Historian Michael Wolffsohn on Israel Poem: 'Grass Has Written an Anti-Semitic Pamphlet'

Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass has caused a controversy with a new poem criticizing Israel's policies against Iran. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, the German historian Michael Wolffsohn accuses Grass of anti-Semitism and rehashing far-right stereotypes about Jews.

Günter Grass (shown here in 2007) has written an "anti-Semitic pamphlet," argues historian Michael Wolffsohn. Zoom
REUTERS

Günter Grass (shown here in 2007) has written an "anti-Semitic pamphlet," argues historian Michael Wolffsohn.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think of Günter Grass's poem, "What Must Be Said," which was published in Germany's center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday?

Wolffsohn: It would have fit well in the (German far-right weekly) National Zeitung -- and I mean that with no ifs or buts. In the poem, Grass makes the victims into perpetrators, and otherwise it contains pretty much every other anti-Semitic stereotype that we know from the far-right scene. And, on top of that, the language is completely lacking in sophistication.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In a statement on Wednesday, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin pointed out that the poem was published just before the feast of Passover.

Wolffsohn: I noticed that, too. In doing so, Grass is following an ignoble tradition. The time around Passover has always been the time of pogroms and a time when the blood-libel myth about Jews is disseminated.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass accuses Israel of claiming a "right to a first strike" which "could destroy an Iranian people." Do you really think that he is following an anti-Semitic tradition with such statements?

Wolffsohn: At the very least, I would not have expected such cluelessness from a former practicing Catholic like Grass, given the current tension between different religions. Apart from anything else, this talk of a "first strike" is total nonsense.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why?

Wolffsohn: Israel has never threatened to conduct a nuclear first strike. The submarines referred to in the poem provide a second-strike capability. If one's own territory has been devastated by a nuclear attack, submarines give a nation the ability to respond to the attack. That's something obvious to anyone who knows anything about military strategy. Grass clearly has no idea about the topic.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Grass also calls Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "loudmouth" who has "subjugated" his people.

Wolffsohn: That doesn't make things any better. By using the word "loudmouth," he is trivializing the nuclearization of Iran. The Jews have learned from history that threats are more than just crazy talk -- thanks to Hitler, for whom Grass fought.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are referring to the fact that Grass was recruited into the Waffen-SS as a teenager toward the end of World War II. It was against his will, as he explains in his autobiography "Peeling the Onion."

Wolffsohn: At it happens, I have just read the book, and I was shocked by how he played it down. At the age of 17, one certainly does possess a political consciousness. Grass is simply incapable of self-criticism. Apart from that, he himself also writes in his "Onion" book that he had volunteered for the Navy and would have also been happy to join a tank regiment. Not his parents, however.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you believe him when he writes in his poem that he feels "connected" to the State of Israel?

Wolffsohn: I have never believed him. He was never a friend of the Jewish people -- this is a myth he constructed himself. During his very first visit to Israel, on the occasion of the first German-Israeli "culture week" in 1971, he already acted like a bull in a china shop, and lectured the Israeli audience on historical and moral issues.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass writes that he was condemned to silence because, otherwise, he would be accused of anti-Semitism.

Wolffsohn: This is a very common stance in Germany: According to a poll by the Allensbach Institute, 52 percent of Germans believe that, when it comes to the issue of Israel and Jews, it is too easy to fall flat on your face. I am very cautious about using the term (anti-Semitic), but what Grass has written is an anti-Semitic pamphlet compressed into pseudo-poetry. Moreover, the possibility of an Iranian attack on Israel is the subject of extensive public debate, as is the question of a conventional bombing of Iran by Israel. Grass is living in a dream world if he believes there is some kind of taboo in that respect. It's yet another indication that the man engages entirely in navel-gazing.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass is 84 years old. Can one argue in his defense that maybe he is getting a bit too opinionated or even confused in his old age?

Wolffsohn: No. I know the complete works of Grass -- he is really formidable in terms of language. And this undeniable eloquence is, in his case, fundamentally shaped by a moral and intellectual brutality. He appoints himself as judge and jury. The man is the sum of all his prejudices. Quite apart from that, there are also great works of literature that were written by authors of a similar age -- think of Goethe's later works, for example.

Interview conducted by Christoph Twickel

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1.
kishorekumar62 04/05/2012
---Quote (Originally by sysop)--- Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass has caused a controversy with a new poem criticizing Israel's policies against Iran. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, the German historian Michael Wolffsohn accuses Grass of anti-Semitism and rehashing far-right stereotypes about Jews. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,825942,00.html ---End Quote--- Wolffsohn has done exactly what Grass predicted in his poem - called him anti-semetic! I read an English translation of the poem and there as no hatred of Jews in that poem, i.e. it had absolutely no shades of anti-semetism. If Israel and the Jewish people want to be respected as rational members of modern society, they have to get off this persecution complex and stop treating every critisism as proof of anti-semetism. They need to stop referring to blood libel, the Holocaust and Auschwitz at the drop of a hat. These are sad chapters in human history and should not be trivialized, least of all by the Jewish people. It is not anti-semitism to say Israel is war-mongering right now, because that is indeed what Israel is doing. Grass makes a clear statement that others in the western world would do well to follow. Stop treating Israel and the Jewish people as "special" people and treat them as ordinary human beings. If the emperor has no cloths, that should be pointed out, be the emperor a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Zorastrian.
2. Consider your position
Eleos 04/06/2012
I have read your attack on GG. I do not know your work but I would be surprised if the academic assessors at your institution did not consider it grounds to impose a sanction. One can only wonder how you form your opinions on other matters, given the bias and sophistry shown. I think you would be more comfortable teaching elsewhere, perhaps in Israel, and that Germany would eventually recover from your loss.
3. A parody- reponse to Grass
nathanlessing 04/06/2012
A parody of the poem by Grass, written in response, I hope someone translates it into German: http://twitdoc.com/view.asp?id=43812&sid=XT0&ext=PDF&lcl=gunter-grass.pdf&usr=LMC44244814&doc=88268721&key=key-11nvv17kpqukr9mzfp95
4. *
BTraven 04/11/2012
---Quote (Originally by Eleos)--- I have read your attack on GG. I do not know your work but I would be surprised if the academic assessors at your institution did not consider it grounds to impose a sanction. One can only wonder how you form your opinions on other matters, given the bias and sophistry shown. I think you would be more comfortable teaching elsewhere, perhaps in Israel, and that Germany would eventually recover from your loss. ---End Quote--- Great article, however, the problem is that almost every journalist who has written about his poems would have to resign from his lucrative post so the big newspaper would be without feature writers. It's quite embarrassing that so many criticised Grass so fiercely and ruthlessly. The writing elite has lost much of it's reputation. I think that Germany is in a deep cultural crisis. It's extremely difficult to overcome it since nobody feels obliged to apologise to Grass for his harsh attacks. Even after the Nobel Prize Committee's announcement that Grass does not need to fear to give back his award at all his critics have not eased off.
5. Is Wolfs sohn an antisemite or just a Dreckfink?
nevermind 04/17/2012
---Quote (Originally by BTraven)--- Great article, however, the problem is that almost every journalist who has written about his poems would have to resign from his lucrative post so the big newspaper would be without feature writers. It's quite embarrassing that so many criticised Grass so fiercely and ruthlessly. The writing elite has lost much of it's reputation. I think that Germany is in a deep cultural crisis. It's extremely difficult to overcome it since nobody feels obliged to apologise to Grass for his harsh attacks. Even after the Nobel Prize Committee's announcement that Grass does not need to fear to give back his award at all his critics have not eased off. ---End Quote--- By criticising Grass legitamite poem, backed up by many jewish writers and ex conservation camp survivors, Wolffsohn's jealous response is denying Judaismn and its immense humane and cultural work globally, in favour of a skally wag Netanyahu and his Moldovian sidekick, both hell bent on deleting Israels humane achievements. One wonders what Prof. Wolffsohn would make of Bibi's drang to become the Chruchill of the ME, not unlike a savon he persues this goal with all his warmongering might. Prof. Wolffsohn should be stripped of his title, thanks god he is not involved in bending my childrens ears to his sort of history. Here is a small reminder to denialists such as him what it really means to be jewish today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSlFR541Uoo&feature=player_embedded
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About Michael Wolffsohn
  • DDP
    Michael Wolffsohn, born in Tel Aviv in 1947, is a German historian and author who deals mainly with issues relating to German-Jewish contemporary history. He is currently a professor of modern history at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.

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