You are browsing the archive for Gunter Grass.

Günter Grass Declared Persona non Grata in Israel for a Poem

11:01 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Gunter Grass in 1944 (at right), in German labor service

Nobel Prize for Literature recipient and leading German novelist Günter Grass’ new poem, What Must Be Said, has quickly become the most talked-about poem in recent memory. The reactions of militant expansionist Zionists have been all too predictable. The most recent reaction by the Israeli government to his critique of Israeli government policies may have gone far enough to elicit a strong reaction from the German people, though:

Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Sunday that German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass is a persona non grata in Israel, after Grass published a poem last week which was highly critical of Israel and its policies.

Yishai harshly condemned Grass’ poem, and said that he is declared a persona non grata in Israel for wearing SS uniform in the past.

A poll taken at the end of the week by The Financial Times Deutschland finds the reaction by Germans who have read the poem in its original language to be along these lines (at 9700 respondents):

“The statements by Grass are …

- insane 8%
- dangerous 4%
- antisemitic 4%
- worth discussing/arguable 27%
- correct 57% ”

As Mondoweiss commenter Klaus Bloemker observes from Germany, “The respondents who see Grass’ statements as correct or at least arguable: 84%.  I think in the general German public the approval of Grass is even higher than this poll reflects. This will have political consequences in the longer term.”

Up until this event, Germany has been Israel’s most staunch European ally in the quest to increase pressures upon Iran.  With a poll showing 84% of a segment of readers of a fairly conservative German financial newspaper backing Grass, this support on Iran sanctions may be something far more representative of the Merkel administration than of the educated population at large.  Bloemker observes further, “As for now, the establishment is overwhelmingly distancing itself from Grass.”

There is more to be gleaned from the Haaretz article on Grass’ banning, beginning with this:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also issued a harsh condemnation of Grass’ poem on Sunday, during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Lieberman said that Grass’ poem is the expression of “egoism of so-called Western intellectuals, who are willing to sacrifice the Jewish people on the altar of crazy anti-Semites for a second time, just to sell a few more books or gain recognition.” [emphasis added]

So the racist foreign minister tries to pull in the Prime Minister of Italy in linkage to his strange words.  Not only that, with the Italian PM sitting there, Lieberman made demands:

Speaking during a meeting with the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, Lieberman demanded condemnation from European leaders. “We have witnessed in the past how small seeds of antisemitic hate can turn into a large fire that harms all of humanity.”

Further on in the Haaretz article, written by Ophir Bar-Zohar and Barak Ravid, there is this:

In his poem, which was published in several European newspapers last week, the 85-year-old author claims that Israel’s nuclear reactor – and not Iran’s – presents a threat to world peace. [emphasis added]

In the translations I’ve read – four of them – the words “nuclear reactor” do not appear. Such terms as these do, in order of appearance:

first strike
a bomb is being built
growing nuclear potential
no testing is available
concealment of these facts
all-destroying warheads
a single atomic bomb
the nuclear power of Israel
an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites

(from Heather Horn’s translation for The Atlantic)

Were the Haaretz authors, Ophir Bar-Zohar and Barak Ravid, legally constrained from mentioning Israeli nuclear weapons in the article, thus forcing the inaccurate term, “nuclear reactor”?

If you are familiar with Grass’ important novels and enjoyed them for their deep antiwar sentiments and scenarios, but are unfamiliar with Grass’  2007 New Yorker article, How I Spent the War, you should read the article.  Here some relevant sections:

His initial service at age 15:

In 1943, when I was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy in Danzig, I volunteered for active duty. When? Why? Since I do not know the exact date and cannot recall the by then unstable climate of the war, or list its hot spots from the Arctic to the Caucasus, all I can do for now is string together the circumstances that probably triggered and nourished my decision to enlist. No mitigating epithets allowed. What I did cannot be put down to youthful folly. No pressure from above. Nor did I feel the need to assuage a sense of guilt, at, say, doubting the Führer’s infallibility, with my zeal to volunteer.

It happened while I was serving in the Luftwaffe auxiliary—a force made up of boys too young to be conscripts, who were deployed to defend Germany in its air war. The service was not voluntary but compulsory then for boys of my age, though we experienced it as a liberation from our school routine and accepted its not very taxing drills. Rabidly pubescent, we considered ourselves the mainstays of the home front.

His attempt to join the submarine service:

It must have been possible for a Luftwaffe auxiliary to trade a weekend leave for a Wednesday or Thursday off. In any case, one thing is clear: after one long day’s march, I took the tram from Heubude to the Central Station, and from there the train via Langfuhr and Zoppot to Gotenhafen, where Navy recruits were trained to handle submarines. It took all of an hour to reach the goal of my dreams of heroism. I found the recruitment office in a low, Polish-period building where, behind a row of doors with signs, bureaucratic rigmarole was processed, passed on, filed. After signing in, I was told to wait for my name to be called. There were two or three older boys ahead of me. I did not have much to say to them.

The sergeant and the seaman first class I spoke to rejected me out of hand: I was too young; my age group hadn’t come up yet; it would soon enough; no reason for excessive haste.

They were smoking and drinking coffee with milk out of big, bulbous cups. One of these—from my perspective—elderly gentlemen (the sergeant?) was sharpening a supply of pencils while I spoke. Or did I pick up this dramatic detail from some movie or other?

I must have stood my ground even as I was told that there was no need for submarine volunteers at present: they had stopped accepting applications. And then they reminded me that the war was not being fought entirely underwater, and said that they would make a note of my name and pass it on to other branches of the military. Provisions were being made for new panzer divisions. “Patience, young man, patience. We’ll come and get you soon enough. ”

His induction through draft into the Waffen SS:

It took less than two months for my induction letter to arrive, black and white on the kitchen table, signed, dated, and stamped. In September, 1944, my train pulled out of Danzig Central Station, headed for Berlin.

Mother had refused to accompany son to the station. She was smaller than I was, and when she hugged me in the living room she seemed to dissolve into tears between the piano and the grandfather clock. “All I ask is that you come back in one piece,” she said.

Father accompanied me. We didn’t say a word to each other on the tram. Then he had to buy a platform ticket. His velvet hat gave him a soigné, bourgeois look: a man in his mid-forties who had managed to stay a civilian and stay alive.

The 17-year old’s assignment:

My new marching orders made it clear where the recruit with my name was to undergo basic training: on a drill ground of the Waffen S.S., as a panzer gunner, somewhere far off in the Bohemian Woods.

His feelings about the Waffen SS at the time:

The question is: Was I frightened by what was obvious then in the recruitment office, as I am terrified now by the double “S,” even as I write this more than sixty years later?

There is nothing carved into the onion skin of my memory that can be read as a sign of shock, let alone horror. I most likely viewed the Waffen S.S. as an élite unit that was sent into action whenever a breach in the front line had to be stopped up. I did not find the double rune on the uniform collar repellent. The boy, who saw himself as a man, was probably more concerned with the branch of the service: if he was not destined for the submarines, then he would be a tank gunner in a division that was named in honor of Jörg von Frundsberg, whom I knew as the leader of the Swabian League during the sixteenth-century Peasant Wars and the “father of the Landsknechts”—crack infantry mercenaries. Someone who stood for freedom, liberation. Besides, the Waffen S.S. had a European aura to it: it included separate volunteer divisions of French and Walloon, Dutch, and Belgian, and many Norwegian and Danish soldiers; there were even said to be neutral Swedes on the Eastern Front in the defensive battle, as the rhetoric went, to save the West from the Bolshevik flood.

His explanation of later doubts and concealment:

So there were plenty of excuses. Yet for decades I refused to admit to the word, to the double letters. What I accepted with the stupid pride of youth I wanted to conceal after the war out of a recurrent sense of shame. But the burden remained, and no one could alleviate it.

True, during the tank-gunner training, which kept me numb throughout the autumn and winter, there was no mention of the war crimes that later came to light. But the ignorance I claim cannot blind me to the fact that I had been incorporated into a system that had planned, organized, and carried out the extermination of millions of people. Even if I could not be accused of active complicity, there remains to this day a residue that is all too commonly called joint responsibility. I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.

Grass is now being hauled over the coals for his forced service in what was the largest draft of very young people into military service in the history of the Third Reich.  Had he refused to serve, he probably would have been imprisoned, hung or shot.

Grass writes compellingly of the end of that 1,000-year reich, as military units crumbled around him; as he abandoned his fuel-less tank, abandoned his weapon (which, apparently, he never shot at a Soviet soldier); as he shuffled by the bodies of other young men his age, hanging from trees, with placards around their necks.  Here’s one of his descriptions of the environment:

In the chaos of retreat, I sought to join up with scattered soldiers who were likewise trying to find their units. Even though I had had no direct contact with the enemy, I was scared to death. The soldiers hanging from the trees along the road were a constant warning of the risk run by every one of us who could not prove that he belonged to a company or was on his way to this or that unit with signed and sealed travel orders.

The central section of the Eastern Front, now retreating inexorably west, was under the command of the infamous General Schörner. According to “Schörner’s orders,” military police—bloodhounds, the lot of them—were to go after soldiers without marching papers and haul them, no matter what their rank, before mobile courts-martial as malingerers, cowards, and deserters. They would then be summarily and conspicuously hanged. Schörner and his orders were more to be feared than the enemy.

Well, the war was soon over and Schörner and his ilk are long gone.

Soon afterward, however, many of Israel’s early leaders were planning the killings of hundreds of British Army soldiers and thousands of Palestinians, as they sought to terrorize the local governing authorities and local indigenous population into blunt acceptance of a new kind of  racially pure society.

The hypocrisy of current top Israeli officials needs to be called out.  Günter Grass has clearly done this.  Hopefully, he will be able to withstand increasing pressure to recant, and hopefully, more people – including commenters and diarists here – will come to his defense.

It must be said.

From my point of view, what must be further said is that Israel is not our ally.  The government of Israel is not a friend of U.S. long-term interests.  Rather, they have become the most dangerous adversary we have faced since before the implosion of the USSR.  Unlike the USSR, however, the Israeli government and its prime functionaries are deeply embedded into our political and military machinery.

Saturday Art: Thoughts on the Günter Grass Poem ”what must be said,” and Increasingly Assertive Criticism by Artists of Israeli Policies

11:36 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

I. Günter Grass, Germany’s most honored living novelist, disseminated a new poem this week.  What Must Be Said has brought the 84-year-old antiwar icon into the crosshairs of militant Zionist expansionists and those seeking to vilify Iran.

The author wrote the poem in German.  There have been numerous translations into English and several other languages.  Here is what I consider to be the most resonant English language translation yet, by Heather Horn, for The Atlantic:

What Must Be Said

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people–
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation–
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no testing is available?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
The very crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But through fear of what may be conclusive,
I say what must be said.

Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I think my origin,
Which has never been affected by this obliterating flaw,
Forbids this fact to be expected as pronounced truth
Of the country of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
Prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger
To renounce violence and
Likewise insist
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
Of the governments of both countries.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
In the end also to help us.

It is being quickly spread, along the lines of multi-lingual, global, 21st century Samidzat.  And, like a piece of 1960s Samidzat that went viral, the authorities, knowing it is impossible to stop the word, seek to either belittle the author or claim he is something of an anti-Semitic ex-Nazi.  Here’s the first approach:

There is a man-child who never grew up
Who wants to warn the world that it might blow up
He is known as The Tin Ear
And lives in fear
that the world will go kablooie
Or as George Bush would say, nukleer

He is old but was always somewhat confused
For many years the truth to tell he refused
He wrote a book that told a tale
Of a German war of massive scale
When the world went berzerk with war
Because the Nazis did assail

The fact he omitted as he lectured others
Is that he himself was one of the brothers….

and:

Unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently confided in him, [Grass'] opinion is vacuous. Grass criticizes the German government for selling Israel another submarine. This is a legitimate view on a matter that should be decided democratically by the German people.

But Grass’ comparison of Israel and Iran is unfair, because unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to wipe another country off the map.

Grass is critical of Israeli governments, more than of the Israeli people, it seems to me.  His critics, in many articles, including that above, are more careless,  claiming “Iran,” rather than its very lame-duck President, wants to erase Israel from the map.

Several articles have claimed Grass’ acquiescence, through his three-month-long action at the age of 17, on the rapidly crumbling eastern borders of Germany in the last months of World War II, after being forcibly inducted from anti-aircraft defense into the Waffen SS, as having constituted his being a member of the Nazi Party or of his having been some sort of war criminal:

Grass, who revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS, a group committed to eliminating European Jewry during World War II….

and:

Ultimately, Grass demonstrates in his poem that the meaning of the pledge “never again” is very different for the historic perpetrators and their victims: for the former Waffen SS recruit, the most important thing is to be never again seen as a perpetrator….

and, the inevitable label of anti-Semitism:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think of Günter Grass’s poem, “What Must Be Said,” which was published in Germany’s center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday?

Wolffsohn: It would have fit well in the (German far-right weekly) National Zeitung – and I mean that with no ifs or buts. In the poem, Grass makes the victims into perpetrators, and otherwise it contains pretty much every other anti-Semitic stereotype that we know from the far-right scene. And, on top of that, the language is completely lacking in sophistication.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In a statement on Wednesday, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin pointed out that the poem was published just before the feast of Passover.

Wolffsohn: I noticed that, too. In doing so, Grass is following an ignoble tradition. The time around Passover has always been the time of pogroms and a time when the blood-libel myth about Jews is disseminated.

One should read Grass’ own account of his wartime service, published in The New Yorker on June 4, 2007, titled How I Spent the War.

Author Grass has his many detractors.  What is more interesting in this 21st century climate of growing resistance to Israeli government bellicosity, are the views of his defenders.  His poem has been parsed more thoroughly than any in recent memory.  It has been paraphrased and mocked.  Perhaps the best line-by-line defense of the content of Grass’ unmetered verses has been that of Israeli blogger Yossi Gurvitz, at his niche at + 972, Wish You Orwell. Here’s Yossi:

So, basically everything said by Grass is plausible, at least within the frame of the psychological warfare waged by Israel. The truth is never anti-Semitic. There was no blood libel here, no anti-Semitism, no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes. Furthermore, criticism of Israel’s intended policy has nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jews. The claim (often made by Israeli officials) that Israel represents world Jewry, and that hence any attack on it is an attack on them, is a claim that Jews everywhere owe allegiance to a country of which they are not citizens and to which they never made any formal vow of loyalty, and thus can credibly be considered to be itself anti-Semitic.

Had the Israeli Foreign Ministry any shame left, it would not use the phrases it did against Grass. But, unsurprisingly, it did. The good thing which may come out of this affair is that people may learn to discount screeches of anti-Semitism from Israel with a sigh of “there they go again.”

II. Indeed.  I’m coming up, on April 8th, the eighth anniversary of my “there they go again” moment.  Since then I’ve seen hundreds of good people and dozens of artists slandered with the anti-Semitism label.  This cynical use of the term has gone beyond “The boy who cried ‘Wolf!’” territory, though.

More importantly, artists, especially young ones – in spite of Grass’ octogenarian creds – are ratcheting up their creative work denouncing Zionist expansionism, and instead supporting Palestinian rights, self determination and cultural aspirations.  They are continuing to either denounce ties between Israeli cultural institutions and the illegal West Bank settlements, or passing up on performance opportunities in Israel.

For instance, just this past week the debate in the UK about whether or not the Israeli theater organization, Habima, should be able to participate in the upcoming Globe Theater Shakespeare Festival, with its production of The Merchant of Venice, is heating up.

At the heart of the issue for proponents of the ban is Habima’s support for settlement activities in the West Bank, through performances there.  This is direct support of illegal, apartheid policy, pure and simple.

Writers supporting Habima generally fail to mention this aspect of the theater company’s activities.  No articles supportive of Habima dare to quote their artistic director, Ilan Ronen:

As a national theater company, Habima will perform for all residents of Israel. Residents of Ariel are residents of Israel and Habima will stage shows for them.

Ariel is a very large illegal town, erected on Palestinian land in violation of international law.  To support Habima, especially in view of this recent statement, is to become complicit in a view that accepts violation of such laws as routine, even acceptable.

On top of that, Habima co-manager, Odelia Friedman, has declared, regarding the troupe:

We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.

Stalin would be proud.

Günter Grass, delving into the junction between propaganda and culture, is dismissed as a cranky old man, previously caught skulking from his secret, hideous past.  Yet Israeli cultural institutions and their apparatchiks and favored artists practice this lack of differentiation day in and day out.

Fortunately, those of us who write about this are growing in numbers and venues at which we express ourselves.

Every day.