Monday, April 13, 2015

Famed German Author Gunter Grass Dies at Age 87

Famed German Author Gunter Grass Dies at Age 87

by Stephen Lendman

Famed German writer, author, playwright, sculptor, artist, and Nobel laureate Grass was considered Germany's most celebrated literary figure during his lifetime.

In 1999, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Committee members said his "frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history."

They credited his first novel, "The Tin Drum," with restoring honor to German literature "after decades of linguistic and moral destruction."

It "comes to grips with the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them," they said.

In addressing the Swedish Academy, Grass said he learned "books can cause offense, stir up fury, even hatred, that what is undertaken out of love for one's country can be taken as soiling one's nest. From then on I have been controversial."

Published in 1959, The Tin Drum became one of the most admired and revealing allegories of guilt and complicity. 

Grass said he "believe(d) it...a good thing that a writer does not sit on the side of the victors." 

He called Germany a psychologically damaged society. His writings stirred controversy. More on this below.

German President Joachim Glauk said:

"Gunter Grass moved, enthralled, and made the people of our country think with his literature and his art."

"His literary work won him recognition early across the world, as witnessed not least by his Nobel prize."

"His novels, short stories, and his poetry reflect the great hopes and fallacies, the fears and desires of whole generations."

Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk said:

"Grass learned a lot from Rabelais and Celine and was influential in development of 'magic realism' and Marquez." 

"He taught us to base the story on the inventiveness of the writer no matter how cruel, harsh and political the story is."

The New York Times said "many called (him) his country's moral conscience…"

He died in a Lubeck clinic, according to his publisher. No cause of death was indicated. Aging bodies wear out and perish. Hopefully he died peacefully.

The Washington Post called him "one of Germany's foremost intellectuals and gadflies."

His literary themes were "central to his political commentary." He brought "into the open what had too long been swept under the carpet."

He actively campaigned against war, for disarmament and social change. Supporters called his anti-militarism uncompromising.

He worried about a unified Germany one day again threatening world peace.

In an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allegmeine, he admitted his Waffen-SS past.

In his memoir, he reflected on what he called "stupid pride of youth (he) wanted to conceal after the war out of a recurrent sense of shame."

"But the burden remained, and no one could lighten it." He had to admit what weighed on him for so long.

He later demonstrated against US nuclear missiles in Germany. He denounced his nation's arms industry.

He staunchly supported Castro's Cuba. He embraced Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the 1980s.

He called "humane socialism" the ideal society. He denounced all forms of repression.

Angela Merkel said he "accompanied and shaped Germany's post-war history with his artistic, social and political engagement."

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the nation is poorer without Grass' "vigilant voice for more tolerance, his will to get involved, and his regular political interventions."

Novelist John Irving called Grass "a hero…both as a writer and a moral compass."

His "courage, both as a writer an as a citizen…is exemplary - a courage heightened, not lessened, by" revealing his Nazi past.

Grass called himself "not a pessimist, but a skeptic." He rejected the notion that artists should only create, not agitate. 

He strongly regretted not revealing his Nazi past sooner. He wrote in his memoir:

"The brief inscription meant for me reads: I kept silent."

Not about Israel's menacing nuclear arsenal. In 2012, his poem titled "What Must Be Said" addressed its open secret. In translation, he wrote:

"Why I am silent, silent for too much time, how much is clear and we made it in war games, where, as survivors, we are just the footnotes."

"That is the claimed right to the formal preventive aggression which could erase the Iranian people dominated by a bouncer and moved to an organized jubilation, because in the area of his competence there is the construction of the atomic bomb."

"And then why do I avoid myself to call the other country with its name, where since years - even if secretly covered - there is an increasing nuclear power, without control, because unreachable by every inspection?"

"I feel the everybody silence on this state of affairs, which my silence is slave to, as an oppressive lie and an inhibition that presents punishment we don’t pay attention to; the verdict 'anti-Semitism' is common."

"Now, since my country, from time to time touched by unique and exclusive crimes, obliged to justify itself, again for pure business aims - even if with fast tongue we call it 'reparation' - should deliver another submarine to Israel, with the specialty of addressing annihilating warheads where the existence of one atomic bomb is not proved but it wants evidence as a scarecrow, I say what must be said."

"Why did I stay silent until now? Because the thought about my origin, burdened by an unclearing stain, had avoiding to wait this fact like a truth declared by the State of Israel that I want to be connected to."

"Why did I say it only now, old and with the last ink: the nuclear power of Israel threat the world peace? Because it must be said what tomorrow will be too late; because - as Germans and with enough faults on the back - we might also become deliverers of a predictable crime, and no excuse would erase our complicity."

"And I admit: I won’t be silent because I had enough of the Western hypocrisy; because I wish that many will want to get rid of the silence, exhorting the cause of a recognizable risk to the abdication, asking that a free and permanent control of the Israel atomic power and the Iran nuclear bases will be made by both the governments with an international supervision."

"Only in this way, Israelis, Palestinians, and everybody, all people living hostile face to face in that country occupied by the craziness, will have a way out, so us too."

Israeli criticism was unsurprising. Germany's Central Council of Jews called his poem an "aggressive pamphlet of agitation." 

Netanyahu called it "shameful moral equivalence." At the same time, he practically admitted Israel's thermonuclear capability saying it needs "the means to defend itself…"

Grass called for Germany to stop supplying Israel with nuclear submarines.

"Israel's nuclear potential has been stealthily growing for years," he said.

He warned about it "endangering world peace," about it being used against Iran. "Germany could be responsible for a crime that can be foreseen," he stressed.

In an earlier 2001 Spiegel Online interview, he addressed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, saying:

"Israel doesn't just need to clear out of the occupied areas. The appropriation of Palestinian territory and its Israeli settlements are also a criminal activity." 

"That not only needs to be stopped - it also needs to be reversed. Otherwise there will be no peace."

Grass' eminence gave his criticism added significance. Sadly, it hasn't changed a thing.

Conditions today are worse than ever. Occupation harshness persists. Israel turned large parts of Gaza to rubble last summer.

Slow-motion genocide siege conditions persist. The US/UK/Israeli axis threatens world peace more than ever before. Stopping this monster matters most of all.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

Visit his blog site at 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.