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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Günter Grass is wrong - stanza seven

A further comment on Günther Grass’ poem “What has to be said” – in German “Was gesagt werden muss.

Here is a rough translation of the seventh stanza of Grass’ nine stanza poem. (The context is the sale of a U-boat to Israel).

Why do I admit only now,
having aged and with the last drop of ink:
that the atomic power of Israel endangers
the already fragile world peace?
Because what might be too late tomorrow
must be said now;
especially because we – as Germans already burdened enough –
could become the subcontractors of a crime,
which is foreseeable, so that our complicity
could not be wiped out
with the usual excuses.

            Günter Grass is 84 and has already taken stock of his life. One could imagine that he relaxed as he composed this poem; perhaps he remembered his youth. And suddenly he admits more than he intended. He foresees that Jews, now part of a powerful state – whose vulnerability he cannot embrace – could unleash another war. When he joined the SS toward the end of the war, his mentors repeated as much ad nauseam. Horrified Grass puts down his pen and asks. “What exactly am I admitting?” The poem was therefore never written.
            Alas, the actual turn that Grass has taken is not reflective. It is self-righteous. The hard work of examining his prejudice against Jews, Israel, and the Pope is not done. He does not consider the interests of Israel, for example, its terrible burden because neighboring states deny Israel's right to exist. Nor is he really concerned with other states in the Middle East. His concern is with himself and Germany's worst history. Where he foresees, he is a false prophet of an unknown dawn. He projects on others what in himself he should mourn. -- In short, Grass is wrong.
         The German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranitzki, aged 91, called Grass' poem repulsive. While Grass is not an Antisemite, so Reich-Ranitzki, he targets antisemitic tendencies in parts of the population. Given the biographies of former SS, however, and even though Grass belonged to the third and youngest generation of them, what worries me is that many never gave up the SS paradigm. Rather, like Himmler toward the end of his life, they too masqueraded as honest brokers with seemingly humanitarian motives to deliver human rights to Israel's neighbors and Muslims generally.[1]

[1] See Peter Longerich, 2008 Heinrich Himmler Biographie. München: Siedler Verlag, p. 768-769. There is an English translation.