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'Tin Drum' Author Admits to Serving in Waffen SS

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  • 'Tin Drum' Author Admits to Serving in Waffen SS

    A genuine Pyat moment:,00.html

    Cynicism and sympathy greet Grass's 'timely' Nazi confessions

    David McHugh in Berlin
    Tuesday August 15, 2006 The Guardian

    Nobel prize-winning author Günter Grass's surprise admission that he served in the Waffen SS as a teenager has been met with sympathy from some German writers but drew harsh criticism from other prominent figures who asked why he had waited so long to own up.

    Some argued that, as a prominent moral voice that urged Germany to face up to the Nazi past, the 78-year-old's authority had been undermined by his silence about his months in Adolf Hitler's notorious paramilitary combat force.

    Joachim Fest, a biographer of Hitler and one of the country's most prominent chroniclers of the Nazi period, said Grass's silence was inexplicable. "I do not understand how someone can elevate himself constantly for 60 years ... and only then admit that he himself was deeply involved. I don't know how he could play this double role for so long," Fest was quoted as saying by the Bild newspaper yesterday. "He is seriously damaged. To use a common saying, 'I wouldn't buy a used car from this person'."

    But some writers expressed support for Grass, pointing to his short service and admission that he had been swayed by the Nazis' sophisticated efforts to indoctrinate young people. Grass said he had been accepted by the military at 17, but, when he reported for duty in Dresden in early 1945, he discovered it was with the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. "Anyone who looks more closely will likely feel sympathy with an adolescent misled by Nazi propaganda whose ambition drove him into the Waffen SS," Stefan Reinecke wrote in the left-leaning Die Tageszeitung.

    Some observers questioned the timing of Grass's confession. They said the controversy would not hurt sales of his book, Peeling the Onion, a memoir of his youth during the war, due for release on September 1.

    "Günter Grass thought for a long time how he could get the most possible people to buy his new memoir," wrote columnist Hans Zippert in Die Welt. "Then fortunately it occurred to him that he had been a member of the Waffen SS but hadn't trumpeted it before. A real sensation!"

    Michael Wolffsohn, a prominent military historian, wrote in the online Netzeitung newspaper that Grass's "moralising life's work, though not his storytelling life's work, is devalued by his persistent silence". Franz Müntefering, a leading Social Democrat, said: "It would have been good if it were earlier."

    Grass said he had felt shame about his SS service and was disclosing it now because "it weighed on me".
    A rather cynical comment from Hans Zippert? Or, not?

  • #2
    Being rather cynical myself, I must admit that my initial reaction to this was to wonder whether Grass was confessing to this now because he was about to be exposed. I have no evidence for this though.


    • #3
      It would have surfaced anyway, some day. I guess it is better it did while Grass is still alive and can answer the questions. His works did so much to help unravel this gruesome heritage of our nation that that it can be forgiven that he disclosed this truth. Yet it should be subjected to scrutiny what exactly made him join the infamous Waffen-S.S and what he took part in. I know of a filmmaker who at the age of 17 joined up late in order to pass his school exams (volunteers got special bonus), but later made documentaries about his decisions and openly discussed his share of guilt very credibly.
      Also, I think it is a bit a question of "labels". German army units, non S.S I mean, have committed just as terrible atrocities. And I'm sure that a number of Waffen-S.S soldiers were able to avoid such things too. And I am by no means an apologist of those people!
      Bit short of time, packing the car for the holidays, would love contribute here, but maybe when I'm back.
      Google ergo sum


      • #4
        But... Gunter Grass, one of Germany's leading authors, left wing, pacifist! What a turn up for the books!

        Next, they'll be telling us that the Pope had been in the Hitler Youth!


        • #5
          Originally posted by Pietro_Mercurios
          But... Gunter Grass, one of Germany's leading authors, left wing, pacifist! What a turn up for the books!

          Next, they'll be telling us that the Pope had been in the Hitler Youth!
          Yes, shocking, I know. But at least he became a pacifist and a keen observer of society at all. I'm not happy, but there are so many examples.
          My own uncle, captured in N. Africa as a captain, later became a socialdemocrat general in the Federal Republic and founded the Institute for Peace studies at hambur University. Or so many people who went to fight in Viet Nam later becoming peace activists, because they all knew what war is like!
          Google ergo sum


          • #6
            What a thing to sit on for all these years! I think it would have come out in the not too distant future. You can't keep these things hidden forever. Heinrich Harrer's (Seven Years in Tibet) SS background has now been thoroughly exposed.

            The keeping quiet bothers me more than the actual facts. I think many of us would have taken the path he did at 17. I know an elderly German (Henry Mettelmann) who has written two books about his past in the H1tler Youth and as a tank driver on the Eastern Front (Through Hell for H1tler). He makes no secret of his naive enthusiam for H1tler, even though his father was a left-winger, but he also talks frankly about where those beliefs led him. He is now a peace campaigner.
            Last edited by Mikey_C; 08-15-2006, 04:08 AM.
            \" ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell


            • #7
              May I add one fact you may not be aware of.
              Any person in Germany (don't know if the same applies to Austria) can demand to see (or obtain a copy of) the wartime files of his father or grandfather. Usually they are pretty complete together with a odd assortment of stuff like dates of home leave, salary lists, decorations, comments by superiors, party membership (also if not applied for is noted) etc.
              I got my father's files a couple of years ago. It was quite satisfying that he'd not lied to us: he wasn't a hero, and never attempted to be one at the time, no party membership and an excellent chess player (funny remark). He was with Luftwaffe (Airforce) in the legal dept. Final rank Lt.Col.

              What I'm trying to say is that this stuff is there to be unearthed without many obstacles. I wonder why nobody checked. S.S. might be a little more difficult as more files were destroyed.

              Update: They have found the 1946 US documents of Grass's detention! When he was interrogated in 1946 he DID declare he was with the Waffel-S.S ->,1020,684084,00.jpg

              See also:,00.html
              Last edited by L'Etranger; 08-15-2006, 10:15 AM.
              Google ergo sum


              • #8
                Originally posted by TheAdlerian

                I used to crap my pants as a baby, by the way.
                So why have you taken so long to admit it then?
                \" ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell


                • #9

                  I am not sure what to make of this. At this point in his life, I don't know what
                  he could gain bu telling the world now, unless he wnted to make some extra profits for his family. He probably does just feel bad about it.

                  As far as not revealing,as long as he did not personally take part in war crimes, I could see not wanting to tell the world about it,especially a world that wanted to put the war behind them. It's not the type of thing that one would want to put on a job application for instance.

                  If the world wanted to punish all who served in SS units, then they would have done so, would they not?

                  If his service and many other people's service in war was forgiven and not considered a crime, there should be no real reason why he should have disclosed the information,if it was not required of him.

                  It comes down to who should be held responsible for their actions:

                  The Leaders only?

                  or The Leaders and all the Top Ranks?

                  or The Leaders, the Top Ranks,Lower Ranking Officers and all the soldiers?

                  If you punish all the soldiers, that is a large percentage of the population,I think.

                  It becoes complicated, as I did not live at the time, and do not know if the soldiers really volunteered for the SS or they were more or less selected, also
                  some may have joined before the war broke out,because if H became chancellor in 1933, that is about six years before they were ordered to go into Poland. How could some have known things would be so bad and lead to
                  atrocities? -just a thought.

                  It also brings me to another thought about people hunting down men in their 70's and 80's because they were part of a certain unit or something like that. I understand if they were the ones who actually did harm, but if the guy was just a radio operator, why go after him? Besides that, isn't it too late to arrest a person by then? I hate to sound cynical myself, but, at age 85 for example, did not the person already get away with it? They would have lived a long life already. What kind of punishment could they give at that point? What kind of hollow justice would that be? Just so we could point out fingers to them and say they were wrong and evil, what good would that do? They may have already felt guilty all these years, or if they did not feel any guilt, they are not likely to feel guilt, they may even enjoy the attention they are getting. It will make them feel more important than they really are. Therefore, in a sense, we could be rewarding them. by pointing out there small dirty part in something that occured about 64 years ago or so.

                  "With a deep, not-unhappy sigh, Elric prepared to do battle with an army." (Red Pearls)
                  - Michael Moorcock


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by TheAdlerian
                    I've read a variety of his books and enjoyed them, and I'm sure that he meant what he wrote.

                    Meanwhile, I find it absurd that much concern or question would be placed on a man's life based on what he did as a teen.

                    I used to crap my pants as a baby, by the way.
                    It's not the commission, it's the omission that's the surprise.


                    • #11
                      GG : Everybody can make a wrong choice at 17 ..... The problem is why and how.

                      The second problem is : how do you react to your past now !

                      GG does not need advertisement for his books. And knowing a little his ideas i understand that his apst is a weight for him ......

                      For the past of war criminals : there are periods of prescription ...... ( sorry i don' t know the english legal term : period at the end of which you can no more be prosecuted )

                      For the past of people having committed crimes against humanity: the international law specially excludes possibility of prescription

                      French experience has shown that for most of them criminals against humanity do not regret their acts. That is the most shocking. They ask to be let in peace but not a word for their victims .....


                      • #12
                        I'm not familiar with the incident here, but I will add that I would hate to be judged by who I was as a teenager, particularly since I was in my teens during the troubled 80s Reagan-era America.

                        As a bit of an aside...My guess is that there are many people in the US right now who are going to be embarrassed that they marched to support this war, or building a wall on the US-Mexico border, or against Arab-Americans, or for torture, or for suspension of due process, etc., etc... They may seem sensible now...


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TheAdlerian
                          ...or they may be ashamed that they took a delusional view of fas.cist religious fanatics much like the Na.zis, thus making them tacit supporters like Gunter Grass!
                          Last edited by Reinart der Fuchs; 08-18-2006, 10:06 AM.


                          • #14
                            Well, you did fool me. I'm not the first to draw parallels between this administration's move to authoritarianism and egregious historical examples of it.

                            Also, this war toppled a secular leader, not a religious one. W's policies laid the groundwork for an Islamic republic. Opposing the war means (or at least once meant) opposing theocracy in the Middle East.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by TheAdlerian
                              Before you say "bingo" know that I refer to the anti-war crowd. They give support to Islam, which mirrors Nazism greatly.
                              Anti-which war ?

                              You could be against war to µIrak not because you support Hussein but because from the point of view of international law, this war was not a just war, because you thought it would be counter-productive .....

                              Some conservatives were or became anti vietnam war not to support communism but because this war could not be won .......

                              etc .........

                              For the present war, you can be against the war in libanon not because you support Hezbollah but because it is counter productive ....... and because Israel attitude is globally problematic .....

                              To come back to GG, his attitude has complex motives and his past shows that wathever his motives to enter the Waff.en SS, he has broke with nazi ideology.