Searching for Moral Truth or Ex-Nazi’s Negative PR

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MOSCOW (RIA Novosti, by Anatoly Korolyov) — On the eve of publishing his autobiographical book Peeling the Onion, Nobel Prize winning author Gunter Grass made a sensational statement that he had served in the Waffen SS in 1945.

It all looks like suicide, but it is very effective…

Grass had for many years pushed the pedals of morality and anti-Fascism, asserting his moral authority. His brilliant talent made it more convincing. A favorite of the leftists, peace activist Grass became an idol in Germany. A lifetime-achievement monument in the shape of a stone book lying on top of a pile of stone books with the names of Goethe and Thomas Mann printed on their spines was erected in his honor. His anti-Fascist novel The Tin Drum won him international recognition and transformed the moralist into a German morality guru.

And then such a provocation!

An affair involving Gunter Grass took place at the international congress of the PEN Club in Moscow in 2001. Grass was a star at the forum. His every move was accompanied by flashes of cameras. When opening the congress, he made a straightforward attack on Russia, condemning it for the Chechen war, and at the end called for writers to adopt a separate resolution to denounce imperial genocide.

A small group of participants in the congress led by writer Vasily Aksyonov were indignant at Mr. Grass’ attack. We described such criticism as lopsided and biased. Both Russia and Chechnya were to blame for the knot of problems, we thought. We wrote a petition to express our disagreement with Grass. Nine writers signed it, and Yevgeny Popov read it out. As a result, we formed a minority. The PEN Club accepted Grass’ aggressive arguments and the majority condemned Russia’s actions.

Grass’ aggression made a nasty impression on me.

Today, I can see the sources of that hysterical agitation. He had a guilty conscience. Grass was hiding the truth. Previously, his biographers told us that as a G.I., he had been wounded and taken captive by Americans. The falsehood was invented to appeal to German taste, and even the wound was mentioned to show that Gunter could not offer resistance to the enemy.

Today, we have learned that was a lie, and that young Gunter volunteered for the army in hopes of joining a submarine squadron, but failed to pass a medical examination and was assigned to the Waffen SS Frundsberg Panzer Division.

Service in the tank division certainly could not compare with the service at Auschwitz, yet candidates for the SS had to demonstrate outstanding devotion to the Fuhrer. Neither was it easy to join the Waffen SS even at the end of the war.

A day after the revelation, the German press published a reprint of the record of service held by the U.S. Defense Department’s POW section, which says that Grass was taken captive in Marienbad on May 8, 1945 as a charge loader in an SS tank division. The document bears the signature of Gunter Grass.

Following the shock, German press reproached Grass for being a coward, hypocrite and moral pragmatist.

I don’t think he is a coward, for it takes courage to make such a confession, nor do I believe in his hypocrisy – the writer’s books demonstrate his solid integrity. I wholly agree with the accusation of moral pragmatism. Grass knew only too well that he would not have won his Nobel Prize if he had admitted earlier to serving in the SS. He would not have his fame, nor would he have been allowed to blast Russia in front of a congress. There would not have been that stone monument. And there would not have been Gunter Grass the writer.

Today, 60 years later, the confession he made before the publication of his new book is timely.

The publishers duly appreciated the writer’s negative PR and published the book Peeling the Onion ahead of schedule. Out of 150,000 copies, 120,000 have been sold in a few days. The publishers are printing an extra 60,000 copies now, which will evidently not be enough to satisfy those intrigued by Grass’ confession, the more so since he referred to more details in the book.

I would not dare have suspected Grass of opportunism and ignoring his conscience before.

Prominent literary critic Helmut Karazek said that Grass had lashed those who tried to conceal their political career during the Nazi period. He described that as a huge act of hypocrisy, and suggested that Grass transfer his Nobel Prize money to a fund for victims of Nazism.

Germany’s biggest newspaper Bild reports that the new book will make Grass even richer, and the writer Rolf Hochhut called Grass an unrivalled PR expert. The historian Stolzel said Grass was a media genius.

Yet some people defend Grass. The famous author Salman Rushdie said Grass’s stature comes from the fact that he’s a giant in the world of literature, irrespective of the fact that he had served in the SS in his green years.

That’s true. But the aftertaste remains, which suggests that untouchables are not so untouchable any more.

The book was met with enthusiasm.

Obviously, Gunter has retained his skills as a charge loader.