Yesterday, the head of Germany’s main Jewish organisation attacked him for waiting decades to reveal that he had served during World War II in the Waffen SS, the Nazi’s dreaded paramilitary force.
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the admission negated Mr Grass’s longtime criticisms of German politics and society for not adequately dealing with the Nazi past.
“His long years of silence over his own SS past reduce his earlier statements to absurdities,” Ms Knobloch told the Netzeitung online newspaper.
Mr Grass, 78, is regarded as the literary spokesman for the generation of Germans that grew up in the Nazi era and survived the war. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 for works including his 1959 anti-Nazi novel, The Tin Drum, made into an Oscar-winning film in 1979. He has long been active in left- wing politics as a member of the Social Democratic Party and is regarded by many as an important moral voice.
Mr Grass has been widely criticised after his admission in an interview published on Saturday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he had served in the Waffen SS. In the interview, he expressed shame at having been part of the organisation and said he was making the admission because “it weighed on me”.
It had only been known that he worked as an assistant to anti-aircraft gunners — a common duty for teenagers at the time — and was wounded before being captured by US troops.
Mr Grass said he volunteered at 15 for the submarine service and was refused, only to be called up for military service at 17. Reporting for duty in Dresden, he found it was with the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. He said that under the sway of Nazi indoctrination he did not view the Waffen SS as something repulsive, but as an elite force. Mr Grass has a memoir coming out on September 1 which includes details on his SS experiences. “The fact that this late admission comes so shortly before the publication of his new book raises the suspicion that this is a PR measure,” Ms Knobloch added.
Grass critics have included Joachim Fest, a leading author on the Nazi period, and ex-Polish president Lech Walesa, who said Mr Grass should give up his honorary citizenship in his hometown of Gdansk, Poland.