Next Time, Remind Me Not To Take You Seriously

Well, it looks like Günter Grass, too, was a Nazi. Or at least he fought for them and took an oath to serve Hitler to the death, if he wasn't actually in the party. Yes, the leftist voice of a Nation's conscience, the man who always has a politically correct answer to everything, the man who acts like God with a pipe and long sentences, and who also just happens to be a true genius of words, he, too, not only did wrong but hid it like everyone else – like everyone's grandmother and grandfather who was once a two-bit army guard, like every ex-Stasi informant now working in a grocery store, like every other actor, writer, poet, sculptor of the time.

He's admitting to it voluntarily. His autobiography will appear in the next few weeks and he tells the truth in it, and has now spoken to the press (FAZ) in advance about it – what can I say, he knows how to sell a book. His story: When he was 17 he joined the Waffen-SS, an elite troop of soldiers (not the SS). Though he says he was drafted, he also says he was enamored with the idea of being an elite soldier. It's not clear whether he was actually a member of the party, but I don't see how that matters - the Waffen-SS was a creation of the party and founded on Nazi ideology, not just military necessity. But that's a technicality that doesn't matter one way or the other. It was already 1944, he didn't have much time to do evil and at 16 or 17 he was too young to figure out what was going on. So the whole thing doesn't make him into a monster or a war criminal. That's not the problem.

What bugs me about it is: He – this is Germany's only living Nobel prize winner for literature - sat around watching while his leftist compatriots made a big thing about former Nazis in the seventies and went on a (much-needed) witch hunt and dragged their parents and grandparents through the mud for being part of the Nazi Reich and not wanting to talk about it – how could they not want to talk about it! And he sat around watching in the 90s while practically everyone in the former East Germany turned out to have been Stasi informants, including his co-intellectuals. And he sat around again while intellectuals of his own age like PEN-president Walter Jens and the great medievalist Peter Wapnewski were revealed to have joined the party as teens too. And didn't admit to his own faults.

Sure, there weren’t many heroes in the Third Reich, and it's unfair to expect heroism from a 17-year-old, especially from a writer, ha ha, so it's easy to forgive Grass for his two years in the Waffen-SS. But he didn’t have to keep his mouth shut all this time like all the others. That much of heroism – having the guts to admit to his guilt – he could have done that. But he was too busy playing the all-knowing morally superior super-intellectual. The moment of guilt was not 1944/45, it was all the years after that, when he had the chance to be honest but didn’t want to ruin his public standing (or maybe he was already saving up this hot little tidbit for his memoirs). Now that the old Nazis are dead and the ex-Stasi agents have stolen the show, and now that he has a book to sell, it's easy to come out and admit it.

It makes me embarrassed to think I used to take him seriously. Just goes to show you: no matter who's up there preaching at you, whether you like what they say or not, don’t forget to imagine them naked. Puts things in the perspective they deserve.


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