Gunter Grass

Gunter Grass

            The Nazi regime was one of the worst regimes to have ever been experienced in the world. The regime was based on racism, which led to the holocaust in which many Jews who lived in Germany lost their lives. Through the experiences that they got under the regime, many of the writers have contributed to literature through the writings, which they have submitted for publishing (Ripley, 2004). These works have provided the inside stories on what really happened in that period which in most cases is contrary to the earliest works that were done on the same topic. Some of these writers were soldiers in the Nazi regime and while most have relinquished their connection to the regime, some of the well-known writers have maintained their connection to the regime even though not directly but in some ways. One such writer is Günter Wilhelm Grass who after receiving a Nobel Prize confessed his membership to Waffen-SS that was a youth based faction of the Nazi regime to journalist in 2006.

Before this revelation, he had set a standard, as a moral authority through his outspoken criticism of the way Germany has been treating is Nazi regime. This revelation led to a major outcry with many people suggesting that his Nobel Prize should be revoked. Other writers came up to criticize his actions but he countered their reactions by providing some explanation in an attempt of excusing himself from any blame for his actions during the regime. He argues in his book that he did not choose to join Waffen-SS but it he was recruited into it just like other people his age were being recruited (Grass & Michael, 2008). Initially after failing at 15 to volunteer for U-Boat fleet he joined the Reichsarbeitsdienst and he was recruited to Waffen-SS from there. He asserted that after receiving the call-up notice he never knew what he was joining until he arrived at Dresden and found out that he was enlisting into the Waffen-SS. The other defense to this was that because of his critical work throughout his life he could not have been enlisted to the group willingly because if it was based on his own free will he could not have criticized the regime publicly.

The other way he uses to excuse his actions in the war is by trying to talk about the group as if it was a group, which was an international group like the League of Nations whose main role is to unite different countries. He does not paint the group as a group that committed so many crimes in the war but paints it as a group which was involved with liberation. He even says that he the double rune on his uniform did not disgust him yet he knew the type of oppression it stood for. He depicts the fact that he was justified to b involved with the Waffen-SS because it was not only made up of the Germans it was made up of  Walloon and French, Norwegian, Flemish and Dutch and Danish soldiers (Coetzee,2007). In his defense, he says that though he was a member of that group during the whole war he did not fire even one shot. He also asserts that if he had been so willing to join the group then he would not have looked for the ways through which he could escape the regime, as he was not supportive of the way it treated different people.

The accounts that he gave can be believable because the documents that were later recovered by the US confirmed his membership to the Waffen-SS. the fact that the young people at that time of the war did not choose to be enlisted into the war but were enlisted as a formality them justifies his joining the group. The fact that he sourced for ways of leaving the group so that he could distance himself from the war authenticates the fact that he did not support the regime at all. His assertion that he did not fire any shot during the war might be believable because he spent most of his time running way from the German and the Spanish soldiers (Grass & Michael, 2008). His criticism work could be another base for supporting the fact that he was not willing to be involved with the war because he even criticized Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl’s visit in 1985 to the military cemetery situated in Bitburg. This is because there were some Waffen-SS soldiers buried there because he felt that it was a hypocritical act as the two men did not support the Nazi regime yet their actions of that time pointed to their support for the regime.

The forces of history and youth were some of the things that were cited in the defense provided by Günter Wilhelm Grass. In Germany during the Nazi regime or in all the wars that took place in the world the youth were used as soldiers because they could withstand the harsh conditions of the war and they could be able to bring victory back to their country. From the World War 1, cold war and then Second World War the youth were always enlisted as soldiers even though it was against their will leaving their women at home waiting for their return. Many young men at that time also volunteered as soldiers so as not to loose face in front of the women because men were known to be the ones involved in the war yet in some cases women also enlisted for the war (Ripley, 2004). In the case of Germany after the propaganda, spread about the war by the Nazi regime many youths volunteered their services to the regime for the war and those who were not enlisted were dispatched to other departments of the regime until they were later enlisted to the army or Waffen-SS.

In the case of Günter Wilhelm Grass, he was enlisted to the Waffen-SS like the other young people of his age. Due to his age, he did not see anything wrong with being involved with the regime but after understanding the full meaning of the oppression that people faced under the regime then he decided to flee. In Paris, he started his work, which criticized the regime thus earning himself a Nobel Prize, which he later lost due to his revelation of his involvement with the Waffen-SS. Through this, his actions were justified because he was involved with the group during his youth, which was common during the time of war. Levi in his book “The Drowned and the Saved” made many accusations to all Germans especially those that he branded average Germans (Levi, 1989). In his case, he felt that some Germans who were involved in the Nazi regime who wrote about the ills of the regime never confessed about their involvement. This means that their criticism of the regime was based on what they had experienced but they were not ready to taint the moral authority that they commanded from the people, which would be lost after their revelations. Some may be forced to confess because some information about them has been unearthed not on their own free will.

Günter Wilhelm Grass’s revelation about his involvement with the Nazi can thus be viewed as a response to Levi’s accusation because it took him 60 years to confess something he should have done during the beginning of his work he gained moral authority based on his criticism of the regime yet he did not reveal his involvement with them. He did this only when there were some threats of the exposure of his past thus he saw it wise to be the one to break the news to gain some sympathy from the people who still felt that he still deserved the moral authority bestowed on him (Neumann, 1996). Other German writers involved with the Nazi regime should learn from his example and tell about their past which will gain them more sympathy based on their honest not on their hypocrisy because after his revelation Günter Wilhelm Grass was branded a hypocrite something that would not have happened if he confessed in the first place.

Though some German writers have gained fame through their criticism of the Nazi regime, they might have been directly involved in it but are not willing to confess of their involvement because they believe that they would loose face before the same people who have bestowed moral authority on them. Günter Wilhelm Grass was one such author who lost his Nobel Prize after confessing about his involvement with the Waffen-SS, which he confessed after 6o years (Grass & Michael, 2008). Some people criticized his involvement but he justified himself with the fact that he was young then and the youth at that time were involved with the regime in one way or the other. This is a good example of response to the accusations that Levi made in his book against those Germans who did not confess about their involvement in the war. Other German writers should therefore learn from this case so that they will not suffer the consequences that Günter Wilhelm Grass faced after making his late revelation.










Works Cited:

Grass, Günter & Heim, Michael Henry. Peeling the Onion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. Print.

Levi, Primo. The drowned and the saved. Princeton: Vintage International, 1989. Print.

Neumann, Anne Waldron. Discussion notes on Primo Levi’s The drowned and the saved. Council Bluffs: Council of Adult Education, 1996. Print.

Coetzee, J. M. Inner workings: literary essays, 2000-2005. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.

Ripley, Tim. The Waffen-SS at war: Hitler’s praetorians, 1925-1945. St. Paul: Zenith Press, 2004. Print.




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