21 Jul 2007
Daily Link for 2007/07/21
A few weeks ago, I posted a link to an excerpt from Peeling the Onion, the newly-translated memoir of Günter Grass. There’s a review of Peeling the Onion in the NYRB.
When interviewers have pressed him on this issue [i.e. his Waffen-SS past], the answers have been vague and unsatisfactory. “It oppressed me,” he told Frank Schirrmacher of the FAZ, in the original interview that sparked last summer’s furor. “My keeping silent over so many years is among the reasons for writing this book. It had to come out, at last.” Why only now? asked Ulrich Wickert of the German television channel ARD. “It lay buried in me. I can’t tell the reasons exactly.” At the Leipzig book fair this spring, he mused that he had to find the right literary form for this confession, and that, he said, meant waiting until he was of an age to write an autobiography. As if that explained a sixty-year silence.
In the absence of a convincing explanation from Grass himself, let me attempt an inevitably speculative answer. Perhaps he just missed the moment. Had the fact of his brief conscript service in the Waffen-SS come out in Wagenbach’s biography in the mid-1960s, it would simply have become part of his story. The suggestion that he would never have been awarded the Nobel Prize if he had confessed to teenage conscript service in the Waffen-SS seems to me far-fetched. But as time went by; as more and more became known about atrocities committed by the Waffen-SS; as, after 1968, the condemnation of the way an older generation had covered up the Nazi past became ever louder; as Grass himself became one of the most strident voices in that chorus; so the price tag on the belated revelation became ever higher. Luther says somewhere that a lie is like a snowball rolling down a hill: the longer it rolls, the larger it gets.