September 15, 2011


Grass' Gaffe: Political Thinking Shouldn't Be Left to Novelists (Jan Fleischhauer, Der Spiegel)

Let's imagine for a moment an aging writer of a conservative political bent mentioning the murder of Europe's Jews and the liquidation of German soldiers in the same context in an interview with an Israeli newspaper as well as mixing up the relevant numbers. Instead of discussing the 1 million German soldiers who died in Soviet POW camps, he suddenly puts the figure at 6 million, the figure more commonly given for the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

One doesn't need much imagination to envision how the enlightened public would react to this writer's math. Under normal circumstances, the man's career as someone with political statements to be taken seriously would be over. But, in this case, the man behind the strange Holocaust math was none other than legendary German writer and Nobel Prize laureate G√ľnter Grass, who made the statements in an interview published by Haaretz on Aug. 26 on the eve of the publication of the Hebrew translation of his autobiographical book "Peeling the Onion," which had been published five years ago in Germany and sparked a massive debate here because of Grass' revelations he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS .

Grass' stature as a leading figure in modern world literature has clearly led him to be treated differently. Instead of finding decisive rebukes in the feature pages of German newspapers in the days since the publication of the interview, one can mostly find convoluted excuses mentioning Grass' many achievements. In fact, even the historian who returned to the subject of the Holocaust with Grass went on to defend him. "I believe that in the heat of the argument he mentioned an incorrect figure," Tom Segev said. "Actually I should have corrected him and I apologize for not having done so." That's magnanimous, to say the least.

Of course, one could let the matter go at that -- but not when one is talking about Grass, the man who strives to be viewed as the ultimate authority on issues of conscience, the man who continues to always be invoked by those in Germany who like to resort to moral judgements in their discourse with political opponents. In fact, for some time now, it seems the better Grass' reputation has gotten for being a person who can make clear statements about current events, the lower the quality of his literary output has been.

This just begs the question of why people continue to stubbornly believe that novelists have something special to contribute to political discussions.

It's not as if he suddenly started pretending that the Germans were the victims of the US and Britain in WWII, he's been doing it for awhile.

Posted by at September 15, 2011 6:14 AM

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