Grass speaks about Nazi past at book reading

5th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

5 September 2006, BERLIN - Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass talked Monday about his voluntary membership of the Waffen SS at the first public reading of his new autobiography. The author, a self-appointed left-wing moralist for postwar Germany, has been widely condemned for his belated admission in the book that he joined the Nazi Party's private army as a 17-year-old, during the final months of World War II. Peeling the Onion (Beim Haeuten der Zwiebel), which deals with the childhood and youth of t

5 September 2006

BERLIN - Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass talked Monday about his voluntary membership of the Waffen SS at the first public reading of his new autobiography.

The author, a self-appointed left-wing moralist for postwar Germany, has been widely condemned for his belated admission in the book that he joined the Nazi Party's private army as a 17-year-old, during the final months of World War II.

Peeling the Onion (Beim Haeuten der Zwiebel), which deals with the childhood and youth of the writer, has soared to the top of German best-seller lists, in part because of the huge publicity generated by his disclosure after keeping silent for 61 years.

Grass, who turns 79 next month, admitted he had been taken aback by the criticism but vowed not to be cowed into silence.

"It hasn't been easy for me lately, but I still have both feet planted firmly on the ground and will continue to speak out openly," the author said at the Berliner Ensemble where the reading was held.

Outside the theatre, a small group of protesters held up a banner in the German national colours with the inscription: "GraSS - you are Germany." An onion in the form of a Nazi helmet was painted over it.

Grass described his work as a "book of memoirs" in which he peels away the layers of his life like an onion, exposing inner layer after inner layer of his youth, spanning the period from the start of World War II in 1939 to the 1959 publication of his worldwide best-seller, The Tin Drum, which established him as an author.

"As a member of the Hitler Youth, I was a junior Nazi, true to that faith to the very end," he writes. "No doubt entered my belief, nothing subverted it."

He describes his naive view as a teenager of what the Waffen SS stood for, convinced it was an elite organization formed of the finest volunteers from many nations with a pan-European ideal.

"For decades after, I refused to admit anything to do with its name or the SS symbol," he writes. "In my after-the-fact shame, I wanted to keep silent about what I had welcomed in the stupid pride of my youth."

DPA

Subject: German news

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