| Günter Grass
Berlin, Aug. 12: Germany was rocked by revelations last night that Günter Grass, its greatest living author and doyen of the Left, was a member of Hitler’s elite Waffen-SS.
The Nobel laureate, who has been the country’s moral guide for decades, admitted in an interview published today that he became a member of the infamous Nazi corps at the age of 17.
The 78-year-old said he was driven by feelings of guilt to reveal the details of his “shameful” past in his autobiography, Peeling the Onion, due to be published next month. “It was weighing on my mind. My silence over all these years is one of the reasons why I decided to write this book. I forced myself to do it,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
Asked why he was breaking his silence after more than 60 years, Grass said: “It had to come out finally.” He added: “It will stain me forever.”
The SS, whose hand-picked members were condemned as criminals at the Nuremberg trials, in particular for their active participation in the Holocaust, was the dominant force within the Nazi party.
Its members initially volunteered, but after 1944, as Germany’s military strength was weakening, members were drafted at random from the male population. Grass, who had volunteered for the submarine forces at the age of 15 to “get away from the family” but had been rejected, was recruited into the SS in the winter of 1944-45.
Asked when he had first realised that he was in the SS, Grass replied: “I’m not sure how it was. Did the draft order give it away, or on the letterhead' The rank of the signatory' Or did I first notice it when I arrived in Dresden'” He said at the time that there was nothing “repulsive” about the SS to him.
He did not give any details on whether he knew if his division, the 10th Tank Division Fundsberg, was involved in any atrocities, but claimed that he never fired a single shot. He stressed his youthful naivety, and his desperation to get out of the corps because he found it gruelling.
“It was very hard. It was all there was. The only question you asked was: ‘How do I get out of it'’ So I infected myself with jaundice, but that only helped for a few weeks. Then the grind began again….”
He said his feelings of guilt developed only in later years.
Throughout his career, Grass, whose novel The Tin Drum deals with wartime Germany, has famously always criticised those unwilling to deal with Germany’s Nazi past.