April 19, 2015

THE TIN EAR:

Let's Get Honest About Gunter Grass (Liam Hoare, April 13, 2015, Forward)

Over time, Grass would move away from his role as the conscience of Germany, as the obituaries would have it, and come to vocalize the thoughts of Germany's underbelly.

In 2002, Grass published "Crabwalk," a novel which in a sense commemorated the German refugees who drowned on the Wilhelm Gustloff, sunk by the Soviets in the Baltic Sea in 1945. Having previously denounced Helmut Kohl for his remembrances of German victims of the Second World War in the 1980s, Grass was now joining those who thought it necessary to talk about Allied crimes, including the bombing of Dresden and the burning of Hamburg. "It was not these were in themselves inappropriate historical subjects," Tony Judt wrote in "Thinking the Twentieth Century," "but the very idea of emphasizing German suffering, and implicitly comparing it with the suffering of others at German hands, would have sailed dangerously close to a relativizing of Nazi crimes."

Grass also seemed to think it was required of him to vocalize lazy anti-Israel sentiment in his awful poem, "What Must Be Said." Published in a Munich broadsheet in 2012, Grass's verse drew an equivalency between the atomic programs of Israel and Iran, stating that "Israel's atomic power endangers / an already fragile world peace." He added that German aid to Israel in the form of nuclear submarines "will not be expunged by any / of the usual excuses." Far from confronting the past here, Grass was saying rather explicitly and disgustingly that Israel uses the Holocaust against Germany as leverage or blackmail.

Towards the end of his life, Grass would be labeled, not unfairly, a fraud and hypocrite. Having spent a lifetime encouraging Germans to pull back the curtains and come clean about the past, including the complicity of ordinary citizens in war crimes, it was only in 2006 in his memoir, "Peeling the Onion" -- seven years after he had won the Nobel, as Christopher Hitchens once pointed out -- that Grass revealed that during the War, he had been a member of the Waffen-SS.

Having failed to get into the navy as a volunteer two years prior, in the final months of the war at the age of seventeen Grass served in the Frundsberg Panzer Division in Dresden. He had previously claimed to have been a Flakhelfer - a student conscripted after 1943 to man anti-aircraft batteries -- and thus part of the generation exempt from direct culpability in German crimes.

To this extent, G√ľnter Grass's status as the conscience of Germany was based both on a lie and an occlusion of the truth.

Posted by at April 19, 2015 7:51 PM
  

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