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Hitler’s Pawn

The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust

List Price: $16.95

ON SALE: December 10, 2019 | Paperback | 5.5 x 8.25, 272 pages | ISBN 9781640093386
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A remarkable story of a forgotten seventeen-year-old Jew who was blamed by the Nazis for the anti-Semitic violence and terror known as the Kristallnacht, the pogrom still seen as an initiating event of the Holocaust

After learning about Nazi persecution of his family, Herschel Grynszpan (pronounced Greenspan) bought a small handgun and on November 7, 1938, went to the German embassy and shot the first German diplomat he saw. When the man died two days later, Hitler and Goebbels made the shooting their pretext for the state-sponsored wave of antiSemitic terror known as Kristallnacht, still seen by many as an initiating event of the Holocaust.

Overnight, Grynszpan, a bright but naive teenager, was front-page news and a pawn in a global power struggle.

STEPHEN KOCH is the author of two novels and many books of nonfiction on subjects ranging from Andy Warhol to World War II. The director of the Peter Hujar Archive, he lives with his wife in New York and has one daughter.


Praise for Hitler’s Pawn

“It is a riveting tale. Mr. Koch—novelist, biographer of Andy Warhol, sometime teacher of creative writing at Princeton and Columbia—is not the first to tell it, but he tells it with notable verve . . . In a work of fact that reads like fiction, with a novelist’s relish for incident and character, he brings his troubled, troubling protagonist to life.” —Ian Brunskill, The Wall Street Journal

“A powerful book about justice, outrage and the preservation of truth.” —Colin Greenwood, The Spectator

“Stephen Koch’s gripping book tells the whole story of the 17-year-old boy, Herschel Grynszpan, who made history by being the first Jew to take up arms against the Nazi regime.” —Christopher Hart, The Daily Mail, Book of the Week

“This book reads like a thriller . . . It’s written for both scholars of the Holocaust and for laypersons interested in this little-known chapter of Holocaust literature.” —Carol Katz, New York Journal of Books

“In Koch’s new book, Hitler’s Pawn, he tells Grynszpan’s incredible life story, including how the young man sussed out the German’s bizarre scheme and mounted his own private resistance to serving as their pawn.” —CrimeReads, 1 of 7 Essential True Crime Books of the Month

“Fascinating . . . An engrossing and well-researched effort that reveals the ultimate end of this overlooked but crucial episode.” —Booklist

“A blink-of-the-eye episode in the history of the Third Reich sets the events of Kristallnacht in motion, anticipating the years of terror that followed . . . [Hitler’s Pawn] will appeal to careful readers of modern European history.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi—these are the pivotal figures who will forever stand against the twentieth century’s submission to Auschwitz. Yet history urges the inscription of still another indestructible touchstone: Herschel Grynszpan, the seventeen-year-old Polish Jew whose desperate assassination of a German official became the pretext for the fires of Kristallnacht, the ferocious pogrom that initiated the Holocaust. Stephen Koch’s heart-stopping account reveals how, in the very pit of Nazi perfidy, this fragile yet steadfast young man devised the ingenious trap that outwitted Goebbels. In the light of Koch’s scrupulous unearthings, we must now count the brief, tormented life of Herschel Grynszpan among the lasting necessary chronicles.” —Cynthia Ozick, author of Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays

Praise for The Breaking Point

“An unlovely portrait of the engaged artist as useful idiot. Its small drama leads directly to all the big questions about the nature of the Spanish Civil War . . . A series of vividly rendered scenes connected by intelligent commentary.” —George Packer, The New Yorker

“A riveting tale of soured friendships, casually exterminated lives, and treachery run amok.” —The Denver Post

The Breaking Point [is] stampede reading . . . a furious choosing of sides in the bloody past, back when history was breaking hearts.” —Harper’s

“Vivid and penetrating . . . [The Breaking Point] has the pace and drama of a detective novel . . . One of the very best.” —The New York Sun

“[A] pungent mix of literary biography, history, and international political thriller . . . a story steeped in intrigue, duplicity, and nefarious figures, all told with a cynicism well matched to the age . . . imagination and bold interpretation and a tart writing style.” —Baltimore Sun

“Koch adds flesh to the role played by the American communists, and his book is at its best when describing the edgy animosity that split apart the Left in America at the time, and the vindictiveness against figures like Dos Passos who refused to ignore communist atrocities. If there is a hero in this somewhat hectic book, it is surely Dos Passos.”—Spectator

“A deeply thoughtful, trenchant examination . . . A whopping good literary tale . . . explored here by a master of the literary and the political.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“But the best part is really Koch himself. Present in the narrative as a historical detective, connecting the dots between his various sources, Koch also excels as a literary critic, one who loves books that are morally nuanced and gets brilliantly angry when the authors he respects ruin their talents by committing themselves to shortsighted ideological points.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[A] riveting account of a time when personality, ideology, and war all collided.” —Library Journal

Praise for Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals

“[W]orth recommending to a new generation of readers. They will find it hard to believe that intelligent people like Beatrice and Sidney Webb could have written in praise of Stalin’s driving millions of Russians from their homes and consigning them to a Siberian wasteland. Koch’s book is a history of the recruitment of the “useful idiots” who believed in the purity and virtue of the Bolshevik government. We’ve read parts of this history in masterworks like Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, Richard Pipes’s multivolume history of the Russian Revolution, and Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes’s collaborative volumes about the American academy. But Koch’s focus on the treason of the intellectuals is a major contribution to the history of an era whose like, we must pray, we will not see again.” —The Weekly Standard

“Stephen Koch’s book thus serves to remind us not only of the extraordinary resilience which the ‘big lie’ has enjoyed in our century, but of Willi Munzenberg’s role in the formulation and dissemination of such lies.” —Times Higher Education

“Koch shows how Western intellectuals became enamored of the Soviet message through Munzenberg’s clever propaganda and joined the cause as fellow travelers in the era before World War II. With an updated bibliography and a streamlined text, Koch’s new edition remains an essential treatment of how sophisticated the Soviet message could be and how susceptible Western intellectuals were to its claims.” —Library Journal

Praise for Double Lives: Espionage and the War of Ideas

“[A] true and necessary chronicle of a shameful age.” —Commentary 

Double Lives does a remarkable job of knitting together an extensive gallery of portraits with some of the great events of this century.” —The New York Times

“Drawing on Russian archives, interviews and U.S. dossiers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Koch builds a plausible case that Munzenberg’s ‘anti-fascist campaign’ served as a cover for a collaboration between the German and Soviet secret services––a collaboration that began years before the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact and helped each dictatorship wipe out its domestic enemies. This real-life spy thriller unveils a major chapter in Soviet espionage.” —Publishers Weekly

“Koch probes the purposefully hidden war of ideas between East and West, fascism and democracy to expose the links between propaganda and espionage. His accessible account focuses on the nefarious career of Willi Munzenberg, a German communist and master of disinformation, from his beginnings in the 1920s Comintern to his still mysterious death during the early days of World War II. Koch draws upon secondary sources, recently opened Communist Party archives in the former Soviet Union, and personal interviews to examine Nazi-Soviet cooperation during the 1930s, the recruitment and management of ‘fellow travelers,’ and the impact of the ‘apparat’ in America. Recommended.” —Library Journal

“By examining the life of Willi Munzenberg, Communist Reichstag deputy and antifascist press baron, Koch studies how the Comintern conducted its white propaganda during its existence from 1919 to 1943. He shows how this putatively independent journalist, as Stalin’s legatee for opinion molding, manipulated Western writers. Malraux and Gide, Hemingway and Hellman––and others of equal fames all, at one time or another, wrote positive articles about communism or lent their names to ‘ad hoc committees for causes numberless,’ most passionately, for Spain. Much of such behavior now seems spectacularly stupid for people so smart, but there were murky reasons for these self-deceptions. Many of the anti-Nazi fronts and events that galvanized intellectual opinion in the 1930s––like the show trial of the Reichstag arsonists––appeared to be progressive and truly independent, but it was Munzenburg’s task to hide Moscow’s hand. (He got little thanks for it; he was rubbed out under suspicious circumstances in 1940.) An interesting book, although Koch leaves open a lot of questions from this dramatic era of espionage, and other writers may want to investigate further.” —Booklist

Praise for The Bachelor’s Bride

“You can learn a lot about this microcosm [the New York art world] from his book: how galleries operate; and their importance to the artist and the importance of the successful artist to them. You can also learn a lot about Marcel Duchamp, who appears as a minor character in the novel but whose presence broods over it like the silent ghost he was during the latter half of his life. But Koch knows a good deal more besides. He knows something of erotic love: when he charts for us the course of the year-long love affair, we sense he is imparting hard-won wisdom. And he knows about the deepest feelings of the artist for the critic -which are contempt and perhaps even hatred.” —The Washington Post

“In the overheated art world of Greenwich Village East, SoHo, the voguish Hamptons, brightened by such figures as Stella, Johns, Rauschenberg and the ubiquitous Warholin short, the ’60s scene when everything seemed ready to explode Mel Dworkin is the latest celebrity. He is as unpleasant a character as he is a talented painter; competitive, of dubious morals, an unconscionable manipulator of people. Observing him steadily is the narrator Jason Phillips, an art historian and critic and himself a figure in the scene he portrays. Jason is enamored of both the gallery-owner who is Dworkin’s dealer and her male assistant, a character equally well-known on the art scene and in the gay netherworld. Pairings in this volatile milieu are brittle, just as fashions in art appear to change fortnightly. Koch, the author of a book on Warhol’s films, is well situated to provide a shrewd, engrossing insider’s view of that moment when the New York school was riding the crest of the New Wave––and he has done just that.” —Publishers Weekly

Praise for Stargazer: Andy Warhol’s World and His Films

“Koch builds solidly, and often brilliantly, on the foundation laid by John Coplan’s lavishly illustrated Andy Warhol (New York Graphic Society), which is still the best introduction to Warhol’s work.” —The New York Times 

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