Walesa will give up Gdansk award if Grass doesn't
18 August 2006 , WARSAW - Poland's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa has threatened to give back his own honorary citizenship of the Polish Baltic port city of Gdansk should German author and Nobel Literature award winner Guenter Grass fail to do so after recently admitting he concealed his Nazi past for 60 years. "I will resign citizenship because I will not be able to be an honorary citizen alongside Grass," Lech Walesa, 63, told Poland's TVN24 news channel Friday. "If we had known Grass was a memb18 August 2006
WARSAW - Poland's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa has threatened to give back his own honorary citizenship of the Polish Baltic port city of Gdansk should German author and Nobel Literature award winner Guenter Grass fail to do so after recently admitting he concealed his Nazi past for 60 years.
"I will resign citizenship because I will not be able to be an honorary citizen alongside Grass," Lech Walesa, 63, told Poland's TVN24 news channel Friday.
"If we had known Grass was a member of the SS, he probably would not have been made an honorary citizen of Gdansk," Walesa said. "We granted citizenship to a different Grass."
Gdansk municipal councillors have made no move to unilaterally strip Grass of his title as honourary citizen, but have suggested the issue should be formally debated at city hall. They are eager to hear more reaction on the matter from Grass himself.
Polish politicians from Gdansk and representing the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party called on Grass to resign from the title of honorary citizen granted to him in the 1990s.
The first shots of World War II were fired in the city on September 1, 1939 when Nazi Germany attacked Poland. Sixty-one years after the end of that war, the memory of the massive human suffering and material destruction it wreaked on their country still strikes a raw nerve for Poles.
Author of the famous Tin Drum set in the city, Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig, now Gdansk, on October 16, 1927.
"I see no reason to renounce this honour on my own," Grass told Germany's ARD television in an interview aired Thursday evening. "If the city of Gdansk were to decide so, I would accept the decision."
"We do respect him, and he should also respect us," Walesa said, adding that Grass's behaviour smacked of an "arrogance" which was completely inappropriate under the circumstances.
While voices in Poland have expressed continued respect for Grass's literary work and his active role in promoting post-war Polish-German reconciliation, there is also deep bitterness that he misrepresented himself by failing to disclose his Nazi past. This fact appears to have damaged the author's credibility in Poland.
"It is regretful that for a man of his stature he did not find an opportunity over 60 years - while at the same time sharply condemning others for their mistakes - to admit that as a youth he served seven weeks in this formation," said Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski.
Bartoszewski, a survivor of the Nazi German Auschwitz death camp, also a former Polish foreign affairs minister, in comments to the Polish PAP news agency, described Grass as having "selective civil courage."
However, Poland's ex-minister of foreign affairs and leading intellectual Bronislaw Geremek told TVN24 he was "very happy" Grass had refused the request to give up his title, saying this demonstrated Grass was committed to his relations with both Gdansk and Poland.
Poland's anti-communist Solidarity trade union legend and former president Lech Walesa, however, also suggested Grass's admission in a newspaper interview earlier this month to having served in the Waffen SS could have been a marketing ploy to sell his new autobiography, Peeling the Onion.
Indeed, the book in which Grass conducts an anguished exploration of his Nazi past and reveals his Waffen SS membership has almost sold out within two days, the publisher said this week.
The company, Steidl Verlag, said 130,000 of the 150,000 first copies of Peeling the Onion had been shipped to booksellers and a second print run ordered from the printers.
The book officially went on sale Wednesday, two weeks before the date originally planned.
There have been calls for him to give up the profits of the book to charity as a gesture of good will.
The Nuremburg Trials after World War Two ruled the Waffen SS, a much-feared elite combat formation, a criminal organization responsible for war crimes against partisans and civilians in Nazi- occupied Europe.
Subject: German news