‘Grass’ing up – writer was only following orders

The Nobel Prize winning German author Gunter Grass, an author with a heavy international reputation, much of it built on his famous anti-Nazi work The Tin Drum, has belatedly confessed that he served for a few months in the Waffen SS during the closing period of the war in Europe. It has, understandably, caused a bit of controversy, with some demanding that a writer who has effectively been a part of the post-war German conscience should now return his Nobel Prize while Lech Walesa, himself a Nobel winner, has demanded Grass return his honorary citizenship of the Polish city of Gdansk.

Others have defended the writer, pointing out that he was 17 at the time, raised on over a decade of Nazi propaganda. His writings since those few months, they argue, shows his true feelings and of course those feelings may well have been shaped by his disillusionment between the fiction of Nazi propaganda and the reality of the brutal warfare practised by the SS. Certainly there is no suggestion he was involved in any war crimes or atrocities, he seems guilty only of being young and eager to serve and perhaps guilty of keeping quiet about his SS service for so many decades.

Still Nazi-era entanglements don’t seem to have stopped the careers of Kurt Waldheim or the new Pope. I’m inclined to give Grass the benefit of the doubt since he was not involved in war crimes and his actions since the war speak of a deeply felt repentance and these have been read by millions in many languages around the world (although not on UK flights recently of course). I do find the timing of this belated confession a little curious however, coming as it does just before his war time memoirs are due to be published…