Gunter Grass and the Waffen SS

Dr. Theodore Feder is the president of the Artists Rights Society.


Gunter GrassOn April 7, 2012, Gunter Grass, German novelist and Nobel Laureate, published a poem, titled “What Must Be Said” (“Was gesagt werden muss”) in which he chastised the nuclear power Israel for threatening Iran and endangering world peace. It garnered worldwide attention.

The poem states in part,

Why is it only now I say in old age, with my last drop of ink, that Israel’s nuclear power endangers an already fragile world peace? Because what by tomorrow might be too late, must be spoken now, and because we—as Germans already burdened enough—could become enablers of a crime.

He allowed himself to do this, he says, in spite of being a German and at the risk of being labeled an anti-Semite, which he averred he most assuredly was not. What better proof of his objectivity than that he, a good German of the left, was impelled by his conscience to sound the alarm, regardless of the consequences to him personally, though his poem was met with considerable approval in Germany and elsewhere?

Of course, he could have decried other threats to international harmony, posed for instance, by the nuclear power of North Korea, by the instability in a nuclear-armed Pakistan, by the events in the Sudan, Rwanda, and Somalia, by the regime of Bashar al Assad, by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the world-wide jihadist movement, or he could have focused on the threats to annihilate Israel that have emanated from Iran itself. There, its past president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was wont to describe Israel as an illegitimate entity “that should be wiped off the map,” as a “germ of corruption that will be wiped off” and as “an insult to all humanity.”

Ahmadinejad’s successor, Hassan Rouhani, reputed to be more moderate, stated on the occasion of the Al-Quds Day celebrations in Tehran that “Israel is a wound on the body of the world of Islam that must be destroyed.” Grass would appear to prefer that the Jews of Israel proceed compliantly to their deaths, as they did under the careful ministrations of the SS during World War II, which brings us to a not-unrelated subject.

It happens that after 60 years of concealment and silence, Gunter Grass admitted in August 2006 that during the war he had been a member of the Waffen SS. He made this admission in an autobiography released that same month titled Peeling the Onion (Beim Heuter der Zwiebel).  Asked about this in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Grass replied,

I am sure I am remembering correctly, the Waffen SS was at first not something scary, but rather an elite unit that was always sent to the trouble spots, and which according to rumor, had the most casualties.

Perhaps he meant to say inflicted” the most casualties, given their activities in the extermination camps and the numerous atrocities they committed in the occupied territories, not excluding Grass’s hometown of Danzig-Gdansk in the opening days of the war.

Asked in the same interview why, given that he had often been called the conscience of Germany, he should have waited so long to make his confession, his truncated reply was that he could not do so in the 1950s because then,

We were under Adenauer, ghastly, with all those lies, with all that Catholic fug. The society of that day was fed by a kind of stuffiness that never existed under the Nazis.

Put aside that West Germany rejoined the family of nations under Adenauer and embarked on a road not only to full recovery but to prosperity. He does not address his silence during the 43 years that followed the Adenauer government.

The Waffen SS was created as the armed wing of the Nazi Party, originally commanded by Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler. It was condemned at the Nuremberg trials as a criminal organization. Grass belonged to the SS Panzer Division Frundsberg, which saw action in the Ukraine and in the Battle of the Bulge. A sister unit, the Sixth Panzer Corps of the Waffen SS Lebstandarte Division, slaughtered 111 captured American GI’s at Malmedy, Belgium. Indeed, Hitler had instructed all SS units on the occasion of this battle not to take prisoners.

Grass himself fell prisoner to the Americans on May 8, 1945, after, as he reports, he stripped the SS insignia from his uniform, lest he fall into the hands of the vengeful Ivans, as he called the Russians. Thus he must have been cognizant of the depredations inflicted on that people by the Waffen SS, a realization which conflicts with his later claim that the Waffen SS was “not something scary.” Such a claim belies his own intelligence, the history of the SS, the doctrine of Aryan supremacy, and the racist propaganda that were the hallmarks of National Socialism, at least following the assumption of the Chancellorship by Adolf Hitler, if not well before.

His American captivity was punctuated by a period in a work detail, in which he encountered a half-dozen young Jewish displaced persons who, as he notes, “had been smiled upon by fate and escaped death in one or another of the extermination camps” where their parents and families had been murdered. By Grass’s own account, he and his fellow German POWs taunted these boys with choice “barracks German,” of which he quotes some relatively mild examples: “You bow-legged dogs,” “You bed-wetters,” “I’ll make you toe the line, the lot of you,” “Get out of here! Go to your Palestine.” This in spite of the fact that one of the Jewish boys, called Ben, would slip him leftovers to consume before returning to camp, “as it was against the rules to take food back to camp.” He concludes,

The Jews stayed on a bit longer, probably until they managed to find a way to get to Palestine, where the promise of Israel as a sovereign state and war upon war stood ahead of them.” (Peeling the Onion, pp. 195-198)

The Jewish characters in The Tin Drum may represent Grass’s preferred model of Jewish behavior: tractable as opposed to truculent, passive, harmless, well-meaning, small shop-owners; not the soldierly Israeli model that Glass seems to deplore. One of them, Sigismund  Markus, commits suicide as his toy shop is gutted on the night of the Danzig Kristallnacht. Another, Herr Fajngold, goes around helplessly calling out the names of his large invisible family; “Luba, Lev, Jakub, Berek, Leon, Mendel, Sonja,” who had all been extinguished in the ovens of Treblinka.

Grass reiterates his own unwavering loyalty to the Fuhrer on numerous occasions. Upon learning of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, he says,

A shiver ran through us. Something akin to piety sent the sweat seeping out of our pores. The Fuehrer saved! The heavens were once more, or still, on our side…We shouted Sieg heil three times. We were irate, we were incensed at the still nameless traitors.[Quotations taken from Gunther Grass, “How I spent the War,” The New Yorker, June 4, 2007]

There were other massacres that occurred in Grass’s hometown. Fifty of Danzig’s most prominent Jews were rounded up by the Waffen SS, locked in their synagogue, and put to death when it was set ablaze. Five hundred remaining Jews of Danzig were executed by the SS in the detention camp of Sabac (October 12, 1941), as recounted by Grass himself in From the Diary of a Snail. (English translation by  Ralph Mannheim, A Harvest Book, p. 121-122.) These episodes, and others like them, were not kept secret, and hardly qualify as “stuffy.”

That Grass has at times behaved hypocritically in his post-war activities is clear. In the late 1960s, he campaigned against Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger largely on the grounds that he was unfit for the post because he had once been a member of the Nazi party. Grass, a staunch socialist, might have been more forgiving if Kiesinger had not been a leader of the Christian Democratic Union. In 1970, he accompanied Chancellor Willy Brandt to the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in Poland. The ghetto had been liquidated and razed by the Waffen SS under the command of SS Brigadefuhrer Jurgen Stoop. This was an opportunity, not taken, for Grass to make his admission. In 1985, on the anniversary of V-E Day, Glass insisted that President Ronald Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl were very wrong to visit the military cemetery at Bitburg, since it also served as the resting place for veterans of the Waffen SS.

In his autobiography and the New Yorker article derived from it, Grass maintains that he never fired a shot in the war, and describes his activity in uncharacteristically colorless and stereotyped fashion, which as has been suggested, could have been lifted from Grass’s frequent visits to the cinema: bullets just miss him but strike his comrades; he hums a German nursery rhyme to fetch out an adversary hidden in the woods, who happily answers in kind; he exchanges his SS jacket for an ordinary Wehrmacht jacket, “one without bullet holes or bloodstains.”

There is some confusion about whether Grass volunteered for the SS or was conscripted into it. He says that he first volunteered for duty in the U-Boat service, and dreamt of joining the brave men sinking ships at sea. “No pressure from above. Nor did I feel the need to assuage a sense of guilt at say, doubting the Fuehrer’s infallibility, with my zeal to volunteer”(Gunther Glass, “How I spent the War,” New Yorker, June 4, 2007). Having been rejected by the submariners, who he says were no longer taking volunteers, his application was shunted over to the SS, which duly consigned him to its ranks. It is true that the Waffen SS, a volunteer service prior to the end of 1943, also took in conscripts thereafter, but at times Glass leaves the impression that he was one of its volunteers.  His justification for and defense of that service, even to this day, does not suggest that he was dragooned into it.

In sum, I do not believe that these disclosures lessen the quality and value of Grass’s early writings, certainly not of the masterful Danzig Trilogy (Tin Drum, Dog Years,  Cat and Mouse), but they do diminish him as an ideologue and human being, one who has been held up as an exemplar on the one hand, and revealed as an apologist and hypocrite on the other.

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  • gooserooster

    Grass chooses to be honest, and of course, he is rounded criticized for doing so. The author of this article fails to show any of Grass’s statements as incorrect..doesn’t catch him in any lies. The author just doesn’t like the fact that a very smart man has called out the Zionist movement for what it is. Lets face it, Israel is the product of the generations of Zionism the preceded the establishment of Israel, and all the suffering that has followed. Israel may be great for the Jews, but what about everyone else?

    • Blue on Red-Green-Brown

      Israel is great for the righteous among the nations, and will save them all in the end. The converse also applies…

      • Davros11

        Agreed, time will tell…..

    • Davros11

      WOW, you are a real anti-Semite, and you are actually trying to be intellectual… Here’s a little quote for you scumbag types, “WE accuse the Jews of wanting to take over the world, but we expect Islam to take over the world” Which is it? JEWS and that evil Zionism or Islam and that cult of evil… Which one fella?

    • Habbgun

      You really are Eurotrash or American wannabe Eurotrash. Who has done more to make the world a miserable place than Europe? How many World Wars, genocides, stupid power games, imperialist takeovers, worldwide STD’s, the export of fascism and communism and the forced import of Jihad must we all endure?!!

      Then you wrap it all up with phony intellectualism. The world isn’t suffering because of Israel. It is a better place. The goal of Europe is always to be on top and to destroy all other cultures. Europeans will resort to any lie or phony argumentation to get it.

      • Drakken

        Not to defend roosters argument, but, as an ardent Israeli supporter and defender, let me explain a very simple truth to you, we are all in this together, if Israel goes, the rest of us go, it is that simple, Israel is on the front lines of a war that has been going on since the arabs came crawling out of the desert and will continue until WE of the western world finally say enough is enough and put a stop to it. That day is approaching sooner than anyone has anticipated. So before you throw the Europeans under the bus, remember well that all Europeans are all not anti-jew-Israel. You would be very surprised at how much support you have if you take the time to look.

        • kertitor

          Alas, not every Jews are pro Israel. Since the emergence the Jewish soldiers and Jewish patriots, Israel has more Jewish enemies than Arab. Perhaps the last 70 years were not enough to eliminate the inner ghetto Jews.

        • SCREW SOCIALISM

          The majority of Europeans are anti-jew-israel-america.

          The US has eclipsed Eurabia, Israel defeats its attackers and thrives despite the wishes of Socialist and Appeasing Eurabia.

          • Drakken

            No, they are not majority anti-Us/Israel/jew haters friend, you might be talking about the political elites, not the common man, who for now is sitting silently as the world becomes undone. That silence won’t last too much longer.

        • Habbgun

          Drakken,

          I’m aware of what you say but let’s face it there are some people who need to hear they represent a very dark side of life. That just because what comes out of their mouth is “European” it is not elevated. The Europe I am speaking about is the cluster***** that came from the elites and that shoves Eurabia and Obamacare and crime and everything else down our throats in Europe and America. They need their sense of superiority not just challenged but flushed away.

          There is a part of Europe that understood freedom and honor and fighting to the last. Unfortunately those ideas seem to so many ridiculous and wrong.

    • A Z

      I have been to Israel for a few days. I was never mistreated.

      The only time a Jewish person got excited was when I was at the Wailing Wall without a head covering. There were paper “caps” about an inch or so in diameter with a little clip. Once that was put on, I was ignored.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Happy Eternal Nakba!

    • PhillipGaley

      What better proof of his objectivity than his own statements concerning anti-semitism and self-approval?

  • The Facts

    “Ted! When are you gonna write something for us, man? It’s Glenn Beck week at Frontpage.”
    “Well, I do have that article from two years ago on Gunter Grass finished finally.”
    “Send it along!”

    • A Z

      I found the article on Gunter Grass along with the mention of “The Tin Drum” informative.

      I read the movie review years ago & never understood it. Now everything makes sense.

  • Reuven

    There is nothing good about GrASS. Tin Drum or no Tin Drum, this anti-Semitic bum belongs in prison!

  • Tradecraft46

    You can always be liked or have peace if you do as others want. My late mother taught me that. You give up the means to resist, then you have no complaint when you die, which is what Grass wants.

    A lot of people in Israel would agree with him, sadly.

  • Wolfthatknowsall

    A distant second cousin of mine … and I risk much by saying this … was a member of the Waffen SS. He went into Poland in 1939, and was captured during the Ardennes Offensive, in 1945. After being released, he was in the French Foreign Legion, captured at Dien Bien Phu, and died as a full colonel in the South African Army, during a raid into Angola. War was his life, and being a soldier meant everything, to him.

    One thing that must always be remembered about the Waffen SS, and their more sinister counterparts in the Totenkopf SS. They were Nazis. They were true believers.

    During a visit in the 1970′s (which always bothered my parents for their sons’ sakes), the table talk settled on the Holocaust. It got quite heated, but he sat at the table, calmly smoking a pipe. When it quieted down, he said the following:

    “HitlEr habt recht.”

    Make no mistake about it, the SS were the most fanatical of all the Nazis …

    • Drakken

      More than a few of my close relatives were with the Waffen SS during the war including one that was Skorzeny’s right hand man and planner, there a more than a few photo’s that sit on my wall in my study in the states of me as a child with Skorzeny and Franco. A couple ended up in Indo-China as well with the Devil’s Brigade of the Foreign Legion, it is too bad the Americans when they were getting involved didn’t listen to them as to how to fight the Vietnamese. My own father was with the Wehrmacht and then the US Army in both Korea and Vietnam and retired as a full bird, funny thing was, he could not get that one star because of his heavy Prussian accent.
      As for who fought with the Waffen SS and their political views, it was a mixed bunch, some fought for Hitler, some fought for the Fatherland and in the end they all fought for each other for survival and I am certainly not going to defend the more atrocious of actions of some them, but from a historical non-political view, they were man for man the best fighting organization since the times of the Romans. I still have cousins in various service in both the German and Austrian militaries to this day as well as myself who was a US Marine. I can related to your relative as well, for fighting wars is in our blood and has been for a thousand years.

      • A Z

        Devil’s Brigade or Devils’Guard?

        Devil’s Guard by George Robert Elford.

        Mixed bunch >> “Loyalty is my Honor” Gordon Williamson

        • A Z

          Devil’s Brigade, a unit of the Legion that was made up of former Waffen SS and Wehrmacht soldiers who fought in Indo-China and were by far the most effective unit in theater.
          Talk to a few former soldiers of that era and you will know what I mean, not everyone was a NSDAP.

          No, I do not know with 100% certitude.

          I do not know of any people from the Devils Brigade/Guard. I did a web search and came up empty. I know my geography well enough to know that the commander of the unit retired to Bhutan, Nepal, Brunei or Singapore based on the book. I don’t have the time or the resource to look him up. He probably passed on anyway.

          • Wolfthatknowsall

            There was another Devil’s Brigade that fought in Vietnam, during US involvement. This unit fought semi-independently from the South Vietnamese Army, and didn’t recognize “borders”.

          • A Z

            From your knowledge did they fight after 1963?

          • Wolfthatknowsall

            I actually met their commander in 1968 … sorry, I don’t remember his name. He was a hard-bitten, dangerous-looking, talking, and acting man. He wouldn’t tell me what they were doing, but I suspected that they heading for Cambodia.

          • A Z

            That does not seem to fit the book Devil’s Guard. Supposedly the International Left rose such a stink that the brigade was disbanded by the south Vietnamese government.

            Maybe it was reconstituted again a short while later with the same or slightly different group of individuals.

            Like I said a web search on this subject is HeII.

          • Wolfthatknowsall

            It is, indeed …

            In one incarnation, or another, the Brigade fought almost the entire Vietnam War, penetrating one border or another to kill the enemy .. their whole purpose.

      • A Z

        I forget which division it was, but one of the SS division was called the blowtorch division because of the odds it took on in the Russian front (and the casualties it took).

        • Drakken

          Waffen SS versus Russian casualties was often 30-40 to one.

          • A Z

            I didn’t say otherwise. The exact ratio I do not know. I just know they took heavy casualties.

            I remember the division in the early part of the war was on the front between St Petersburg and Moscow.

  • Gee

    He entered the German Army in 1944 at age 17. He not only had to volunteer but had to get his parents’ permission to join at 17, and then he had to volunteer a 2nd time for the SS.
    So he was not conscripted – he volunteered twice

    • A Z

      My father who was of English/Irish and Italian ancestry probably would have joined the Waffen SS also.

      How do I know? We discussed Malcolm X one time. He commented that if he had grown up in the environment that Malcom had he would have felt the same way and made the same decisions.

      I am taking a determinist point of view here as opposed to free will point of view. And yes I can have my cake & eat it too. It is this Jewish concept that I learned of in confirmation where polar opposites can be true even if they are contradictory.

      • Gee

        The only thing I am sorry about is that all Germans didn’t die period

        • Drakken

          Easy there Gee. My family is deeply rooted in Germany and Austria.

        • Nabukuduriuzhur

          The sad fact is that most Germans voted for Hitler in 1932 because of 50% unemployment. People were starving. Like now, the number of true believers in national socialism or communism were probably less than a third of the total public.

          The average German didn’t have dreams of world conquest or a hate of Israel. Most were scared to death when the war broke out, because of their experience in WW1.

          But as one victory happened after another (until late 1942) they became more and more convinced.

          Until things started to crash in 1943. Then, it became a dogged determination to not be taken by the Russians or made into a cow pasture (which was a plan that was floated and then tossed by the Allies, but Goebbels made a lot of propaganda hay with it). It was clear that they wouldn’t receive any mercy from the Russians or Allies, so they kept fighting long after there was any reason to fight.

          One of the more idiotic things claimed today is that the Germans as a whole knew about the death camps. In a completely compartmentalized government, it was easy to keep knowledge of the camps from spreading. Most of it was dismissed as rumors. Half the Wehrmacht would have rebelled if they had known what was going on in the camps. They thought of themselves as soldiers rather than genocidal butchers. Illusions, of course.

          • Shmalkandik

            Do remember that Hitler could not have become Reich Chancellor without the support of on Pappen and his Nationalist party. The Nationalists were afraid of the Communists because of the success they had in the same election. They though they could include and then co-opt the NSDAP. Wrong!

          • Wolfthatknowsall

            Papen and the rest of his people underestimated the radical nature and ruthlessness of H!tler and his people. President Hindenburg was old and rapidly going senile, and was not able to comprehend the man, or his movement.

            For example, at the torchlight parade that marked H!tler’s appointment to Chancellor, Hindenburg was concerned about the “French”, as he gazed on the parade …

          • A Z

            A German SS instructor was discussed racial ideology with his SS students and it disturbed the Dutch and Nordic volunteers. It created a stir in the school and the admin discussed it for 2 or 3 days.

            Solution was for the instructor to join a unit on the Russian front. Problem solved.

    • A Z

      You realize that Norway had more SS birthing centers than Germany right?

      I suppose you want Norway wiped of the map too?

      Did you see the Norwegian name in the comments below?

  • robert levine

    The reason why he says Israel is the greatest threat to peace, as it justifies his hatred of Jews in his little mind.He is scum.

  • Fritz Kohlhaas

    Grass the hypocrite!

  • tickletik

    Basically the sum of this article is. Good author, don’t take him too seriously when he gets self righteous.

    Personally, I have no use for him. Never heard of him before today, hopefully never will hear about him after today.

    • A Z

      FPM has done an article on him before about a year or two ago. I have seen a film review of “The Tin Drum” a long time ago. The movie and the gushing Holly wood film review (decades ago) made no sense, which is par for the course.

      To me “The Tin Drum” and “Slaughterhouse 5″ makes sense now. They are both written in by psychologically damaged individuals, who were traumatized by the war.

  • Leif Torkelsen

    If Grass was in 10th SS, then he was almost certainly a volunteer. In order to placate the Wehrmacht, Hitler assured them that the Waffen SS would not be allowed to draft German nationals. That is why 60% of the Waffen SS was made-up of non-Germans (although many were volksdeutsche from central Europe). Therefore, the vast majority of German nationals in the Waffen SS were volunteers (exceptions included Hitler Jugend drafted into the 12th SS). Some redundant Luftwaffe personnel and Wehrmacht troops were drafted as replacements, but mostly in the last year of the war.

    Maj-General Michael Reynolds’ books are probably the best on the German SS divisions (as opposed to the foreign SS units), which included 10th SS.

  • Pepe Turcon

    Gunter is correct to certain extent as the Israelis will have to nuke Iran or any other Islamist who having nuclear weapons may strike the West. He is correct for Germany has helped the Islamist with very sophisticated equipment needed to make nukes. For Gunter to be fully correct he would have had to say so befor Kristal nacht. Sind Sie damit einverstanden meine Herrshaft?

  • Shmalkandik

    I was uner a very different impression. Can you cite a source abut NSDAP domination of the undersea serivice?

    • Larry Larkin

      It was the volunteers, not the general run of the mill sailors who were posted there. Most of the navy was fairly non-nazi, but the U-boot service volunteers had to be nazis in good standing because of the nature of the service. It had an extremely high casualty rate and they were suspicious of anybody who volunteered for it. There fore, if you put your hand up, they wanted to make sure you weren’t an enemy agent of some sort.

  • Koldobika

    Only a jew can write so much brainwashing, half lies and half thruths, as usual.
    The Waffen SS was a front line elite group, where half of all the people that volunteered were not of German origin but from all around Europe; they were the warriors of the German Army, and a lot of myths were have been written about them.
    Pathetic essay!

    • Wolfthatknowsall

      If the Waffen SS was elite, it was a matter of of increased number of battalions in each division, and the best equipment being funneled to them. They were expected to fight to the death, and many of them did. The fighting qualities of each SS man were substantially … if any … greater than the average German soldier.

      From the standpoint of doctrine, the SS were “elite”. On a man-to-man basis, however, there was little if any superiority in the SS man as compared to a member of the regular army.

  • George Surname

    Held up as an exemplar by the journo-shmournos.

  • Papua

    Not always. A German from New Guinea schooled in Australia, and head prefect there, happened to be visiting his folks back in Germany when war broke out. A very good swimmer he was drafted into the navy and commanded a U-boat for most of the war. His boat was sunk at the end of 1944 but he had been ill at the time so wasn’t on it thus he survived the war but never returned to New Guinea.