Monday, September 25, 2006

Of Gunter Grass and His Nazi Past

By now, those of you who know the work of Gunter Grass, the Polish-born but German citizen, the leftist writer of The Tin Drum and other fiction, know that Grass recently confessed to being a member of the Nazi's infamous Waffen SS in his youth. However, I believe the reasons for this belated admission (6o years belated) are related less to a purging of soul than they are to promoting Grass' upcoming biography. Certainly Grass hasn't acted very remorseful, either for his active participation in the Third Reich or his long, hypocritical silence about it.

And much of the response from the literati and mainstream press in Germany has similarly glossed over these facts. After all, socialists must stick together, especially when the person in question is a Nobel Prize winner who has so forcefully, consistently maligned Western values in his work. Why let a little thing like a Nazi past disturb the waters?

But not everyone has queued up in this line.

Here is a brief article from Deutsche Welle that only partially absolves Grass. It isn't without value but its attempt to somehow separate the writer Grass from the person Grass is an example of "intentional fallacy" of the most naive and silly sort.

A much better piece was written by Suzanne Fields. Here's an excerpt...

The hypocrite always wears a halo. He walks in the light of his own goodness, encircled by the clarity of illuminated virtue. His dark secret is hidden from sight so he can enjoy popular applause for his undiminished radiance.

So it is with Nobel Prize-winner Gunter Grass, moralist-in-chief of German letters, controller of the German conscience. He demanded that all Germans "come clean" about their past as the only way to atonement. He was the advocate for remembering and taking full responsibility for personal actions. He beat a tin drum to death.

So it was stunning news that now, at the age of 78, he has admitted publicly that he was a Nazi himself, a soldier of the Waffen SS, the special unit that made the Holocaust work. He served in the unit at the end of the war at the age of 17, after, he said, he tried and failed to volunteer for U-boat service. He says he didn't engage in any criminal activity, but he nevertheless hid his Nazi past from the public for six decades.

He urged others to claim their shame, but he waited for a propitious moment to reveal his. Why now? "It weighed on me," he says. But it's hardly a stretch to suggest -- as many Germans do -- that he made his confession shortly before the publication of his autobiography. He may sell more books this way, but once the halo slips, it never quite fits again...