Gunter Grass’s Passover surprise

The controversy-courting German author is back in the headlines today for a new poem published in several newspapers that accuses Israel of endangering world peace. Titled, "What must be said," it’s available here in German. Reuters summarizes: "Why do I say only now … that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

The controversy-courting German author is back in the headlines today for a new poem published in several newspapers that accuses Israel of endangering world peace. Titled, "What must be said," it's available here in German. Reuters summarizes:

"Why do I say only now ... that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow," Grass wrote in the poem, published in German in Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Also because we - as Germans burdened enough - may become a subcontractor to a crime that is foreseeable," he wrote, adding that Germany's Nazi past and the Holocaust were no excuse for remaining silent now about Israel's nuclear capability.

The controversy-courting German author is back in the headlines today for a new poem published in several newspapers that accuses Israel of endangering world peace. Titled, "What must be said," it’s available here in German. Reuters summarizes:

"Why do I say only now … that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow," Grass wrote in the poem, published in German in Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Also because we – as Germans burdened enough – may become a subcontractor to a crime that is foreseeable," he wrote, adding that Germany’s Nazi past and the Holocaust were no excuse for remaining silent now about Israel’s nuclear capability.

"I will not remain silent because I am weary of the West’s hypocrisy," wrote Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 for novels such as "The Tin Drum" chronicling the horrors of 20th century German history.

The poem would be controversial enough — and editorial in Die Welt called Grass "the prototype of the educated anti-Semite" and the Israeli embassy issued a statement, saying, "What must be said is that it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder."

But then, of course, there’s Grass’s background. In a 2006 autobiography, Peeling the Onion, Grass revealed for the first time that in the closing months of World War II, when he was 17, he had been drafted into the Waffen SS — the armed wing of the Nazi party responsible for many of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust. While Grass claims to have never fired a shot, many Germans were shocked at the time that the Nobel Prize-winning author, who had for years excoriated his fellow citizens into confronting the realities of the Nazi era in novels like The Tin Drum, had kept his own past secret for so long. 

The Die Welt piece, by German-Jewish journalist Henryk Broder, claims that Grass has "always had a problem with Jews." Whether or not that’s true, an ex-Nazi who hid his own war record for 60 years isn’t exactly the most credible critic of Israeli foreign policy. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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