Birnbaum On Günter Grass’s Confession

Günter Grass’s revelation that he was in the Waffen-SS has created a small tempest. Norman Birnbaum in The Nation:

What Grass did is clear. He has just published an autobiography of his youthful years, Peeling the Onion. For years he maintained that he was drafted as an ordinary conscript, that he had been wounded fighting against the advancing Soviet Army and taken prisoner by the United States. (He recalled being in prison camp with another member of his generation, Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI.) Now, Grass identifies the unit into which he was conscripted in 1944 at age 17 as the Tenth SS Armored Division, the “Jorg von Frundsberg” Division. He describes the SS formations as having a European aura: Volunteers from other European nations joined them “in saving the west from the Bolshevik tide.” He added, “so it was said”–but at the time he was not skeptical. He was attracted by Nazism’s war on bourgeois routine, its own version of permanent revolution. In fact, he had tried unsuccessfully to join the submarine fleet earlier. He described the historic figure after whom the SS division was named as a leader in the sixteenth-century Peasants’ War–a freedom fighter. He was actually a mercenary in princely service against the peasants, and it is grotesque that Grass should describe him as if he were a forerunner of Che Guevara. Jens Jessen of Die Zeit, the German weekly, has it right: Grass was a Nazi of the left.