Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Grass, poetry and slanders

The publication of a poem by the German writer Günter Grass, following the delivery of a submarine to Israel by Germany, has led to the Israeli government banning him from travelling there.

I should first of all declare an interest: Grass is probably my favourite writer.  That is mainly based on his earlier writings  - from The Tin Drum in 1959 to The Rat in 1987. I find his later novels a bit artificial and have never been a fan of his poetry (which appears throughout all his novels). What Must Be Said is aside from literary considerations politically unbalanced in its approach to Israel and Iran.

Having said that, it is a slander to claim - as the Israeli government has in banning him from the country - that Grass, a longtime supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, is a Nazi or anti-semite because he served in the Waffen-SS in World War II. Grass was also accused of hypocrisy after he spoke about his war service in 2006 ahead of the publication of his memoir Peeling the Onion. But to say that he is in the same category as the ex-Nazi officials who became politicians and businessmen in post-war West Germany because as a seventeen year old he was conscripted into a Waffen-SS tank regiment and fought as a gunner on the Eastern Front is ridiculous.  Criticise his latest poem by all means but don't argue that he has got anything to admit or atone for because of what he did as a teenage soldier.

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