Guenter Grass refuses to give up Gdansk honour

16th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

16 August 2006, HAMBURG - Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass, 78, has rejected calls in Poland for him to renounce his honoured-citizen status of Gdansk as a storm continued Wednesday over the writer's Waffen SS service. The revelation is a centrepiece of Grass's new book about his conversion from a keen Nazi teenager to a pacifist leftist. The publisher lifted a sales embargo on the book, Peeling the Onion, which had not been due to go on sale for another two weeks. German newspapers printed images W

16 August 2006

HAMBURG - Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass, 78, has rejected calls in Poland for him to renounce his honoured-citizen status of Gdansk as a storm continued Wednesday over the writer's Waffen SS service.

The revelation is a centrepiece of Grass's new book about his conversion from a keen Nazi teenager to a pacifist leftist. The publisher lifted a sales embargo on the book, Peeling the Onion, which had not been due to go on sale for another two weeks.

German newspapers printed images Wednesday of an official 1945 US document, signed by Grass, that confirms he was in the Waffen SS from November 1944. The war ended on May 8, 1945 and he was interned by US troops.

Former Polish president Lech Walesa says the Polish city of Gdansk, known in its German period as Danzig, should strip Grass of his honoured status because of his association with the atrocity- ridden Nazi Party force.

"I see no reason to renounce this honour on my own," Grass told Germany's ARD television in an interview to be aired Thursday evening. "If the city of Gdansk were to decide so, I would accept the decision."

The storm over Grass has focused on why a writer who denounces Nazi-era holdovers in modern Germany and flays US presidents as warmongers has taken six decades to tell the truth about himself.

"I was called up into the Waffen SS. I was not involved in any crimes. I've always had the urge to one day describe all of this in its wider context," he told the interviewer.

"In addition, I thought that what I had done as a writer, as a citizen of this country, which amounted to the very opposite of what shaped me in my youth in the Nazi era, had made up for it."

The book title, Peeling the Onion, refers to the author's exploration of the layers of self starting with a Nazi childhood.

In Germany, the mere fact that Grass was a Nazi has caused little surprise, since most men his age were, and his best-known novel, The Tin Drum, about Nazi influence in Danzig is clearly autobiographical.

Grass disclosed Friday that as an enthusiastic Nazi teenager, he had unsuccessfully volunteered for Germany's regular forces at age 15 and was called up for several months' service in the Waffen SS in the waning months of the war when he was 17.

The Grass file released by the official repository of Second World War service records, the Wehrmacht Disclosures Office (WASt) in Berlin, contains only two documents. The main one is apparently based on his own statements as an interned combatant to his US captors.

Peter Gerhardt, 64, deputy chief executive of WASt, said journalists and historians would have been free to check the documents at any time since Grass became famous, but no one did. The usual data-protection rules at WASt do not apply to celebrities.

WASt said the last time the file had been taken out before this week was to check 13 years ago on Grass's work resume, which he was obliged to write down when he applied for a retirement pension.

While Grass says he only counts himself a Waffen SS member from being sworn in at the end of February 1945, the document says he was with a panzer division of that organization from November 1944. Media said this presumably was the date of his conscription.

The German publisher of the Grass memoirs said all 150,000 copies of the first print run were available for immediate sale.

Booksellers and reviewers had originally been told to keep Peeling the Onion under lock and key till 1 September.

A spokeswoman for the publisher, Steidl Verlag, said in Goettingen the embargo was dropped because of the worldwide controversy.

DPA

Subject: German news

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