Friday, August 25, 2006

Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone - The discussion about Günter Grass

After Günter Grass confessed that he was a member of Waffen SS at 17, Germany erupted

The admission of German Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass that he was a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II has provoked everything from rage to empathy in the German press.

Until now, biographies of the writer, who was born in 1927, have asserted that Grass was conscripted as anti-aircraft personnel in 1944 and then served as a soldier. After being injured on April 20, 1945, he was taken into war captivity by the Americans.

On August 12, Grass explained in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (excerpt in German) that he was not in the armed forces but in fact in the Waffen SS, in the 10th SS tank division "Frundsberg". He said he was called up in the late summer of 1944 when he was just about 17. The following autumn and winter he was trained as member of a tank crew and he was involved in rearguard action of the German army in Lausitz in March and April 1945, until he was wounded on April 20. He ended up in an American war prison soon afterwards.

A huge discussion emerged after the confession. The where different reactions like disappointment, anger, understanding, incomprehension but never indifference.
Germany's most celebrated living writer, the Nobel Prize winner, the conscience of the nation, the writer of legends, was a member of the Waffen-SS...
A cheap joke of history? Or a truth whose bitterness cannot yet be fully measured?
I tend to think the first way. Grass was still a boy when he was called up. He hasn't become an element of war crime. The action lasted only a few months. And even later, he never portrayed himself as a resistance fighter
Sure one can ask and criticize why he hasn't revealed this secret earlier. Would the reception of his work been different? Would he have been suggested for the Nobel Prize?
But on the other hand, he has disclosed. He wasn't forced to. How many people didn't disclose their failures and became esteemed member of German society? Nobody knows.
This is a courageous act of Günter Grass and hopefully it is not meant as an advertising campaign for a publicity addict who has written a new book. Why he did not speak much earlier about his own entanglement, nobody will now except him.

Like the historian Michael Wolffsohn said: "You too, GG... ? You too are going to ooze the truth!


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