Monday, August 14, 2006

Lech Walesa beats a tin drum

Gunter Grass (pictured) admits he was in Waffen SS, Walesa is not pleased.

More nonsense from the Polish – German relations front?

Lech Walesa, Gdansk’s most famous son, thinks that Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass, Gdansk’s other famous son (when it was known as Danzig) thinks that the author of the Tin Drum and many other works should give up his honorary citizenship of Gdansk.

The Independent writes:

Grass told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that, aged 17, he was called to the Waffen SS 10th Armoured Division, the combat arm of Hitler's paramilitary forces.
Grass, 78, said in the interview: "My silence over all these years is one of the reasons I wrote this book. It had to come out, finally."
He has written a book of recollections, which details his war service. The book is due out in September.

Walesa, also an honorary citizen of Gdansk says he feels ‘uncomfortable’ in Grass’s company.

Ruling Law and Justice member of parliament, Jacek Kurski has also called on Grass to return his honorary citizenship.

Spiegel online reports:

From the middle of 1944 until the end of the war in the spring of 1945, Grass served in the Frundsberg tank division of the elite military outfit. Previously, he had contended that he was teenage helper of an anti-aircraft unit.

Grass makes the revelations in his new autobiography, While Peeling the Onion. In it he says that he was only in the SS for around 9 months just before the end of the war and did not fire a shot.

Some in Germany are calling for his Nobel prize to be stripped. It’s not that he served in the SS – albeit not as a volunteer – that has angered the German press but that he concealed the fact for so long.

And what about other, elderly German gentlemen who got caught up in the Nazi machine in their youth? Would devout Catholic Lech Walesa object to being in the same company as...Pope Benedict?


sonia said...

Complex issue:

1. Nobody was 'drafted' into SS. It was an elite organization. All volunteers. People were drafted into Wehrmacht.

2. Waffen SS wasn't like regular SS. Waffen SS were combat troops. There are no indications that they committed any more atrocities than regular Wehrmacht troops.

3. The problem with Grass is less his membership in Waffen SS and more his lying about it all these years.

Gustav said...

I'm certainly no expert, but for what it's worth, Wikipedia says that the Waffen SS included elite troops and that some were conscripted into it.

troutsky said...

At seventeen, the issue of draft versus enlist seems moot.He was a fool, as was I at seventeen. The silence of Grass (did he truly lie?) is troubling but a whole generation of Germans lived a troubled-silence- existence and perhaps it is our job to understand rather than condemn.

beatroot said...

For sure there were conscripts in the Waffen SS. In the Nuremberg trials it was defined as a criminal organization. All its volunteers were subsequently barred from receiving a pension. But the conscripts in the SS were allowed pensions and other benefits as normal Germans.

I have put in a link from a Jewish source in the text on this.

Agnes said...

"Same for Grass" - no, he wasn't drafted.
(from what I read.) Ratzinger was, on the other hand. Anyway, while I don't agree - I doubt his sincerity, he confesses the truth exactly when it is very likely to be found out with or without his confession. (I understand a silence of 10, 20 years - but of 60 years?) My problem is with his hushing up things. But be sincere: had he confessed earlier, where would he be today? Drinking himself out of his mind in a pub somewhere? How much can one confess (even nowadays)?

This playing with his citizenship and other prizes (the Nobel included) seems
a very dangerous precedent: exactly because for a lifetime he had nothing to do with fascism.

roman said...

Hey, give the guy a break, Lech. That was over 60 years ago. He's not a war criminal. Even if he enlisted, he was 17 years old and his nation was at the beginning of a downward spiral in the war. If I put myself in his shoes, I probably would have done the same in the defence of my country.
The fact that he kept it a secret all these years just means he was ashamed of this youthfull indiscretion. Remember that it was during these dark days when the German forces were in retreat and even the "elite" Waffen SS were being decimated and were signing up anybody that breathed air.

beatroot said...

No Redwine: he confesses the truth exactly when it is very likely to be found out with or without his not right.

He confessed now because he has a new autogiography coming out. Many think that the timing of his confession is a publicity stunt ahead of the books release.

That's what they are saying in the German press. They see it as cynical timing, which adds to the very bad press he is getting in Germany about this.

And where is the evudence he signed up?

michael farris said...

My (I hope) last comment about this. I'm getting really sick of living in the past, WWII, communists, lustration, exiles. Poland has a lot more important things to think about now. Catch up with the 21st century already.

beatroot said...

I know what you mean Mike, but the past isn’t going to go away. Not here. In Poland it’s more alive than ever. It shows too, the different way the past is used by say a country like Poland and, say, a country like the US.

Notice magazines like Polityka…they have a history section! No such section in US or UK magazines.

History in the US is used to plunder various styles to market them (music, fashion, film) in Poland it’s about battles delayed, cans with worms in them waiting to be opened.

So ‘living in the past’ is not really correct. History is about how Poland sees itself today.

Agnes said...

"History is about how Poland sees itself today." - exactly. And not only in Poland: today they use Grass to justify the past of thought police informers here. A very dirty campaign. Whenever I think the Romanian (and Hunagrian to that) elite sees itself this way, I shiver. Too many cases already, and a new list is needed with names who were not in it. That one seems a definitely shorter list.

Eugene Markow said...


The submission of the Grass affair on your blog makes it appear as if Poland has a decidedly one-sided opinion on the matter when you summarize only Lech Walesa's reaction. You disregard other Polish opinion on this matter.

The fact is, according to a recent article in the NY Times, "...Polish opinion on the affair is divided."

"The mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, defended Mr. Grass, noting that “by his actions, he has already paid for the mistakes of his youth.” Archbishop Jozef Michalik, the president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said that through his confession Mr. Grass had gained moral stature. Adam Michnik, the editor of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, also spoke up for Mr. Grass, adding that “literature has never been Lech Walesa’s strong card.”

The above inclusion balances out the Polish reaction to Grass.

In answering your question, "Would devout Catholic Lech Walesa object to being in the same company as...Pope Benedict?, perhaps Walesa does object (to Grass), but Catholic Archbishop Jozef Michalik doesn't. His representation of the Catholic Church in Poland exceeds Walesa's.

beatroot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
beatroot said...

Indeed, Eugene, you are correct to point out that in Poland there are a variety of views on Grass, as there are in Germany, in fact.

But when I wrote that piece, in the very early days of the ‘controversy’ Walesa’s was the most reportable voice – he being from Gdansk etc. I also wrote it just before the members of the Polish government demanded Grass give back his honorary citizenship.

As the Polish government formally represents the Polish people at the moment (like it or not) then their reaction to this, plus Walesa’s, are the most prominent views in Poland on this matter.

Redwine: A very dirty campaign. maybe. But we have to admit that Grass has made a career out of lecturing the Germans about coming to terms with WW II – but it seems he only just has.


Anonymous said...

It is very easy to criticize others when you have had the fortune to be 'on the good side' and with clean hands all your life. It hardly takes any personal virtue or courage to condemn other people's vices.

However, if someone knows from experience his own susceptibility to the devil's temptations, it takes more wisdom and courage to stand up against similar - or worse - fouls of other people. It is a strong motive for doing so, too.

I agree with the Gdansk mayor, who said that "by his actions, Grass has already paid for the mistakes of his youth". Grass never participated in war crimes - his sole crime was to subscribe to the SS when he as 17. Consequently, he filled his time of life by fighting fascist and intolerant tendencies remaining after the war.

Grass's confession has made him more human, more courageous, and someone more to reckon with because he is more like us.

beatroot said...

If you spend your life trying to make others confront their past then not doing so yourself is very sad.

And what is all this about not taking any personal courage not to condemn othes? Of course it doesn't take any courage to criticise Grass or anyone else. So what? I'm writing me blog not looking for a Nobel Prize (for Blogging)!

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