Αρχική > λογοτεχνία > Αφιέρωμα στον Γκίντερ Γκρας / Günter Grass obituary

Αφιέρωμα στον Γκίντερ Γκρας / Günter Grass obituary

Gunter Grass

 

 

Πέθανε σε ηλικία 87 ετών ο σπουδαίος γερμανός νομπελίστας συγγραφέας

 

Γκίντερ Γκρας: Τα Waffen-SS, η «συνείδηση» της Γερμανίας και ένα ποίημα για την Ελλάδα

 

ΤΑ ΝΕΑ, 13.4.2015

 

Ο γερμανός συγγραφέας και ποιητής Γκίντερ Γκρας, βραβευμένος με το Νόμπελ Λογοτεχνίας το 1999, πέθανε σε ηλικία 87 ετών, ανακοίνωσε το ίδρυμα που φέρει το όνομά του.

Ο συγγραφέας του «Τενεκεδένιου ταμπούρλου» γεννήθηκε στην Ελεύθερη Πόλη του Ντάντσιχ (το σημερινό Γκντασκ της Πολωνίας) το 1927 και πολλά από τα έργα του διαδραματίζονταν στην πόλη αυτή.

Για πολλούς, ο Γκρας ήταν η φωνή της μεταπολεμικής γενιάς της Δ. Γερμανίας η οποία έφερε το βάρος της ενοχής των προγόνων της για τις ακρότητες που διέπραξαν οι Ναζί στην Ευρώπη.

Από τα Waffen-SS «συνείδηση» της μεταπολεμικής Γερμανίας

Ο Γκίντερ Γκρας γεννήθηκε στις 16 Οκτωβρίου του 1927 από γερμανό προτεστάντη πατέρα και καθολική μητέρα, πολωνικής καταγωγής και ανατράφηκε ως καθολικός.

Αφού προσπάθησε ανεπιτυχώς, όταν ήταν δεκαπέντε χρονών, να καταταγεί στα γερμανικά υποβρύχια, για να ξεφύγει από το ασφυκτικό οικογενειακό περιβάλλον του, όπως ο ίδιος υποστήριξε σε συνέντευξή του το 2006, εντάχθηκε πρώτα στο Reichsarbeitdienst και το 1944 στα Waffen-SS (ένοπλος κλάδος της SS).

Ως μέλος των Waffen-SS συμμετείχε στις επιχειρήσεις της 10ης Μεραρχίας Θωρακισμένων SS «Frundsberg» από τον Φεβρουάριο του 1945 μέχρι τον Απρίλιο του ίδιου έτους, οπότε τραυματίστηκε, συνελήφθη από αμερικανούς στρατιώτες και στάλθηκε σε στρατόπεδο αιχμαλώτων.

Μετά τον πόλεμο εργάστηκε για δύο χρόνια σε ορυχείο και έλαβε εκπαίδευση λιθοξόου.

Αργότερα σπούδασε γλυπτική και γραφιστική, πρώτα στην Ακαδημία Τεχνών του Ντίσελντορφ (Künstakademie Düsseldorf) και έπειτα στο Βερολίνο. Από τα μέσα της δεκαετίας του ’50 ξεκινά και το λογοτεχνικό του έργο, που θα τον κάνει παγκοσμίως γνωστό. Από το 1983 έως το 1986 διετέλεσε Πρόεδρος της Ακαδημίας Τεχνών του Βερολίνου.

Ο Γκίντερ Γκρας νυμφεύτηκε δύο φορές, το 1954 και το 1979.

Για πάνω από μισό αιώνα αποτέλεσε ένα είδος «ηθικής συνείδησης» της Γερμανίας, καθώς με το σύνολο του λογοτεχνικού του έργου και τις δημόσιες παρεμβάσεις του προσπάθησε να εμποδίσει τον εφησυχασμό των συμπατριωτών του που μετά τον Β’ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο ήθελαν να κλείσουν τους λογαριασμούς τους με το παρελθόν, ξεχνώντας τα ναζιστικά εγκλήματα.

Έγινε ιδιαίτερα γνωστός με το μυθιστόρημα του «Το τενεκεδένιο ταμπούρλο» που εκδόθηκε το 1959 και έγινε ταινία είκοσι χρόνια αργότερα.

Ακολούθησαν το 1961 το «Γάτα και Ποντίκι» και το 1963 το «Σκυλίσια μέρα» που μαζί με «Το Τενεκεδένιο ταμπούρλο» αποτελούν την Τριλογία του Ντάντσιχ.

Άλλα γνωστά του έργα, που μεταφράστηκαν και στα ελληνικά, όπως και η Τριλογία του Ντάντσιχ, είναι: «Η πρόβα της εξέγερσης των πληβείων» (1966), «Ο Μπουτ το ψάρι» (1977), «Δυσοίωνα κοάσματα» (1992), «Γράφοντας μετά το Άουσβιτς» (1993), «Ένα ευρύ πεδίο» (1995), «Ο αιώνας μου» (1999) και «Σαν τον κάβουρα» (2002).

Αν και δεν έγινε μέλος του Σοσιαλοδημοκρατικού Κόμματος, ο Γκύντερ Γκρας τάχθηκε υπέρ της σοσιαλοδημοκρατίας, υποστηρίζοντας ότι μόνο με μεταρρυθμίσεις και όχι με επαναστατική ανατροπή είναι δυνατή η οικονομική και κοινωνική αλλαγή. Έτσι, υποστήριξε την κυβέρνηση του Βίλι Μπραντ, ασκώντας της, όμως, έντονη κριτική.

Μετά την πτώση του Τείχους του Βερολίνου ο Γκρας τάχθηκε ενάντια στην ένωση των δύο Γερμανιών και πρότεινε, για τουλάχιστον μια επταετία, μια Συνομοσπονδία των δύο Γερμανικών κρατών, η οποία μελλοντικά θα μπορούσε να αποκτήσει την μορφή μιας ένωσης Γερμανικών κρατών.

Υπερασπίστηκε τα δικαιώματα των τσιγγάνων, υποστηρίζοντας την ανάγκη χορήγησης σε αυτούς ευρωπαϊκού διαβατηρίου, που θα τους επιτρέπει τη διαμονή σε οποιοδήποτε ευρωπαϊκό κράτος.

Δημιούργησε στην Ρουμανία ένα ίδρυμα για τους Ρομά, με την ονομασία «Εταιρία για τους απειλούμενους λαούς», το οποίο κάθε χρόνο βραβεύει όσους προσπαθούν να βελτιώσουν τη ζωή των τσιγγάνων. Για τον Γκύντερ Γκρας οι Τσιγγάνοι είναι αυτό που καμωνόμαστε ό,τι είμαστε εμείς: εκ γενετής γνήσιοι Ευρωπαίοι.

Για την Ελλάδα

Το 2012 έγραψε για την Ελλάδα το ποίημα «Η ντροπή της Ευρώπης»:

«Στο χάος κοντά, γιατί δεν συμμορφώθηκε στις αγορές· κι Εσύ μακριά από τη Χώρα, που Σου χάρισε το λίκνο.

Οσα Εσύ με την ψυχή ζήτησες και νόμισες πως βρήκες, τώρα θα καταλυθούν, και θα εκτιμηθούν σαν σκουριασμένα παλιοσίδερα.

Σαν οφειλέτης διαπομπευμένος και γυμνός, υποφέρει μια Χώρα· κι Εσύ, αντί για το ευχαριστώ που της οφείλεις, προσφέρεις λόγια κενά.

Καταδικασμένη σε φτώχεια η Χώρα αυτή, που ο πλούτος της κοσμεί Μουσεία: η λεία που Εσύ φυλάττεις.

Αυτοί που με τη δύναμη των όπλων είχαν επιτεθεί στη Χώρα την ευλογημένη με νησιά, στον στρατιωτικό τους σάκο κουβαλούσαν τον Χέλντερλιν.

Ελάχιστα αποδεκτή Χώρα, όμως οι πραξικοπηματίες της, κάποτε, από Εσένα, ως σύμμαχοι έγιναν αποδεκτοί.

Χώρα χωρίς δικαιώματα, που η ισχυρογνώμονη εξουσία ολοένα και περισσότερο της σφίγγει το ζωνάρι.

Σ’ Εσένα αντιστέκεται φορώντας μαύρα η Αντιγόνη, και σ’ όλη τη Χώρα πένθος ντύνεται ο λαός, που Εσένα φιλοξένησε.

Ομως, έξω από τη Χώρα, του Κροίσου οι ακόλουθοι και οι όμοιοί του όλα όσα έχουν τη λάμψη του χρυσού στοιβάζουν στο δικό Σου θησαυροφυλάκιο.

Πιες επιτέλους, πιες! κραυγάζουν οι εγκάθετοι των Επιτρόπων· όμως ο Σωκράτης, με οργή Σου επιστρέφει το κύπελλο γεμάτο ώς επάνω.

Θα καταραστούν εν χορώ, ό,τι είναι δικό Σου οι θεοί, που τον Ολυμπό τους η δική Σου θέληση ζητάει ν’ απαλλοτριώσει.

Στερημένη από πνεύμα, Εσύ θα φθαρείς χωρίς τη Χώρα, που το πνεύμα της, Εσένα, Ευρώπη, εδημιούργησε».

Γκίντερ Γκρας

2 Σχόλια αναγνωστών

 

Πέθανε και ο σπουδαίος ουρουγουανός συγγραφέας Εντουάρντο Γκαλεάνο

Παυλόπουλος: «Πνευματική παρακαταθήκη για τους Ελληνες το έργο του Γκίντερ Γκρας»

«Ελλάδα έχασε έναν πολύτιμο φίλο» είπε ο Αλέξης Τσίπρας για τον θάνατο του Γκίντερ Γκρας

 

 

ΤΣΙΠΡΑΣ: Η ΕΛΛΑΔΑ ΕΧΑΣΕ ΕΝΑΝ ΠΟΛΥΤΙΜΟ ΦΙΛΟ

ΤΟ ΕΘΝΟΣ, 13.4.2015

 

Συγκίνηση για τον θάνατο του Νομπελίστα συγγραφέα Γκύντερ Γκρας

Ο Γκύντερ Γκρας, ένας από τους σημαντικότερους μεταπολεμικούς συγγραφείς της Γερμανίας και πασίγνωστος για τις μαχητικές, αριστερές θέσεις του, που πέθανε σήμερα σε ηλικία 87 ετών, ήταν ίσως ο γνωστότερος στο εξωτερικό Γερμανός λογοτέχνης των τελευταίων δεκαετιών.

Συγκίνηση για τον θάνατο του Νομπελίστα συγγραφέα Γκύντερ Γκρας

Αφότου εκδόθηκε, το 1959, το «Τενεκεδένιο ταμπούρλο», το μυθιστόρημα που έγινε παγκόσμια επιτυχία και μεταφέρθηκε στον κινηματογράφο από τον Φόλκερ Σλέντορφ, αποσπώντας το Χρυσό Φοίνικα στις Κάννες και το Όσκαρ καλύτερης ξενόγλωσσης ταινίας, ο Γκρας, ο μανιώδης καπνιστής πίπας με το παχύ μουστάκι, δεν σταμάτησε ποτέ να φέρνει τη χώρα του σε αντιπαράθεση με το ναζιστικό παρελθόν της.

«Με ένα και μόνο βιβλίο γέννησε τη μεταπολεμική γερμανική λογοτεχνία», είχε γράψει το γερμανικό περιοδικό Der Spiegel. Χωρίς τις αδιάκοπες παρεμβάσεις του Γκρας «η Γερμανία θα ήταν μια άλλη Γερμανία» μολονότι ο στοχαστής αυτός «κάποιες φορές μας χτυπούσε στα νεύρα», πρόσθεσε το περιοδικό.

Μεταξύ των γνωστότερων έργων του, γραμμένων σε μια πλούσια και μολαταύτα σαφή γλώσσα, γεμάτη με φαντασία και ειρωνία, ήταν "Η γάτα και το ποντίκι", τα "Σκυλίσια χρόνια", "Ο Μπουτ, το ψάρι", η "Συνάντηση στη Βεστφαλία", ο "Αιώνας μου" και άλλα.

Συγκίνηση για τον θάνατο του Νομπελίστα συγγραφέα Γκύντερ Γκρας

Ο Γκύντερ Γκρας γεννήθηκε στις 16 Οκτωβρίου 1927 στο Ντάντσιχ, το σημερινό Γκντανσκ της Πολωνίας. Ο πατέρας του ήταν Γερμανός και η μητέρα του προερχόταν από μια σλαβική μειονότητα της Πρωσίας. Έζησε την "υποδειγματική γερμανική νεότητα" της γενιάς του και σε ηλικία 11 ετών εντάχθηκε στη χιτλερική νεολαία. Το 1944 έγινε μέλος των Βάφεν Ες-Ες και πολέμησε μέχρι που αιχμαλωτίστηκε, προς το τέλος του πολέμου, από τους Αμερικανούς. Απελευθερώθηκε το 1946.

Η ζωή του τα επόμενα χρόνια ήταν μποέμικη, παρακολούθησε μαθήματα πλαστικών τεχνών, γλυπτικής και ζωγραφικής και έκανε τις πρώτες του απόπειρες να γράψει ποίηση. Τη δεκαετία του 1950 αποφάσισε να γίνει συγγραφέας ενώ αργότερα τάχθηκε στο πλευρό των αντιφασιστών συγγραφέων της "Ομάδας 47" και το Σοσιαλδημοκράτη πολιτικού Βίλι Μπραντ.

Συγκίνηση για τον θάνατο του Νομπελίστα συγγραφέα Γκύντερ Γκρας

Τα τελευταία χρόνια είχε ταχθεί ανοιχτά υπέρ του «κοκκινοπράσινου» συνασπισμού μεταξύ των Σοσιαλδημοκρατών του καγκελαρίου Γκέρχαρντ Σρέντερ με τους Πράσινους ενώ είχε επικρίνει σφοδρά και τη "σταυροφορία" τους προέδρου των ΗΠΑ Τζορτζ Μπους στο Ιράκ.

Το 2006 ο Γκρας παραδέχτηκε ότι στα νιάτα του ήταν μέλος των Βάφεν Ες Ες, των ειδικών δυνάμεων του χιτλερικού καθεστώτος, μια αποκάλυψη που προκάλεσε έντονες αντιδράσεις από πολιτικούς και ιστορικούς στη Γερμανία. Έξι χρόνια αργότερα προκάλεσε σάλο όταν δημοσίευσε ένα ποίημα που επέκρινε το Ισραήλ και το κατηγορούσε ότι «απειλούσε την παγκόσμια ειρήνη». Οι ισραηλινές αρχές αντέδρασαν χαρακτηρίζοντάς τον «ανεπιθύμητο πρόσωπο» στη χώρα.

Την ίδια χρονιά, το 2012, ο Γκρας έγραψε άλλο ένα ποίημα που επέκρινε την ευρωπαϊκή πολιτική για τη στάση της απέναντι στην Ελλάδα. Στο «Όνειδος της Ευρώπης» κατηγορούσε τους Ευρωπαίους γιατί καταδίκαζαν στη φτώχεια την Ελλάδα, τη «χώρα που συνέλαβε την ιδέα» της Ευρώπης.

Ο συγγραφέας είχε αποκτήσει τέσσερα παιδιά και ζούσε μόνιμα στο Λύμπεκ, στη βόρεια Γερμανία.

Ο εκπρόσωπος του υπουργείου Εξωτερικών της Γερμανίας, στην καθιερωμένη ενημέρωση των δημοσιογράφων, σημείωσε ότι το Βερολίνο θλίβεται βαθύτατα από την ανακοίνωση αυτής της «τραγικής είδησης».

Στον λογαριασμό του στο Twitter ο Βρετανός συγγραφέας Σαλμάν Ρούσντι αποχαιρέτισε τον «πραγματικό γίγαντα, πηγή έμπνευσης και φίλο» του. «Το ταμπούρλο παίζει για σένα, μικρέ Όσκαρ», έγραψε, παραπέμποντας στον ήρωα του «Τενεκεδένιου ταμπούρλου».

Αλέξης Τσίπρας: Η Ελλάδα έχασε έναν πολύτιμο φίλο

«Η απώλεια του Γκύντερ Γκρας αφορά κάθε πολίτη της Ευρώπης. Σήμερα χάσαμε ένα από τα σημεία αναφοράς του ευρωπαϊκού πολιτισμού. Και η Ελλάδα έχασε έναν πολύτιμο φίλο που δε δίστασε να σταθεί δίπλα στον ελληνικό λαό στις δύσκολες στιγμές της οικονομικής κρίσης, όταν τα στερεότυπά εναντίον της Ελλάδας βρίσκονταν στο απόγειό τους» δήλωσε ο πρωθυπουργός Αλέξης Τσίπρας για την απώλεια του νομπελίστα συγγραφέα και ποιητή, Γκύντερ Γκρας.

Ο πρωθυπουργός στην δήλωσή του υπογράμμισε ότι «ο Γκύντερ Γκρας, δεν υπήρξε μόνο ο νομπελίστας βιρτουόζος του λόγου, αλλά και ο μαχητικός διανοούμενος της δημοκρατικής και κοινωνικής στράτευσης» και επισήμανε ότι «το "τενεκεδένιο ταμπούρλο" του είναι ανεξίτηλο ορόσημο της ευρωπαϊκής πολιτικής και αντιφασιστικής λογοτεχνίας».

«Στους δικούς του ανθρώπους, σε όλους και όλες που τον αγάπησαν, εκφράζω την ειλικρινή και βαθιά μου θλίψη» κατέληξε στην δήλωσή του ο πρωθυπουργός.

Παυλόπουλος: Πραγματική πνευματική παρακαταθήκη

Για την Ελλάδα και τους Έλληνες το έργο του Γκίντερ Γκρας συνιστά πραγματική πνευματική παρακαταθήκη, αναφέρει ο Πρόεδρος της Δημοκρατίας Προκόπης Παυλόπουλος για το θάνατο του βραβευμένου, με Νόμπελ Λογοτεχνίας, Γερμανού συγγραφέα.

Ο Γκίντερ Γκρας χάραξε στην σύγχρονη παγκόσμια –και ιδίως ευρωπαϊκή- λογοτεχνία ανεξίτηλα σύμβολα Ανθρωπισμού και Δικαιοσύνης, τονίζει ο Πρόεδρος της Δημοκρατίας και προσθέτει: «Κι αυτό το βιώσαμε στον Τόπο μας εντελώς πρόσφατα, μεσ’ από απτά δείγματα ανυπόκριτου και ανιδιοτελούς Φιλελληνισμού, σε κρίσιμες για το Λαό μας στιγμές».

 

 

Günter Grass obituary

Nobel-winning German author who arrived on the literary scene in 1959 with the bestselling novel The Tin Drum

Günter Grass, Nobel-winning German novelist, dies aged 87

In quotes: 12 of the best

His four key works

Günter Grass with pipe

Outside Germany, Günter Grass’s examination of the crimes of the Nazi period inevitably led to him being described as the country’s postwar conscience. Photograph: Jakubeit Nick/Rex Shutterstock

Jonathan SteeleThe Guardian, Monday 13 April 2015

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Günter Grass, who has died aged 87, was Germany’s best-known postwar novelist, a man of titanic energy and zest who, besides his fiction-writing, enjoyed the cut and thrust of political debate and relaxed by drawing, painting and making sculptures. Bursting on to the literary scene with his bestselling novel The Tin Drum in 1959, Grass spent his life reminding his compatriots of the darkest time in their history, the crimes of the Nazi period, as well as challenging them on the triumphalism of unification in 1990, which he described as the annexation of East Germany by West Germany in which many citizens became victims.

He was always controversial, and sometimes bitterly attacked by critics at home for discussing German victimhood as well as German guilt. Outside his country he was, inevitably, called Germany’s postwar conscience, a label he shared with the older writer Heinrich Böll. In 1999, much later than expected, he won the Nobel prize for literature. The Scandinavian judges praised his “creative irreverence” and “cheerful destructiveness”.

Seven years later, he stunned critics as well as admirers by admitting in theautobiographical Peeling the Onion that at the age of 17 he had been drafted into the notorious Waffen-SS in the last few months of the second world war. Some claimed that he had revealed his long-held secret for cynical reasons to boost book sales, or that he had suppressed it for so long to avoid jeopardising his chances of winning the Nobel. Christopher Hitchens denounced Grass as “something of a bigmouth and a fraud, and also something of a hypocrite”. The former Polish president and Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa said he was glad he had never met Grass, and urged him to give up his honorary citizenship of Gdańsk, the town where he was born and whose Nazi-era troubles were portrayed in The Tin Drum. Wałęsa later retracted his remarks.

The Tin Drum, paperback cover The Tin Drum

Grass’s adolescence of unthinking patriotism was well known before Peeling the Onion. His father, Wilhelm, was German, and his mother, Helene (nee Knoff) was Polish, and they ran a grocer’s shop in Gdańsk (then the interwar free city of Danzig). Günter joined the Hitler Youth: his political awakening came later, when, after the war, he worked in potash mines and as a stonemason’s apprentice, rubbing shoulders with ex-Nazis and ex-communists. He decided scepticism and moderation were better than ideological extremes, a position he maintained throughout his life.

As a young man, Grass studied painting and sculpture in Düsseldorf and Berlin. He was also a jazz drummer and a poet. But it was The Tin Drum that catapulted him to fame. The book was a biting attack on nazism and the German mentality from which it arose. Eva Figes, the writer who came to Britain on the eve of the war as a Jewish child refugee from Berlin, said she knew immediately that The Tin Drum “was the book the postwar generation was waiting for. It coped with the tragedy of the Third Reich with huge energy and scope. It was inventive, macabre, funny and tremendously important.” The Nobel prize committee said its “frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history”.

The book’s hero and narrator is Oskar Matzerath, a boy who was born with an adult’s ability to think and feel, but who decided never to grow tall. He recounts his life story while in a mental hospital. It covers numerous love affairs as well as the politics of the war, the Red Army’s invasion of Danzig in 1945, the expulsion of the German population, and West Germany’s postwar years. The dwarf’s weapons are a shriek that can break glass and a tin drum he received on his third birthday. He threatens to use violence if anyone tries to remove it. In one extraordinary scene he hides under the platform at a Nazi rally and subverts the marching band by drumming out an Austrian waltz rhythm that the players cannot resist taking up.

The book’s imaginative boldness and wild satirical style were as remarkable as its subject matter. It ended with Oskar’s nightmare vision of a black witch: “She had always been there, even in the woodruff fizz powder [used to make a soda pop substitute], bubbling so green and innocent; she was in clothes cupboards, in every clothes cupboard I ever sat in … it’s her shadow that has multiplied and is following the sweetness. All words: blessed, sorrowful, full of grace, virgin of virgins … Later on four tomcats, one of whom was called Bismarck, the wall that had to be freshly whitewashed, the Poles in the exaltation of death, the special communiques, who sank what when, potatoes tumbling down from the scales, boxes tapered at the foot end, cemeteries I stood in, flags I knelt on, coconut fibres I lay on … the puppies mixed in the concrete, the onion juice that draws tears, the ring on the finger and the cow that licked me … Don’t ask Oskar who she is! Words fail me. First she was behind me, later she kissed my hump, but now, now and for ever, she is in front of me, coming closer.”

Günter Grass, left, with actor David Bennent as Oskar Matzerath and director Volker Schlöndorff on the set of the film version of The Tin Drum, based on Grass's novel.

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Günter Grass, left, with actor David Bennent as Oskar Matzerath and director Volker Schlöndorff on the set of the film version of The Tin Drum, based on Grass’s novel. Photograph: United Artists/EPA

The Tin Drum was made into a film almost 20 years later by the renowned director Volker Schlöndorff. It shared the 1979 Cannes film festival Palme d’Or with Apocalypse Now and won the Oscar for best foreign language film of 1979. Grass wrote two sequels, Cat and Mouse (1961) and Dog Years (1963), both also centred on Danzig and its ethnic complexity. Dog Years touched on the mass expulsion of Germans from Gdansk at the end of the war, a subject Grass was to cover extensively four decades later in Crabwalk (2002), bringing back one of Dog Years’ characters.

Buoyed by his literary success, Grass went into politics in the 1960s, campaigning regularly for Willy Brandt and the Social Democrats. There were rumours that he might take a government job when Brandt became chancellor, though this was never likely. He dedicated a 1972 account of his political campaigning, entitled From the Diary of a Snail, his metaphor for patient but effective progress, to his children.

His cautious, almost pessimistic, approach to politics sat oddly with his driven personality and his image as a rough diamond on the literary scene. Grass was never an intellectual, and liked being seen as a gadfly. He disdained the politics of the anti-Vietnam 1968 generation, even though its members were fired up, as he was, by the sense that Germans of their parents’ generation should honestly face their Nazi past. Grass abhorred extremism, and he thought the 1968ers were dishonest. They refused to accept that German guilt masked countless individual tragedies. Though complicit in nazism in the broad sense, many Germans became victims in the final year of the war, particularly the millions who were forced out of Danzig and other parts of eastern Europe. Grass’s mother, who was raped by Russian soldiers, was herself part of the refugee tide.

Crabwalk dealt with this facet of Germany’s suppression of history, the many instances of victimhood in the shadow of defeat. Its narrator is a 1968er whose narrow and blinkered style of parenting results in his son becoming a neo-Nazi. The book’s central drama is the sinking, in 1945, by a Russian submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship carrying close to 9,000 German refugees, mainly women and children, in the Baltic sea. The catastrophe cost four times as many human lives as the sinking of the Titanic, yet it was barely mentioned in public after the war. Grass’s argument was that all Germans, and particularly the liberal left, must look more sensitively at the issue of victimhood as well as villainy in German history. This was not to minimise the crimes of the Holocaust or to balance one evil with another, but simply because the fact of German suffering is part of the historical reality.

Grass was one of the few German writers who could claim to be, if not a public intellectual, at least a public citizen

It was not an issue that could have been handled in Germany in the 1950s, let alone the 80s. Even though it had lost much of its bite by the time Grass wrote Crabwalk, it was still a bold book. The fate of this shipload of civilians, along with that of the millions of Vertriebene (expellees) who were forced at gun-point to abandon well-established German communities in Poland and Czechoslovakia, was the biggest neglected story of the second world war and its aftermath.

Grass wanted to break the taboo that meant that although organisations of expellees emerged to plead their case, mainstream Germany, as well as foreign governments, ignored them because their plight cast Germans as victims. Many individual expellees joined in this collective suppression and did not even tell their children what had happened. A film about the Gustloff came out in the 50s but was quickly forgotten. Ironically, the issue died completely after the treaties with Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union that Brandt signed in the early 70s. The better that government-to-government relations became, the harder it was to discuss what had happened to Germans in eastern Europe.

As a leftwinger, Grass could handle the subject sympathetically without being accused of moral equivalence. As the title Crabwalk implies, the book does not approach the issue head-on. Nor is the sinking of the ship the centrepiece either of the narrative or of Grass’s message about suppression. The story is told from the point of view of three generations. The “narrator” is a journalist in his 50s who is urged by his mother, a survivor of the tragedy, to write about the disaster before it gets too late to interview those who were there.

Crabwalk was not the first book by a German author to take up the theme of Germans as victims. WG Sebald’s essay on Air War and Literature about the horror of the Allies’ carpet-bombing of German cities had come out in Germany four years earlier. Typically, however, Grass took an issue that had been rising to the surface and gave it an agenda-setting new impetus. He also moved the question of historical amnesia and German victimhood further than earlier writers. Crabwalk discussed the political damage suppression can cause. “In a way you can say the book is too late. But you have the advantage of seeing the story from the point of view of three generations. I wanted to describe this suppression complex and its consequences,” he said.

The book also tried to answer the question of why young Germans, albeit a small minority, could be fascinated by neo-Nazism. One reason, Grass argued, was that the history of the Nazi period was still badly taught in schools and in the German media. “Films tend to portray Nazis as raving idiots. The fact that the Nazi party came to power legally at a time when there were six million unemployed is suppressed,” he said.

Before becoming a troopship the Wilhelm Gustloff had been run by the Kraft durch Freude (strength through joy) society, which was given the expropriated assets of the trade union movement and throughout the 30s provided heavily subsidised holidays to German workers who had never been abroad before. “You have to explain to young people that this was a ‘classless’ ship. There was a socialist element in nazism, done for propaganda purposes, of course. But it has to be explained,” Grass said, adding that young Germans also needed to be told that in 1938 most European countries, including sections of the governing class in England, admired Hitler as a bulwark against communism.

More controversial, at least within Germany, was Grass’s contribution to the debate on unification, where he found himself criticised, even by social-democratic friends, for romanticism, an unusual charge for a man who called himself a political “snail”. But 1990 was one of those rare moments in history when most people thought speed was the order of the day. For decades, Germans had paid lip service to reunification, never believing it would happen in their lifetimes. When the reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave the green light for change and the East German authorities opened the Berlin Wall under pressure from thousands of street protesters, people grabbed at the chance of voting for unity. Grass’s notion of a slow march towards unification by means of the two German states’ first becoming a confederation was unrealistic, his friends said.

By then Grass was too well-known to be cowed. He had become an icon, and was confident enough of his convictions not to worry about political isolation even though he was human enough to be wounded. He wrote a long rambling novel,Too Far Afield (1995), to justify his position. His scepticism about German unity sprang in part from his feeling that East Germans were being given a raw deal. Not that he had any sympathy for the East German regime; in the years before unity he regularly travelled to East Germany to meet dissident writers, his fame making it hard for the communist authorities to bar him. He was one of the first West Germans to visit Poland to try to overcome the bitter legacy of Polish-German relations.

But he found it troubling that after 1990 West Germans were more ruthless in rooting out and sacking everyone who was linked, however loosely, to the East German regime, including schoolteachers and university professors, than they had been with former Nazis half a century earlier. “There was the argument that ‘We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of postwar West Germany.’ So the mistakes of West Germany are put on the backs of East Germans. It’s hypocrisy, and pure anti-communism,” he said. “Erich Honecker [the former East German leader] was put on trial though he had been received with a red carpet in Bonn two years before the Berlin Wall came down. I’m not in favour of Honecker but it was ridiculous. A kind of belated revenge.”

Grass took up many global causes, from international debt-relief to environmental pollution. He campaigned vigorously against the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, a cause that matched that of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s opposition. But he was not anti-American, and laughingly said the only reason why he had stopped travelling to the US was because of its ferocious bans on public smoking. Grass was never without his pipe.

He was one of the few German writers who could claim to be, if not a public intellectual, at least a public citizen. True to his democratic instincts, he and his German publishers used to conduct seminars for his translators every time a new Grass book appeared. The practice started in 1977 with The Flounder and became a tradition, beloved by translators. The seminars lasted from three days to a week, and Grass took part for most of the time. He hoped writers in Germany and abroad would follow suit.

Other writers always stressed Grass’s narrative skills. Hans Christoph Buch, a novelist and regular contributor to Germany’s liberal weekly Die Zeit, said: “He’s not a great thinker like Sartre. He’s not a brilliant essayist or intellectual like Hans Magnus Enzensberger. He’s a story-teller who writes from the gut.”

The South African novelist JM Coetzee summed up Grass’s work: “He was never a great prose stylist or a pioneer of fictional form. His strengths lie elsewhere, in the acuteness of his observation of German society at all levels, his sense of the deeper currents of the national psyche, and his ethical steadiness.”

That ethical steadiness took a severe knock with Grass’s late admission of his time with the Waffen-SS, trying to resist the Red Army’s advance on Berlin. His unit was not involved in the mass murders of Jews and Poles, but he admitted he had seen the Waffen-SS as “an elite unit” after being rejected when he volunteered for submarine duty at 15. He had previously written that he was involved in anti-aircraft defence before being taken prisoner by the Americans.

The admission sparked a storm of controversy. In sorrow, many of his supporters said the issue was not his membership of the Waffen-SS but his years of silence. In a long essay in Die Zeit, Jens Jessen wrote: “If Grass had spoken of his SS past earlier, he would not have damaged the fury of his moral interventions or his accusations that Germans had not gone far enough in coming to terms with their past. On the contrary he would have strengthened them and made them more credible because of his own Nazi-period mistake. What would it have been like if, while criticising Kohl and Reagan for visiting the cemetery at Bitburg, Grass had added: ‘I could have been one of the young Waffen-SS men buried there’?”

Defenders who dug into Grass’s record discovered that Grass had not concealed his brief SS service from his US interrogators in a POW camp. His silence was literary. Grass himself put it down to a feeling of shame. “What I had 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,” he wrote. He reminded readers that his mother had suppressed her rape by Russian soldiers for similar reasons. “It was not until after she died that I learned – and then only indirectly from my sister – that to protect her daughter she had offered herself to them. There were no words.”

Perhaps he decided to make the admission before he died, knowing that historians would one day stumble on his record and it would be better for his reputation not to have suppressed it for ever. Whatever the reasons, it is doubtful that the admission changed many minds. It only highlighted postwar Germany’s tortured character, and Grass’s position as its most tortured exponent.

Günter Grass, with one of his sculptures – and his pipe.

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Günter Grass, with one of his sculptures – and his ever-present pipe. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

The fact that Germany has become a “normal” country was in large part thanks to Grass. In a conversation with me early in 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Grass wondered whether Britain should not confront its own past more honestly. “I sometimes wonder how young people grow up in Britain and know little about the long history of crimes during the colonial period. In England it’s a completely taboo subject … Look at Iraq. This conflict goes back to colonial history. Don’t forget that.”

Grass’s anti-imperialism was directed frequently at the US, initially over Vietnam and later over Central America. He visited Nicaragua in 1982 when rebels who were armed and financed by the Reagan administration were trying to topple the Sandinista government. “How impoverished must a country be before it is not a threat to the US government?” he asked sarcastically. In 2012, he published a poem, What Must Be Said, which described Israel as a threat to world peace because of its threats to bomb Iran. The poem also said the German government might become complicit in war crimes for selling Israel a submarine that could carry nuclear warheads. The Israeli government declared him non grata. Grass responded by comparing the ban on his entering Israel to his treatment by the governments of Myanmar and East Germany.

Though the excitement provoked by his views on German history and German unification continued, his private life became more serene. In 1954, he married Anna Schwarz, and they had three sons and a daughter. The marriage ended in divorce in 1978, and the following year he married Ute Grunert. This brought him two stepsons, and he also had a daughter from each of two other relationships. The voices of these eight children were featured in a second volume of memoirs,The Box: Tales from the Darkroom (2008). His third and final memoir, Grimms’ Words: A Declaration of Love (2010), took the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm as the starting point for an exploration of the political and social side of his life, noting, for instance, how the figure of Tom Thumb lay behind that of Matzerath.

In the mid-1980s he and Ute moved to the village of Behlendorf, to a remote farmhouse, about 15 miles south of the Baltic city of Lübeck, where he indulged in drawing and sculpture. It was not just a hobby; the sculptures were cast in bronze by a foundry in Munich and put on sale. He did engravings to be used as covers for some of his books. The couple spent part of the summer on a Danish island, and a few weeks in spring and autumn in their house in southern Portugal.

Ute and his children survive him.

• Günter Grass, novelist, born 16 October 1927; died 13 April 2015


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Günter Grass, German Novelist and Social Critic, Dies at 87

 

By STEPHEN KINZER, APRIL 13, 2015, The New York Times

Günter Grass in 2009. The publication in 1959 of the “The Tin Drum” propelled him to the forefront of postwar literature. CreditJens Meyer/Associated Press

Günter Grass, the German novelist, social critic and Nobel Prize winner whom many called his country’s moral conscience but who stunned Europe when he revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II, died on Monday in the northern German city of Lübeck, which had been his home for decades. He was 87.

His longtime publisher, Gerhard Steidl, told reporters that he learned late Sunday that Mr. Grass had been hospitalized after falling seriously ill very quickly. The cause of death was not announced.

Mr. Steidl said he drank his final schnapps with Mr. Grass eight days ago while they were working together on his most recent book, which he described as a “literary experiment” fusing poetry with prose. It is scheduled to be published in the summer.

“He was fully concentrated on his work until the last moment,” Mr. Steidl said.

Mr. Grass was hardly the only member of his generation who obscured the facts of his wartime life. But because he was a pre-eminent public intellectual who had pushed Germans to confront the ugly aspects of their history, his confession that he had falsified his own biography shocked readers and led some to view his life’s work in a different light.

Photo

Mr. Grass at a political rally in 1972 in Dortmund, Germany.CreditWilli Bertram/European Pressphoto Agency

Mr. Grass came under further scrutiny in 2012 after publishing a poem criticizing Israel for its hostile language toward Iran over its nuclear program. He expressed revulsion at the idea that Israel might be justified in attacking Iran over a perceived nuclear threat and said that such a prospect “endangers the already fragile world peace.”

The poem created an international controversy and prompted a personal attack from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Grass later said that he had meant to attack Israel’s government, not the country as a whole.

He was propelled to the forefront of postwar literature in 1959, with the publication of his wildly inventive masterpiece “The Tin Drum.” Critics hailed the audacious sweep of his literary imagination. A severed horse’s head swarming with hungry eels, a criminal hiding beneath a peasant woman’s layered skirts, and a child who shatters windows with his high-pitched voice are among the memorable images that made “The Tin Drum” a worldwide triumph.

In awarding Mr. Grass the Nobel Prize in 1999, the Swedish Academy praised him for embracing “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.” It described “The Tin Drum” as “one of the enduring literary works of the 20th century.”

Mr. Grass was a playwright, essayist, short-story writer, poet, sculptor and printmaker as well as a novelist, but it was as a social critic that he gained the most notoriety, campaigning for disarmament and broad social change.

By the end of the 20th century, however, his uncompromising antimilitarism and his warnings that a unified Germany might once again threaten world peace led some of his countrymen to criticize him as a pedantic moralist who had lost touch with real life.

The revelation of his Nazi past led to accusations of hypocrisy. He revealed it himself, days before a memoir, “Peeling the Onion,” was to be published. Mr. Grass had long said that he had been a “flakhelfer” during the war, one of many German youths pressed to serve in relatively innocent jobs like guarding antiaircraft batteries. But in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, he admitted that he had in fact been a member of the elite Waffen-SS, which perpetrated some of the Nazi regime’s most horrific crimes.

“It was a weight on me,” said Mr. Grass, then 78. “My silence over all these years is one of the reasons I wrote the book. It had to come out in the end.”

In the memoir, he reflected on the vagaries of conscience and memory. “What I had accepted with stupid pride of youth I wanted to conceal after the war out of a recurrent sense of shame,” he wrote. “But the burden remained, and no one could lighten it.”

Although he was conscripted into the SS in 1944, near the end of World War II, and was never accused of participating in atrocities, the fact that he had obscured this crucial part of his background for decades while flagellating his fellow Germans for cowardice set off cries of outrage.

“Moral suicide,” said the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. The playwright Rolf Hochhuth said it was “disgusting” to recall that Mr. Grass had denounced President Ronald Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl for their 1985 visit to a cemetery in Bitburg where Waffen-SS soldiers were buried, while hiding the fact that he had been in the SS himself.

Mr. Grass’s defenders argued that his social and political influence had been highly positive for postwar Germany, forcing the country to face its Nazi past and atone for it. He might not have been able to play that role, they said, if he had been forthright about his own background.

With his mane of black hair and drooping walrus mustache, bifocals slipping down his nose and smoke curling from his pipe, Mr. Grass was almost a caricature of the postwar European intellectual. His books were all but inseparable from his public persona, giving him a unique position in German public life that endured for more than half a century.

“The Tin Drum” became one of the most widely read modern European novels. It also made Mr. Grass a leading spokesman for a generation barely old enough to have recalled or participated in Nazi crimes.

The book’s hero, Oskar Matzerath, wills himself at the age of 3 to stop growing, and thereafter expresses himself only by pounding drums. He was viewed as representing a German nation so morally stunted that it could not find the courage to prevent Nazism.

An intense antinationalist, Mr. Grass viewed his country with emotions that could flare into fear and hatred. Some critics said that the purposely small and weak Oskar Matzerath symbolized what he wanted for Germany.

In the 1960s and ’70s, much of Mr. Grass’s work dealt with the German themes of disillusionment, the militaristic past and the challenges of building a post-Nazi society. His greatest successes of the period were “Cat and Mouse” (1961), about a man whose unusually large Adam’s apple forever sets him apart from the rest of humanity, and the Joycean “Dog Years” (1963), which analyzes three decades of German history and suggests that the country has not progressed much. These two novels, together with “The Tin Drum,” make up what Mr. Grass called his “Danzig Trilogy.”

While he was writing these works, Mr. Grass also campaigned and wrote speeches for Willy Brandt, who was one of West Germany’s dominant politicians from 1957, when he was elected mayor of Berlin, to 1974, when he stepped down after five years as the country’s first Social Democratic chancellor.

Mr. Grass later demonstrated against the deployment of American nuclear missiles in Germany, denounced the German arms industry, and quit the Social Democratic Party, the Berlin Academy of Arts and the Lutheran Church, which he had joined as a teenager after renouncing Roman Catholicism. He criticized both the Lutheran and the Catholic hierarchies as “moral accomplices” of Nazism.

Mr. Grass was a tireless defender of Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba and embraced Nicaragua’s left-oriented Sandinista government in the 1980s. Yet he described himself as an opponent of revolution who viewed “humane socialism” as the ideal society.

He denounced repression in Soviet-bloc countries and attacked governments run by religious fundamentalists, but his criticism was often accompanied by denunciations of Western and especially German capitalism. In opposing the first Persian Gulf war, for example, he focused his anger on his own country, accusing German companies of arming the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Once again, it is Germans who are designing and producing poison gas factories,” he said in an interview. “This is where you really see the German danger. It isn’t nationalism, and it isn’t reawakened neo-Nazis. It is simply the unchecked lust for profit.”

Many of Mr. Grass’s books are phantasmagorical mixtures of fact and fantasy, some of them inviting comparison with the Latin American style known as magical realism. His own name for this style was “broadened reality.”

“Günter Grass’s books present surprising and extremely contradictory combinations of opposites,” the Russian-German writer Lev Kopelev wrote in an essay on the occasion of Mr. Grass’s 65th birthday. “Minutely detailed presentations of real things and scientifically precise descriptions of historical events are melted together with fairy tales, legends, myths, fables, poems and wild fantasies to produce his own special poetical world.”

Mr. Grass was renowned for his wide-ranging tastes. He was an epicure who favored hearty peasant food, and his work carries the aroma of home-cooked dishes like smoked goose breast and roast pork with sauerkraut and caraway seeds, the preparation and consumption of which he described in loving detail.

His fascination with animals was reflected in book titles like “The Flounder” and “From the Diary of a Snail.” He was a jazz lover, once worked as a jazz musician, and collaborated on “O Susanna,” an illustrated book on jazz, the blues and gospel music published in 1959.

Some critics hoped Mr. Grass would produce a monumental novel encompassing all the great themes that have tormented Germany through its history, and felt betrayed when he did not. Many of his later works were met with both critical and popular indifference.

The dominant German literary critic during most of his career, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who died in 2013, called him “greatly overrated.” Mr. Reich-Ranicki once appeared on the cover of the magazine Der Spiegel ripping apart a copy of a Grass book he especially loathed, “Too Far Afield,” a 1995 novel centered on two men in their early 70s roaming Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall as they ponder Germany’s past and present.

After the wall was breached in 1989, Mr. Grass argued against German unification on the ground that a people responsible for the Holocaust had forfeited the right to live together in one nation. He suggested that East and West Germany remain separate for a time and then join a loose confederation of German-speaking states.

“Auschwitz speaks against even a right to self-determination that is enjoyed by all other peoples, because one of the preconditions for the horror, besides other, older urges, was a strong and united Germany,” he said in a 1990 speech. “We cannot get by Auschwitz. We should not even try, as great as the temptation is, because Auschwitz belongs to us, is branded into our history, and — to our benefit! — has made possible an insight that could be summarized as, ‘Now we finally know ourselves.’ ”

Günter Wilhelm Grass came of age on a continent torn by hatred. He was born in Danzig on Oct. 16, 1927, to a German father and a mother who was a Kashubian, a Slavic ethnic group with its own language and traditions. Danzig, now the Polish city of Gdansk, was then a free city under the control of the League of Nations, but its population was mostly German and loyal to the Reich. It was the first territory seized by the Nazis at the outbreak of World War II.

The author and critic Morris Dickstein wrote of the city: “One of the world’s most frequently besieged and contested cities (as Mr. Grass loves to emphasize), Danzig during the 1930s was a symbol of Germany’s lost territories and a focus of Nazi agitation. By the end of the war it was buried in rubble with all its German population driven out. It is a truism to say that except for Southerners like Faulkner, who inherited the consequences of the Civil War, American writers have a relatively undeveloped sense of history. But even among Europeans, Mr. Grass was well situated to learn how history buffets and battles local dreams and individual lives.”

Günter joined the Nazi children’s organization Jungvolk at the age of 10. Like many Germans of what came to be known as the “flakhelfer generation,” he later claimed to have done no real service to the Nazi war effort.

Among them was Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. After the war ended, Mr. Grass and the future pope were prisoners together in an Allied camp at Bad Aibling. Mr. Grass later remembered Mr. Ratzinger as “extremely Catholic” and “a little uptight,” but “a nice guy.”

After returning to civilian life, Mr. Grass was drawn to art and poetry. He joined a loose but influential circle of critical intellectuals known as Group 47. Encouraged by other members of the group, among them the writers Heinrich Böll and Uwe Johnson, he decided to abandon what some said was a promising career in sculpture and devote himself to literature.

Mr. Grass lived in Paris during the late 1950s and wrote “The Tin Drum” in a basement apartment there. It earned him worldwide acclaim, as well as accusations of blasphemy and pornography in Germany. It was also banned in Communist countries, including Poland, meaning that it could not legally be read in Gdansk, the city where it was set.

The book’s fame grew after the director Volker Schlöndorff made it into a vivid movie, which won the 1979 Academy Award for best foreign language film. None of the more than two dozen works Mr. Grass published over the next half-century approached its impact on the European consciousness.

Some critics found the increasingly apocalyptic books Mr. Grass published after the 1970s repetitive and self-righteous. Others complained that his relentless activism had overwhelmed his identity as a writer.

“Here is a novelist who has gone so public he can’t be bothered to write a novel,” John Updike wrote. “He just sends dispatches to his readers from the front line of his engagement.”

Mr. Grass’s marriage in 1954 to Anna Margareta Schwarz, a Swiss dancer, ended in divorce in 1978. He is survived by his second wife, Ute Grunert, an organist; four children from his first marriage, Laura, Bruno, Franz and Raoul; two stepsons from his second marriage, Malte and Hans; two other children, Helene and Nele; and 18 grandchildren.

After the revelations of his Nazi past, Mr. Grass found defenders among his American friends. One was the novelist John Irving, who assailed the “predictably sanctimonious dismantling” of Mr. Grass’s reputation “from the cowardly standpoint of hindsight.”

“You remain a hero to me, both as a writer and a moral compass,” Mr. Irving wrote. “Your courage, both as a writer and as a citizen of your country, is exemplary — a courage heightened, not lessened, by your most recent revelation.”

Mr. Grass described himself as “not a pessimist, but a skeptic.” He vigorously rejected the view that artists should devote themselves to creating rather than agitating. That view, he once said, leads to a self-censorship that delights “the powers of church and state.”

“Nothing is more pleasing or less threatening to them than that game of the self-satisfied artist called l’art pour l’art,” he said. “In the end, it is only about color, sound and language as ends in themselves. Nothing is called by its true name, and therefore no censorship is necessary.”

Yet he rued the many years in which he was unable to speak the full truth about himself. “The brief inscription meant for me reads: ‘I kept silent,’ ” Mr. Grass wrote in his memoir.

Why was he attracted to the SS as a teenager?

“It was the newsreels,” he concluded. “I was a pushover for the prettified black-and-white ‘truth’ they served up.”

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.

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