Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


16.8.06
  Günter Grass and a Moral Dilemma

Those who follow this blog from the beginning will remember that I sometimes post reviews of interesting books by German writers that have been translated into English (links in the sidebar). Among those is Crabwalk by Günter Grass. Grass has, as writer and as person, always stressed the importance of dealing with the past, not denying what has happened, and having people responsible for war cruelties and the holocaust answer for their deeds.

Now it turns out that Grass, thus far the pillar of German morals (self proclaimed as well as styled as such by the press) has been member of the SS during the last months of the war and never told anyone. Can we say hypocrite?

I have considered whether or not to remove the review of his book from my blog. I decided not to, for two reasons. As angry as I am about his double morals, those last months of the war were a mess, and many young men had no say in being pushed into the army. What I do blame him for is that he never came forth with this information, as he always demanded others to do. Second, I still think Crabwalk is a good book.

Thus, the review will stay, but I'll use this post to state that I am dissappointed in Grass' double standards. Though I also think it's an exaggeration to demand he'll give the Nobel Prize back and other such extreme things I've read in the papers. He got the prize for his books, not his life. But Grass should apologise for preaching a moral he didn't live up to himself.
 
Comments:
I don't hold it against him. He was a kid at the time and doubtless swept up in the bullshit of the time. As for why he kept it to himself for so long . . . I dunno, Gabriele; admitting to it years ago might have nuked his career, and the man has done some good works through his writing. I'd like to think he could have risen above the prejudice and cast some additional light by confronting his past demons publicly, but maybe public prejudice would have overwhelmed him.

On the other hand, maybe he's coming forward to help sell his memoirs -- but no, even I'm not that cynical.
 
Lol, a lot of people here are that cynical.

I don't hold it against Grass that he was in the SS; as you rightly say, he was still a kid then. But he could have come out with it in the 80ies; after the reunion the situation was in favour of admitting such things without having to stand in the bad boy corner.
 
I would understand him not coming forward - even never coming forward - except for the fact that he's been so hypocritical about it.
 
It seems to me that the widespread condemnation, including yours here, merely points out that he was right to keep his mouth shut.

No matter when he revealed the truth, there was going to be a big backlash. If he'd spoken up in 1949, we might never have heard of 'The Tin Drum', it being a book written by a Nazi.

Gunter Grass' situation says a lot about our society, and there is plenty of irony to go around.
 
Gabriele, though I despise hypocrisy, and don't think ability excuses one from moral standards, I agree with your logic.
 
Dean,
I don't condemn Grass for having been in the SS, I condemn him for having played the role of self proclaimed pillar of German morality in dealing with the past for some 50 years, and yet having a few bodies in his own cellar - and that is what most people point out now. The number of those who actually condemn him for having been in the SS is not that great.

As I said in my comment to Doug, the atmosphere in the 80ies was so he could have admitted it publicily. 1949 would indeed have been too early because it was not understood how Hitler's regime worked and that it wasn't easy to stay out. My father escaped military service those last months where they called in the teenagers because of a bad ear infection.

And Crabwalk is still a good book about the danger of idealising the past, one that should be on school reading lists, not only in Germany.
 
Interesting discussion. "self-proclaimed pillar of German morality in dealing with the past" -- I'm curious to hear more about this. In what way did he do this? I guess what I'm asking is, how big a hypocrite was he?
 
Grass is not only a writer whose novels often have a strong political message, he also uses his popularity to hold political speeches, always turns to politics in interviews and such. This is not only about the German past but about all sort of subjects - I admit, I've seldom bothered to read the stuff because Grass is socialist, and I'm liberal and not a very political animal and the last thing I want to waste my time on is reading speeches I don't agree with (how's that for a run-on sentence?)

He tends to throw all peas in one pot, like when he accused the Catholic Church of dealing with the Nazis and overlooked that a number of priests ended up in comcentration camps because they spoke out against the ideology. What comes up most now is his very vocal diatribe against Kohl and Reagan honouring the fallen in a soldier's graveyard in Bitburg. Because - and here it comes - some of them had been SS, and how can one honour these?
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
(I erased my first post because of too many spelling mistakes, lol. It looked like a 4 yr. old posted it. I need some more coffee!)

Anyhow, if the pope can be a member of the Hitler Youth movement then I think Grasse can be excused from being in the SS for a few chaotic months.
Besides, as you said, people didn't have much choice back then. Maybe he felt coerced and meant that people should speak up if they joined whole-heartedly? What do you think?
Personally I think if collective memories could be instantly wiped out, the world might have a good chance for peace.
(And while I'm at it let's erase religion, level the economic playing field, do away with the chasm between rich and poor, and have free education and healthcare for all!)

Amen.
*sigh*
 
Interesting stuff
Keep writing
Off to watch Downfall, ugh
City SLicker
 
Sam,
he sure can be excused for having been in the SS. But droning on about how wrong it is to honour dead SS members that ended up with other soldiers in a cemetary in a ceremony including the entire cemetary, sorta doesn't ring good now.

The case of Joseph Ratzinger is different, he never denied he was in the Hitler Youth. That the subject came up again when he became pope is just the sort of game the press loves.

Hi City Slicker,
thanks for stopping by.
 
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The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK and other places, with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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