Grass Stains Nobel Laureate Blasted for Questioning Merkel's Past

Nobel laureate Günter Grass has become a master at stepping on his tongue lately. This week, he did it again, casting aspersions about Chancellor Merkel's East German past. Critics have blasted Grass, pointing to the author's own prior membership in the SS.

SPD Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück together with Nobel laureate Günter Grass at an appearance this week.

SPD Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück together with Nobel laureate Günter Grass at an appearance this week.

A German election campaign isn't complete without an appearance by Nobel laureate Günter Grass. The famed author of the "The Tin Drum" has supported the center-left Social Democrats for half a century and appearances with the SPD candidate du jour have become mandatory.

There is, however, just one problem. Grass is no longer the moral authority that he once was. Ever since 2006, when he admitted to having been a member of Hitler's feared SS as a 17-year-old, his words have lost much of their weight -- and his benefit to the SPD has become questionable.

This week provided yet more proof that the 85-year-old has jumped the shark. In a Wednesday appearance with this year's SPD candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, Grass took it upon himself to blast Chancellor Angela Merkel and, in a verbal assault not without irony, to criticize her past as a member of the East German youth organization FDJ, the Communist Party's version of the Boy and Girl Scouts.

In condemning Merkel for "tarnishing our relations with our neighbors in an extremely short amount of time" by virtue of the course she has pursued in the euro crisis, Grass said that her approach is a product of her political upbringing. "During her time in the FDJ, she learned conformity and opportunism. Under (former Chancellor Helmut) Kohl, she learned how to wield power."

Grass' comments, to be sure, are hardly of the scandalous variety. A recent book, after all, went even further, suggesting that Merkel may have been closer to the communist apparatus of East Germany than previously thought. But given Grass' own past, and the fact that he was speaking at an SPD event, Merkel's conservatives proved unable to resist the urge to attack.

'Nothing But an Embarrassment'

"Günter Grass, of all people, a man who kept his own membership in the SS silent for decades, is now criticizing Angela Merkel's past in East Germany? That is nothing but an embarrassment," Erika Steinbach, a conservative parliamentarian with Merkel's party, told the tabloid Bild. Several other center-right politicians have likewise gone on the attack in recent days.

So too, however, have some from the SPD. "With all due respect for Grass as a writer, such vilification of life in East Germany is unacceptable," said Erwin Sellering, the center-left governor of the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "Especially 23 years after German reunification."

Grass' appearance with Steinbrück was primarily to promote the author's new book, a 1,230 page collection of letters he exchanged with Willy Brandt over the course of decades. And it comes at a time in the author's career when his famed sharp tongue has begun to seem more tiresome than trenchant. His April 2012 poem "What Must Be Said," in which he blasted Israel as being a threat to world peace, was not well received and earned him a travel ban to the country as well as accusations of anti-Semitism. While much of the criticism was overwrought, his sequel, a preachy poem attacking Merkel's approach to the Greek economic crisis, did little to repair his eroding reputation.

No More Grass Appearances

Grass didn't limit his criticism to Merkel on Wednesday. Calling her elimination of conscription "shameful," he said that the German military had devolved into nothing more than an "army of mercenaries that gets sent on missions abroad." He said it threatens to become a "state within a state" as did the German army during the inter-war Weimar period.

That too was enough to ruffle conservative feathers. "Mr. Grass has long bid farewell to that circle of people whose political opinions can be taken seriously," CDU defense expert Ernst-Reinhard Beck said in a statement. "German soldiers do not need to be defamed as mercenaries, especially not from a former member of the SS."

Steinbrück, though, beat him to the punch. "Mr. Grass, might I be allowed to contradict you," the SPD candidate said. "The German army is definitely not a mercenary force," he said. The SPD then noted that no further campaign events with Günter Grass have been planned prior to the elections in September.

cgh -- with wire reports


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spon-facebook-548033848 06/28/2013
1. Gunter Grass and his history
It is easy to criticize Herr Grass for his memory lapse in not admitting right up front as to his membership in SS but consider that he was a child soldier in a time when what one did was whatever the Nazi State demanded of you. Certainly he had many decades to come clean on this but when he finally did, what happened? Exactly what he feared would come to pass and why I expect he had not dealt with this history decades earlier. One must be judged not on one's youthful errors but upon what one has done during the thousands of days since and Herr Grass has my gratitude for having written the one book that is most significant in my life, Dog Years. I am not German. I read only in translation but the poetic brilliance of Grass comes through in spite and though I strongly disagree with many of his later diatribes about other issues, I nonetheless weigh what he has accomplished against others and he comes out rather untarnished overall. He is an old man, for Goodness sakes, give him some slack. He is an artist and artists have a different mindset from others which is why they can accomplish what they do. Others might be more circumspect about their opinions, right or wrong but an artist wears it right out there even if it is impolitic to do so. To try to parse Herr Grass from the perspective of a young man at the end of a dreadful murderous regime from the place of personal rest that most of us really feel today is without real understanding. I say this from the perspective that had the National Socialists won the war, I would surely have suffered the end of my family and yet, here I am defending him for he was not forever to be blamed for his elder's awful choices. No...He is however, to be seen in the light of the times and most especially after the war when the society pretended oh so well to be without choice in what happened to Europe. He was no different then most others, collaborators or merely onlookers, enthusiasts and fellow travellers. To be pretty certain that the West knew of Eichmann and others and did nothing about it is far, far worse than a writer who did not fess up to being a child soldier in the SS. One could ask why the leaders of the Allies did not destroy the gas chambers with an air raid rather than criticize Grass as to why he did not say up front of his weeks in the SS battalion. Let he who is without guilt cast the first stone...Indeed...let them...
mikerol 07/02/2013
2. Grass Happens To Be Right
BOTH WITH REGARD TO MERKEL AND THE USE OF GERMAN ARMED FORCES TO BAIL OUT THE U.S. FROM THE CONSEQUENCES OF ITS DESTABILIZATION OF AFGHANISTAN IN THE 70S, and the U.S. creation of the worldwide Mujahedin. So what if Grass himself is not a complete saint? Here is a link to the archive of the Grass controversy of last year.
jadger 07/02/2013
3. optional
In response to the first commenter. He was not a child soldier, he volunteered at 17 to serve his country in war time. In most western countries you can still enlist in the military at 17, including both in Germany and the United States. Stop being an apologist for a man who knew what he was doing back then. "Oh, he was so young" is not an excuse to just whitewash what he did or said. Or else we could just ignore what he is saying now as the words of a delusional and senile old man.
srswain 07/07/2013
4. Herr Grass's Youthful Service
In 1978, I met Herr Grass in Atlanta, Georgia, USA at a reception sponsored by the Goëthe Institute when I was a young graduate student. I had read The Tin Drum, and had admired it very much, and told him so. I also told him that many times I had felt as shriekingly frustrated, especially during the Vietnam War, as Oscar. He smiled broadly and said, "Ja, but you grew up." My attitude toward his service in his war is: "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone."
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