Monday, April 09, 2012

More on Günter Grass

The invaluable website Sign and Sight, which is unfortunately closing down, has a very good survey of the various responses to Grass's revelation in 2006 that he had served in the Waffen-SS in 1944-45, when he was 17. One very interesting response is from Rudolf Ungvary in a Hungarian newspaper, who mentions Grass's lack of condemnation of Ahmadinejad's attacks upon Israel at that time:
Hungary - Elet es Irodalom. Rudolf Ungvary is critical of Günter Grass, who blinded out the every day persecution of Jews in the 1940s and refuses to condemn contemporary dictators today. "Before 1945, it was clear to all contemporaries of Grass – and not just the members of the SS – that there were Nuremberg Laws, that many Jews were disappearing. They heard clearly how Hitler hollered out his speeches. They knew that only representatives of one political camp were allowed to express their opinions. Was that not enough to wish for a defeat of fascism (independently of whether one had volunteered to be member of the party or a military organisation)?... Grass condemned America but had nothing to say to the threats of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Prior to 1945, he could know that something terrible was happening to the German Jews. And even now, he must be aware of what the Iranian president is demanding, namely that Israel be erased from the map of the world."
CiF Watch has a good article about Grass, and they put up a incriminating document from 1945 - a registration form as a POW which testifies to his service in the Waffen-SS.

Under "branch of service" it lists W-SS (Waffen-SS), with the date 10-11-1944. Above that, as "unit," it lists SS-Pz-Div. Frundsberg - SS Tank Division Frundsberg.


Tom Segev interviewed Grass and wrote an article about him in Haaretz in 2006 - "The German who needed a fig-leaf." In this interview Grass commits quite a howler:
"Also. But the madness and the crime were not expressed only in the Holocaust and did not stop at the end of the war. Of eight million German soldiers who were captured by the Russians, perhaps two million survived and all the rest were liquidated. There were about 14 million refugees in Germany; half the country went directly from Nazi tyranny to communist tyranny. I am not saying this to diminish the gravity of the crime against the Jews, but the Holocaust was not the only crime. We bear responsibility for the Nazis' crimes. But the crimes inflicted serious disasters on the Germans and thus they became victims."
As has been made clear by many writers, three million German soldiers were taken prisoner by the Russians, and about one million died. The Germans, on the other hand, murdered three million Russian prisoners of war. In this paragraph Grass is doing his best to present the Germans as equal victims with the Jews.

Segev was just interviewed by Der Spiegel, the German magazine, about Grass, and has some interesting things to say about him.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was your first impression when you read Günter Grass's poem?
Segev: That Günter Grass is more concerned about his own silence than, as he claims, the future of humanity. He's acting as if he is saying something that nobody else has said. I find it a little pathetic when he writes "my silence." I believe he is still thinking about his SS silence. 
 SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're referring to the fact that Grass first revealed the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS in his 2006 autobiography "Peeling the Onion". But what he means this time is another silence: the silence about Israel's nuclear policy.

Segev: But this silence doesn't exist. The whole world is talking about it -- even in Israel. That's why my second reaction to the poem was that Günter Grass has no clue about Iran, nuclear weapons or strategy. He's acting as if he had a conversation yesterday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu -- or with both.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is being discussed in Israel about the possibility of an attack on Iran?

Segev: Former Mossad director Meir Dagan, for example, shares the same opinion as Günter Grass. He is also opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran. He talks about it almost every day. There is a very lively discussion about this issue in Israel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass also names a reason for his silence: the threat of being accused of anti-Semitism.

Segev: Meir Dagan has never been accused by anyone in Israel of being an anti-Semite. And it has been a long time since people in Germany were not able to criticize Israel -- even if some in the Israeli government might regret that fact. Grass's argumentation is very apolitical. If Dagan were to publish a poem, I would find it just as embarrassing as when Grass publishes a nuclear analysis. I don't think one can take it very seriously. I would have preferred it if he had saved his "last ink," as he puts it, for a beautiful novel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass writes that the Iranian people are at risk of being annihilated by a nuclear strike.

Segev: I do not understand at all how he came up with this idea. He is placing Israel and Iran on the same level. But the difference is that Israel, in contrast to Iran, has never declared that it wants to wipe some country off the map, whereas Iran promises day in, day out, that it wants to eliminate Israel. So what is this stuff about the annihilation of the Iranian people supposed to mean?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you saying that Grass is twisting the facts?

Segev: So far, the talk has only been of targeted Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities -- not a nuclear attack against the entire country.  
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It wasn't so long ago that you interviewed Günter Grass for an Israeli newspaper. You later defended him when he was accused of equating the dead German Wehrmacht soldiers with those killed in the Holocaust.

Segev: The whole scandal was based on a misunderstanding. Grass never compared the Nazi crimes to German suffering. He is truly a great writer, but being a great writer doesn't mean that he also understands nuclear strategy. Besides, the problem cannot just be limited to Israel: A nuclear Iran would be dangerous for the entire world. Incidentally, I personally believe that most Israelis would prefer to see the US, rather than Israel, take action against Iran. And it is not as if there is incitement against Iran in Israel. There is even a peace campaign on Facebook. President Shimon Peres even greeted the Iranian people on television on the occasion of the Persian new year. There is in no way enmity towards the Iranian people. Nevertheless, in Israel there is still a kind of fear of (another) Holocaust. That is all much more serious than the question of whether Günter Grass should remain silent or not.

Interview conducted by Sebastian Hammelehle.

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