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August 11, 2006

Gunter Grass in SS?

The BBC reports that novelist the Gunter Grass now claims to have served in Waffen-SS. His memoirs are due out in September. Make of this revelation what you will. Frankly, if he did serve in the SS, I'm surprised the news hadn't come out already.

Regardless of whether GG served in the SS, I'm still looking forward to reading The Tin Drum, because Amanda totally sold me on the book on the drive back from the NOW conference in Albany.

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» Ghosts from The Heretik
Irony is not dead, but it is severely wounded. In a pre book publication interview, the greatest novelist of post war Germany, Gunter Grass, reveals he was a member of the SS: He said his feelings of guilt developed only in later years. It wa... [Read More]

» Majikthese Likes Her Nazis! from Another Rovian Conspiracy - St Wendeler
And not just your run-of-the-mill, I joined the Nazi party because everyone was doing it... no, she goes for the true believers, the elite, those that were willing to impose National Socialism through brute force. [Read More]

Comments

I guess that I am still, for what it's worth, not convinced that it is true. It is just too odd. I have no investment one way or another in Gunter Grass. But there is just something about this revelation. It comes so many years after one would have expected it from a man who has been so identified with the German war experience. It suggests to me a suspension of judgment until his claim is documented or otherwise verified.

Die deutschen Medien berichten zutreffend, dass die

SS-Division,
welche Grass angeblich nicht mehr erreicht haben

wollte, zeitweise
in der Normandie operierte. Das ist
brisant und meines Erachtens so relevant dass ich es

aus diesem Grund nicht etwa
nur in Schweden oder sonstwo in der Welt wie

Argentienien et cetera sondern vor allem auch aus

aktuellem Anlass in Frankreich besprochen habe. Es

folgt
ein Auszug davon in französischer Sprache.
[Günther Grass & l’indifférence de la Waffen-SS le 12

août 2006 à 08H46].
Le scandal actuel dans les médias allemands me semble

plutôt une suite des examens ratés en cours et en

train dans le champ vaste et très large d’une

désinformation réussie dans la critique littéraire

d’après-guerre allemande. Depuis la parution 1961 du

livre de Guenther Grass ’Le Chat et la souris’; tous,

qui avaient vraiment lu Günther Grass, ont eu

connaissance d’esprit comme ce laureate du prix Nobel

était une fois. Comparez s.v.p. Jean-Pierre LEFÈBVRE

lorsqu’il écrit sa préface pour "Günter GRASS: LE

TAMBOUR. Roman. Trad. par Jean Amsler. Paris, Seuil,

1997, IX-625 pp., "Points, 347" [trad. de DIE

BLECHTROMMEL. ISBN 2-02-031430-4 (br.)] [Fre]École

Normale Supérieure UMR 8547 du CNRS Pays

germaniques:histoire, culture,philosophie 45 rue

d’Ulm 75005 Paris".N’est ce pas un bel exemple de la

lassitude à l’indifférence lors du savoir incomplet?

Jean-Pierre LEFÈBVRE écrit que ce livre est le

monument definitif et le plus important contre les

Waffen-SS et contre le fascisme.Günther Grass est

considéré par des allemands comme l’instance morale

contre la Waffen-SS.
das in Frankreich

((„Das ist keine ernsthafte Belastung der Biografie“
Günter Grass’ Bekenntnis zur Mitgliedschaft in der

Waffen-SS sorgt für Wirbel. Welche Rolle spielte die

Waffen-SS gegen Ende des Krieges, Herr Rürup?


Die Waffen-SS galt in den frühen Kriegsjahren als

militärische Elitetruppe. Sie entstand ursprünglich

als paramilitärische Organisation der SS. Sie wurde

besonders gut ausgestattet und häufig für

Spezialaufgaben herangezogen. Propagandistisch wurde

auch so getan, als sei die Waffen-SS unschlagbar.

Ihre Struktur änderte sich dann im Verlauf des

Krieges. Der Elitegedanke ließ sich nicht mehr

halten, weil die Waffen-SS in den späteren

Kriegsjahren nicht nur aus SS-Angehörigen bestand,

sondern auch aus Ausländern. Das waren Freiwillige

aus anderen europäischen Ländern. Zuletzt konnten

auch Wehrpflichtige zur Waffen-SS eingezogen werden.

Ab wann wurde das Prinzip der Freiwilligkeit bei der

Waffen-SS aufgegeben?

Das setzte 1943/44 ein. Die so genannten

Eliteformationen, die sich durch eine besonders

rücksichtslose Kriegsführung auszeichneten, waren

sehr stark dezimiert. Gleichzeitig begann man, die

Waffen-SS zahlenmäßig weiter auszubauen. Die Folge

war, dass es nicht mehr ausreichte, auf Freiwillige

zu setzen. Unter anderem setzte man durch, dass die

Wehrpflicht bei der Waffen-SS abgeleistet werden

konnte. Damit konnten Wehrdienstpflichtige relativ

einfach zur Waffen-SS eingezogen werden.

Was war der Unterschied zwischen Waffen-SS und

Wehrmacht?

Für den Einzelnen, der in der Endphase des Krieges

Mitglied der Waffen-SS war, war vermutlich kein

großer Unterschied zu spüren. Die Waffen-SS war in

der Regel besser ausgestattet als die Wehrmacht –

doch die Unterschiede wurden im Verlauf des Kriegs

kleiner.

Was ist über die SS-Division „Frundsberg“ bekannt, in

der Grass diente?

Die Waffen-SS verfügte 1944 über 38 Divisionen. Es

gibt einige Divisionen, von denen schreckliche Dinge

berichtet worden sind, insbesondere Kriegsverbrechen.

Ähnliches ist mir über „Frundsberg“ bis jetzt nicht

bekannt.

Warum hat Günter Grass so lange darüber geschwiegen,

wenn es doch 1944 durchaus nicht ungewöhnlich war,

zur Waffen-SS eingezogen zu werden?

Das verstehe ich auch nicht. Denn er hätte ja leicht

darüber sprechen können, ohne in Schwierigkeiten zu

geraten. Die Mitgliedschaft an sich ist keine

ernsthafte Belastung der Biografie. Er wurde nicht in

die SS rekrutiert, sondern in die Waffen-SS. Dadurch

war er zwar mit der SS verbunden, aber es ist doch

etwas anderes, ob man sich in früheren Jahren

freiwillig zur SS meldete oder ob man gegen Ende des

Krieges zur Waffen-SS eingezogen wurde.

Wie bewerten Sie sein Bekenntnis?

Als irritierend, aber nicht deswegen, weil er als

17-Jähriger zur Waffen-SS eingezogen wurde, sondern

deshalb, weil er das bisher nicht thematisiert hat.

Irritierend ist, dass jemand wie Grass, der als

moralische Instanz gilt, gemeint hat, er könne dieses

biografische Faktum ignorieren. Dass er jetzt darüber

spricht, mag vielleicht mit der Einsicht

zusammenhängen, dass irgendwann doch jemand darauf

stoßen wird und man deshalb lieber den Zeitpunkt

selbst bestimmt.

Reinhard Rürup ist emeritierter Professor für

Geschichte an der Technischen Universität Berlin und

war Leiter der „Topographie des Terrors“ in Berlin.

Das Gespräch führte Fabian Leber.
)Der Tagesspiegel, 14.8.2006)
Hierzu findet sich folgende Vorausreaktion, die von

mindestens einem
Tag früher kommentiert ist.
((Talkingkraut

... hält es nicht für seriösen Journalismus, wenn die

FAZ diese Grass-Lappalie zu ihrer wichtigsten

Nachricht im Hauptteil macht, dann dort noch dieser

Lappalie den Leitartikel widmet, im Feuilleton dann

noch mit einem Interview mit Grass auf zwei Seiten

ihre ach so grassinteressierten Leser belästigt,

diese Zeitung gehört doch bei Empfang in den Müll.

Das entpuppt sich dann als das neue gemeinsame

Biographieprojekt, die Zwiebel schält sich, wir

müssen weinen, wir müssen weinen ob so einem tiefen

Fall, aber als die Herrschaften um Schirrmacher und

Fest die Zeitung für ihre Profitmache mit dem

Untergang missbrauchten, war das schon vorherzusehen.

Wenn eine Zeitung auf den Hund eines solchen

gemeinen, widerlichen crossmarketings kommt, ist es

das Beste sie zu vergessen.
peterson (13.8.2006 21:56 Uhr)
) loc. cit. )

I wonder who is raising the louder outcry about the supposed undermining of Grass's moral authority: people who feel that Germans need to come to terms with their complicity in the deeds of the Third Reich, or those who would much rather sweep this complicity under the rug?

I have my own guesses to the answer.

(I've known since the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon that I couldn't have an intelligent conversation with Gary Farber about such subjects. Sorry, Gary, however much respect I have for you in other areas, here you come off as no better than the average LGF troll.)

The first invasion of Lebanon? You and Gary go way back.

I'm guessing it's something about the sex-positive movement (Avedon Carol links to both Alan and Gary under "Friends' Weblogs").

Gary Farber is part of the sex-positive movement?

For those interested in SH's commentary in German, above:

SH confirms that following about 1943-44, by which time the original SS divisions had taken heavy losses, the SS had to be largely rebuilt. Since it could no longer depend only on volunteers for sufficient manpower, it did rely on conscripts. He acknowledges that there were some divisions, of the 38 SS divisions extant toward the end of the war, which did criminal things, including war crimes. However, he goes on to say that, for most such SS conscripts toward the end of the war, there was little difference, besides the SS' rules of order, between serving in the SS and the regular Wehrmacht.

However (like me), SH also wonders why he didn't mention it before now, since it wouldn't have been such a black mark to have mentioned it before now (since it was much different to have come in as a conscript at the end of the war, than to have been an ideological true-believer SS at the beginning)? The suspicion (if I'm translating correctly) is also raised that the timing of the revelation might have been less than random, if he may have been simply trying to head off someone else's revelation of the fact. Axel or one of our other German friends may be able to confirm my translation, but I think those were the important points, besides quoting from a couple of French and German media sources.

Your translation is absolutely correct. Der Spiegel has another two articles in English: Has Günter Grass Lost his Moral Authority? and "I Was a Member of the SS". For international reactions, see Internationale Pressestimmen zu Günter Grass (in German only) and especially for reactions from Poland "Ein großer Schriftsteller kann ein Schurke sein" (in German only). Grass was born in Danzig (Gdańsk).

Just one addition: The SS was responsible for well-known war crimes in France like the Abbaye d'Ardenne Massacre or the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane and the slaughtering of its inhabitants. And this is the reason I don't think that new information about "Frundsberg" and war crimes will emerge. France as one of the four Allied powers with an own occupation zone clearly had a massive interest to find and punish German war criminals. And they had the capabilities. But you can be sure that historicans will now re-examine the whole affair.

The timing of Grass's confession wasn't at random. His autobiography Beim Häuten der Zwiebel will be published in September and in this book he speaks about his youth for the first time.

Thanks much Axel--SH also mentioned that he had no information yet about the particular division Frundsberg.

For those with an interest, the town of Oradour-sur-Glane was preserved, exactly as it was when the SS massacre took place. They added only one sign, saying: "Souviens-toi" (remember). You can visit it today.

The Frundsberg was a Panzer (tank) division. Its formation was ordered in December of 1942. It was supposed to have been composed of volunteers but it could not recruit enough soldiers and eventually was almost entirely a conscript unit. It spent a year in training in France. In March 1944, it was sent to the Eastern front. After being part of a partially successful counter-attack, it was stopped along the Bug River and then fought for weeks in a static defensive position. At D-Day the Frundsberg was pulled out of the defensive line and rushed to Normandy, where it took heavy losses against British forces for almost two months, then was moved into line against the Americans. For the next several months the Frundsberg was part of the fighting across France and Holland, facing the British during the Battle of Arnhem. It was virtually destroyed, then rebuilt during December 1944 and put back into action on the Western front, then transferred to the Eastern front in February 1945, where it faced the advancing Russian army. In April it was encircled but broke out after very heavy losses. Its commanding officer was cashiered because he had refused to attack head-on (which would have been suicidal). In May the remaining soldiers destroyed their own tanks. Some managed to make it to the American line and surrender there, most were taken prisoner by the Russians.

This was a combat unit. It was not a "guard" of Hitler or anyone else. It was not a concentration camp unit or a political unit. It may have been involved in atrocities but there is no indication that that is true. It will be interesting to learn how much fighting Grass saw, and when and how he was taken prisoner.

Someone mentioned Kurt Waldheim. Waldheim was an officer in the Prinz Eugen Division of the SS, which was infamous for atrocities in the Balkans. Waldheim was personally implicated in wartime atrocities, including the deportation of Jews and the murder of British prisoners of war.

>This was a combat unit. It was not a "guard" of Hitler or anyone else.

JR, Axel's original post said:

>He said at the time that there was nothing "repulsive" about the SS to him and that he was well aware of the fact that the SS was Hitler's elite guard.

That "the SS," speaking generally of the SS, "was Hitler's elite guard," not that the Frundsberg division particularly was. Neither he nor I was using the word "guard" to refer to that particular division. We have both, I think, acknowledged that the Frundsberg division isn't implicated in atrocities, to anyone's knowledge. But the SS was explicitly formed as a Praetorian Guard for Hitler and the Nazi Party. Many of the historians who write about the SS refer to it as a "Praetorian Guard" or as an "elite guard" for Hitler or the Nazi Party. That's why they were given the name "Schutzstaffeln," "protective formations." Of _course_ the Frundsberg division wasn't a personal bodyguard of Hitler's. Everyone knows that. Also, we've mentioned that with its added police, intelligence, and infantry functions, the SS stretched the Nazis' definition of its function as "protective." Finally, it's been acknowledged that by the time Grass was conscripted into it, his SS division bore little resemblance to the original SS, and was no longer "elite."

But if Axel refers to the Roman Praetorian Guard as "the Imperial elite guard," should we tear him apart because certain cohorts of the Praetorian Guard didn't seem to function as guards? The force, generally speaking, is known as a "guard." The Nazis viewed the SS as "protective," that is, as protecting Nazi Party ideals. The SS, _generally speaking,_ is constantly referred to as "Hitler's elite guard," and Gunter Grass, when he was conscripted, would have known it as such, even if it were no longer elite, nor a guard, strictly speaking.

I'm just saying, pedantry is fine, but give the flaming a rest. Axel might have deserved it if he had been referring to the Frundsberg division in particular, but both he and I were referring only to the SS generally, to which the term applies, according to plenty of reputable historians. Besides which, it's a tangent.

Actually, I've known Alan since the mid-Seventies, through science fiction fandom, among other mutual interests, although it's been an awfully long time I've heard from him, which makes me quite sad. Of course, that's within his power to change any time. We used to be quite good friends, particularly in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when we both lived in Seattle, and were part of the same close-knit social circle. I'd be delighted to be back in touch with him again.

But, gee, LGF troll: that's pretty low; I'd like to think that we could simply respectfully disagree about some issues, Alan, while still generally being political allies on most issues.

Anyway, I do feel pretty strongly about Nazis, and always have, absolutely. What being in the Waffen SS has to do with Lebanon, I have no idea.

I've added some addenda to my original post. I've read plenty on the SS and innumerable other aspects of Hitler's Germany all my life, but here is a useful article on the Waffen SS for those who haven't.

Here is a quote from it: "In November 1943 the commander of the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg demanded that ‘every man should be trained to be a fanatical hater. It does not matter on which front the division is engaged, the unyielding hate towards every opponent, Englishmen, Jew, Bolshevik, must make every one of our men capable of the highest deeds’."

Grass also said "that he believed in Hitler right up until the Nuremberg war crimes trials."

But that's not really the point. The crucial issue, in my view, is not that he was a member of the Waffen SS in his youth; it's that he's lied about it for 60 years, only confessing when he's reached the end of his life, at the age of 78.

If he'd not admitted this for a couple of years, that would be one thing; if he'd not admitted it for as much as five or six years, that would be one thing.

But sixty years? Until 2006?

Yes, I see serious fault in that. (And, yeah, I know that righties are using this to do what they always do, beat up on the left; that's not my concern, though, and I'm not going to suppress my opinions about someone concealing a Nazi background just because of contemporary politics.)

"However, he goes on to say that, for most such SS conscripts toward the end of the war, there was little difference, besides the SS' rules of order, between serving in the SS and the regular Wehrmacht."

Oh, and this has been a line heard in Germany for a long time now; it's an apologetic from those who engage in apologetics for Nazis; it's wildly untrue, as any actual non-German historian who isn't sympathetic to Nazis will tell you.

Most people here seem to be agreed that it is very curious and worthy of scrutiny that Grass waited this long, especially as a moral authority, to speak of it.

I continue to feel that being conscripted into the Waffen-SS during the last months of the year doesn't automatically make someone a war criminal. This does not make me an apologist for the SS, which was _generally speaking_ a criminal organisation, guilty of torture and mass murder. I don't necessarily view Gunter Grass as being such a war criminal just because he was conscripted into the Waffen-SS as a 15-year-old. I don't think anyone's shown that he was.

Um--_I'm_ a non-German historian who isn't sympathetic to Nazis, thank you very much.

Though, of course, I was _quoting_ the German poster there, and I do feel that the non-conscript SS was more fanatical than the Wehrmacht. But there is a great deal of historical controversy, as much from apologists for the Wehrmacht as for the SS, on both sides. The important thing is not to jump to conclusions, but to look soberly at all evidence.

Um. Grass is not to be excused, and I doubt he would want to be.

He has already said that immaturity and being an "artist" are no excuse for anything, and no refuge for guilt. I'm thinking of the scene in The Tin Drum where Oskar takes the new drum from the toy shop ruined on Kristallnacht.

Again, just to make it clear, and sorry to throw the "Um." back at you like a badminton shuttle, but let me repeat that I do not "excuse" Grass for keeping this a secret. But--Um.--keeping his status as an SS conscript a secret is a far cry from being a war criminal. If he _is_ guilty of war crimes, I certainly don't excuse him of those. But let me also repeat (hopefully for the last time, before someone actually produces some evidence, which I'd be happy to see) that no-one has shown the 10th Panzer Division Frundsberg, in their conscript incarnation following their decimation before Grass joined, to have been implicated in any war crimes. So far, all we know is that Grass kept his membership in the Waffen-SS a secret, while acting as the public conscience for post-war Germany. That is of concern, but if he committed no war crimes, then the "guilt" you speak of is quite different from that of the SS divisions that slaughtered prisoners-of-war or noncombatants.

Some do believe that all of uniformed World War II Germany is guilty in exactly the same way and to the same degree as the Gestapo or the concentration camp guards are, just by virtue of having fought alongside them (and though many of the Nazis' victims believe that all the Germans are so guilty, some of which victims suffered very badly and can be forgiven their blind rage, I don't share this view). But unless you feel this way (and I think that the righteous gentiles, some of whom wore Nazi uniforms, rebuke this view), there are people who are guilty of atrocities, and other people who are only guilty of thinking ugly thoughts, and others still who are guilty of nothing more than wearing an ugly uniform. There is guilt in the first two of those, too, but the second and third crimes are much, much different from the first.

We still do not know which crime Grass may be guilty of. Let's wait and see before we rush to judgment.

And actually, I rescind my "Um." It sounds snotty, and it sounds as if I'm making someone out to be an idiot. Let's knock that off. Obviously we're all well-read, and we're perfectly capable of hearing each what the others say, without lapsing into grade-school level ad hominem.

"I continue to feel that being conscripted into the Waffen-SS during the last months of the year doesn't automatically make someone a war criminal."

Sure.

update on the GG case (which by now is one, at least in Germany (and here)): US army PoW documents show GG's SS membership: http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/0,1518,grossbild-684084-431823,00.html

But let me also repeat (hopefully for the last time, before someone actually produces some evidence, which I'd be happy to see) that no-one has shown the 10th Panzer Division Frundsberg [...] to have been implicated in any war crimes.

Gary, I gather that you disagree with the pronouncements of those (like the Allied courts at Nuremberg) who distinguished between the Waffen-SS conscripts and the other SS. I agree, of course, that the SS is justly condemned as a criminal organisation, and that their crimes against humanity are among the worst, most inhuman acts ever recorded. But per this quote from Axel's post, quoting the Jerusalem Post (link to follow), it looks as if Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center agrees with me on this matter:

From the Jerusalem Post: "Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff who heads the Israel office of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Saturday in a first response that it was not immediately clear whether the SS unit Grass served in took part in war crimes.

"The fact that he served in the Waffen SS does not automatically make him a Nazi war criminal," Zuroff said.

He added that the center will examine the newly revealed information about the German novelist's past."

(Emphasis added.) That does not make me an apologist for the SS (unless Efraim Zuroff is also an apologist for the SS). I understand you disagree with me, so I'll leave off discussion of the matter unless there is further evidence; but I must admit that I do feel in better company now that Efraim Zuroff has used my exact words.

On the Grass matter, he may yet prove to have been a war criminal. Also, others have pointed out, Grass inveighed against Reagan's visit to Bitburg cemetery, because Waffen-SS soldiers were buried there; this looks, at least, to have been hypocrisy on Grass' part. I was not aware of his indictment of Reagan until our German friends on the other thread mentioned it, but that does look as though Grass was clearly being hypocritical.

Um, it's not 'the crime' itself, it's the cover up. Guilt is corrosive. I'm surprised Grass could hold out this long.

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