan was a real person, other characters in the novel are fictional. It is hoped that future research will reveal more about Grynszpan. His story deserves to be told as biography rather than fiction.