ash on grass


Yet even here, let me attempt a rescue which goes beyond the realm of conscious intentions. What will be the effect of Grass’s belated revelation? As he approaches the end of his life, as the memories of Nazism fade, as the activities of his SS-Frundsberg division become the object of weekend leisure war games in the United States[9] , Grass suddenly demolishes his own statue— not as a writer of fiction, but as a moral authority on frank and timely facing up to the Nazi past—and leaves its ruins lying, like Shelley’s Ozymandias, as a warning beside the roadside. Nothing he could say or write on this subject would be half so effective as the personal example that he has now left us. For sixty years even Günter Grass could not come clean about being a member of the Waffen-SS! Look, stranger, and tremble.

When I was starting to think about this mystery, I discussed it with a German friend, just a couple of years younger than the novelist but with a very different wartime biography. “You know, I have a theory about that,” he said. “I think Grass never was in the Waffen-SS. He’s just convinced himself that he was.” I’m sure my friend didn’t mean this literally. Rather, I understood his remark as a kind of poetic insight into the tortured and labyrin-thine quality of German memory. “But don’t write it,” he added. “Otherwise Grass will sue you for claiming he was not in the Waffen-SS.”

more from the NYRB here.