|Günter Grass 1927-2015
But in 2006, Grass, who was born in Danzig, Poland on October 16, 1927, revealed that towards the end of the war, he had been conscripted into the Waffen SS. It was 1944 and Grass was 17 years old at the time. It was also clear that Germany was losing the war. In a last ditch effort, Germany began to recruit young boys and old men to do the jobs of trained soldiers against the advancing Allies. By May 1945, Grass was a prisoner in an American POW camp.
Why Grass didn't reveal this information until so many years later is something we will probably never know the answer to. He wasn't in the Waffen SS long and never committed any of the heinous crimes they were so notorious for inflicting on their enemies. But Grass was always very outspoken, sometimes even very controversial. Hiding his past, did he have a right to be so critical of others? His conservative critics don't think so. They jumped on his Waffen SS secret, quickly denouncing Grass. Does hiding his past outweigh a lifetime achievement of confronting a horrific past that you were inadvertently made a part of?
Grass's death brought up all of this again for me. But I think Salmon Rushdie put it best, at least for me personally, when he said "if you were a teenager and a Nazi came to conscript you, and a refusal meant death, would you choose to die?…To be a conscript is not to be a Nazi. To be the author of The Tin Drum is to merit great honour." The Telegraph April 10, 2012.
It's been a long time since I have read a book by Günter Grass. He was really the stuff of graduate school. Still, The Tin Drum, which is actually the first book in Grass's Danzig Trilogy that includes Dog Years and Cat and Mouse, will always be one of my all-time favorite books and now I am even tempted to reread it since a new translation has come out a few years ago. And if you haven't already read The Tin Drum yet, I highly recommend it.
I am always sad when an author I like passes away, and Grass is no exception. He left the world shrouded in controversy, but with such an very impressive body of work that just cannot be discounted.
You can read Günter Grass's New York Times obituary HERE