Gunter Grass (on joining the SS, 1944)

Gunter Grass died Monday. I remember my 1970s awe at an older friend, Kenny, who buried his beard and mighty forehead in John Barth and Grass and other literary lions I’d never heard of. Hundreds of heart throbs later, I still haven’t read The Tin Drum, or even seen the movie, but in my usual time-impaired way I expect I will be soon. Because the man has died, and the man wrote fearlessly of the business of being German during and after that nasty Nazi business. He took considerable heat for revealing, in 2006, after a lifetime of calling Germans to account and to remember, that he himself had been drafted into the SS as a 17-year-old. Too late! they cried. Hypocrite!

I beg to differ, and so do most commentators who are better-informed than I am. So does anyone, I would think, who has actually read his account. It is deceptively laconic, describing almost whimsically the conditions of war-time Germany and of an ignorant, artistic lad who sought to escape poverty and insignificance. I got to read this New Yorker article by Mr. Grass thanks to smart Tweeters: (Sorry, I’m unable to hyperlink right now.) It’s an entrancing read, and I highly recommend it.

That he survived was a fluke, several flukes in succession. RIP, Gunther Grass.

That he survived was a fluke, several flukes in succession. RIP, Gunther Grass.

Here is a short piece of his description, riding the train to accept his call-up to some branch of the military (he’d wanted to serve on submarines), which turned out to be an extremely disorganized and depleted branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the elite “protective squadrons” of the Nazi armed forces. The British, the Americans, and the Russians were closing in:

Continue Reading >>