Sep 06 2006
A Berlin newspaper, the Berliner Zeitung, recently reported that author Günter Grass has admitted to serving in the Waffen-SS - the military branch most allied with Nazi ideology. In itself, that is not a crime as Grass was drafted to the Waffen-SS at the age of 16, just a year before the war ended, but the newspaper asks, why didn't he tell us?
Grass has built a career as the conscience of the nation, always taking a very moral position in his novels and writing, criticizing Germans for their unwillingness to face the past or seek forgiveness from their former victims - yet he lied about his own past for 60 years. The paper goes on to point out that the perfect time to reveal the information would have been in 1968 when he wrote a tract urging people not to vote for the extreme-right party, a work that was all the more compelling because he told of his own time in the Hitler Youth, and how he came to realize it was evil - "his point would have been made even stronger if he had written of his time in the SS. Evidently, there was a part of his past so shameful that he could not admit to it. Too bad he never showed any sympathy for others in the same predicament."
The German press's schadenfreude has been triggered by revelations in Grass's autobiography, Beim Haeuten der Zwiebel (Skinning the Onions), which was published last week and opens with his earliest wartime memories describing how he volunteered as a soldier in order to escape the claustrophobia of his home; and goes on to talk of joining the SS (previously he had claimed to be no more than a glorified air-raid spotter). His tone while writing of these early experiences is described as defensive. There does not appear to be a date set for an English language version, or even any signs at this point that one is in the works, but you will find a comprehensive review of his memoir at The Guardian.
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