Günter Grass’s revelations about his Nazi past will end the temptation to take his political pronouncements seriously—which is no bad thing
Beim Häuten der Zwiebel by Günter Grass
To most people outside Germany, Günter Grass is just a writer. In Germany, however, he has always been something more. Since revealing this August that, as a 17 year old, he was a member of the Waffen-SS, Grass has regularly been described as Germany’s “moral conscience.” Yet even that description does not quite convey his precise role in postwar Germany or explain the wider significance of the revelation, made—cynically, his critics say—ahead of the publication of his memoir, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion, to be published in Britain next September).
Born in 1927, Grass was a Flakhelfer—one of the boys who went through the Hitler Youth and who were drafted into service operating anti-aircraft batteries at the end of the second world war. His generation experienced the Nazi period but were too young to be tainted by guilt.