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28 August 2006

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confusedponderer

IMO it's dramatised. The right in Germany, and Poland, is jubilant they finally got him. Many of them have have axes to grind, and now gleefully go for the hatchet job. So rest assured, thanks to their zeal, he will be thoroughly savaged.

In the Zeit I read the leading historian for Wehrmacht history at the German Army University explaining that and why it could well be he had been drafted, and didn't need to volunteer. The army and SS were beating up each other searching for recruits at the end of the war. In the end even the all-volunteer SS needed to re-fill their loss-depleted ranks, and quietly ended up drafting.

That however, is beside the point, as he volunteered for serving on a U-Boat two years before, and was turned down due to age. He must have been a nazi at that age, but what does that say. A child's a child, and when exposed to teachers, Wochenschau, NS radio and Hitlerjugend leaders selling national socialism as the only true glory, what can one expect.

Btw, I dislike Grass. Don't like his books too.

b

Grass was seventeen when this happened.

I did smoke quite a bit of Lebanese red and once a while some Afghan black when I was at that age. Add our personal sins here ...

Grass has been and is a great voice against and mirror for the German and other societies on the path of authoritarian rule.

His mistakes or whatever do not deminish that role.

John Howley

Restarting German culture after its plunge into the moral sewer of Naziism was profoundly difficult. Grass made an important contribution to that.
That said, he is clearly guilty of rank opportunism: He would never have been awarded the Nobel Prize if this SS connection were known.

Possibly also hypocrisy: Grass led the charge against Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery where remains of Waffen-SS soldiers are interred.

Interview with Grass in Speigel On-line:
http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,432594,00.html

mark safranski

I share your doubts.

The Waffen-SS was indeed restricted by Hitler from accessing prime conscripted German manpower for most of the war ( I believe these restrictions were relaxed somewhat after the 1944 bomb plot -I'm shaky on the specifics). On the other hand, Hiimmler had a free hand with ethnic German minorities in Eastern Europe, Alsace-Lorraine and with other non-German "teutonic" nationalities like the Dutch.

It is not completely inconceivable that Grass could have been "conscripted" into the Waffen-SS in 1945 but I find the idea that he might have been eligible for conscription but joined the elite Waffen-SS more likely.

Walrus

Well he has "confessed", and he claims he was drafted.

I would imagine, Germans being so thorough about records) that documentary proof will be available.

Seventeen year olds do dumb things. There is a guy a few streets from me called Jack Thomas (Jihad Jack) that has just been released from prison on appeal for allegedly training with Al Qaeeda. According to a friend who knows him, he was a wild child as well.

My view is to give Grass the slack to explain in more detail.

Green Zone Cafe

I think he gets a pass, or at least forgiveness. What opportunity did he have to have conscious politics, a choice of political belief? He was 17, and had grown up in Nazi Germany since he was 6 (1933, when Hitler took power). He's a teenager, judgment not developed and shaped by years of Nazi propaganda in schools and everywhere else, it's November 1944 and the enemy is on the borders.

This is different from Waldheim, who was old enough to know better, and who actually might have participated in bad things.

This online exerpt from the "Waffen SS Encyclopedia," says there was Waffen SS conscription: http://www.aberjonapress.com/catalog/wss/excerpt.html

W. Patrick Lang

All

Actually, I salute him for "coming clean."

Interesting contrast between the Heer and these guys.

I understand that in standing up the Bundeswehr, the Heer crowd managed to exclude Waffen SS people above a certain rank. So instead the SS made their own army in the Bundesgrenzshutz? Spelling? True? pl

W. Patrick Lang

All

Oh, yes, I don't "buy" the "elite" part.

Legends in their own minds. pl

John O'Dwyer

Regarding your post on Gunter Grass:

Better start checking up on the Pope then, and while you're at it, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwartzkopf too. No German who lived through that era can be free of its terrible taint.

When I was a student at Manchester (UK) University in the early 1970s, the warden of our residential accommodation was a former member of the Hitler Youth (like the Pope). When I hung out with a rock band in Spain a couple of years later, our lead guitarist's father was a former member of the SS Blue Division (Spanish supporters of General Franco who, as you correctly note, were recruited to the Nazi cause by virtue of its being at war with the Soviet Union).

My background is Irish. Several of my uncles were in the IRA during the Irish war of independence and its subsequent civil war.

Scratch us Europeans just a little bit and you'll find out all manner of skeletons in our family closets.

Finally - and it's a point many people have been making recently - it's not what Gunter Grass did when he was a teenager that makes him the giant man he is today -it's what he learned from that experience and became as a result of it.

John O'Dwyer

W. Patrick Lang

John O'Dwyer

Ah, if you thought I was judging him, I was not. pl

Michael

News about the Pope's stint with the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XVI>Hitler Youth and Luftwaffenhelfer didn't seem to be met with much discussion - which surprised me.. so who knows what will happen with Grass.

W. Patrick Lang

Michael

Somehow I don't think that Benedict's service in a Luftwaffe flak unit and membership in an organization condemned as criminal are equivalent. pl

MarcLord

There is still something odd here. Grass may well have been subjected to much peer and formal recruiting pressure, as any able-bodied 17 year old must have been in 1944 Danzig. But a draft? Danzig was a "free city," its residents predominantly ethnic Germans, so technically it was a foreign country yet it enjoyed status as German-speaking. So it should've been hard for the SS to hold drafts there or otherwise press-gang children.

As for coming clean, it would've been a hard thing to do anytime soon after the war. I knew a man in Germany, Ivan Snowa, originally from the Ukraine who had volunteered into the SS. At the end of the war he couldn't go back to his country yet couldn't stay in Germany as a war criminal, so he went into the French Foreign Legion and fought for ten more years in Indo-China.

Maybe I'll go over to the axis history forum and ask about drafting in Danzig...

MarcLord

There is still something odd here. Grass may well have been subjected to much peer and formal recruiting pressure, as any able-bodied 17 year old must have been in 1944 Danzig. But a draft? Danzig was a "free city," its residents predominantly ethnic Germans, so technically it was a foreign country yet it enjoyed status as German-speaking. So it should've been hard for the SS to hold drafts there or otherwise press-gang children.

As for coming clean, it would've been a hard thing to do anytime soon after the war. I knew a man in Germany, Ivan Snowa, originally from the Ukraine who had volunteered into the SS. At the end of the war he couldn't go back to his country yet couldn't stay in Germany as a war criminal, so he went into the French Foreign Legion and fought for ten more years in Indo-China.

Maybe I'll go over to the axis history forum and ask about drafting in Danzig...

confusedponderer

PL,
as for Benedict, a good point well made.

It is correct that the Bundeswehr didn't allow former SS officers in. The Bundesgrenzschutz, the federal border guard, was originally a paramilitary formation in it's own right, set up 5 years before the Bundeswehr was conceived. They were securing the borders to communist Europe.

At its foundation the Bundeswehr took over about 9.500 of the 17.000 border guards. Guess they left the SS veterans there.

Interesting bit about 'coming clean'. I think it's the puzzling thing about him - that he helped work up nazi past, and was a part of it, and kept quiet for so long. But then, he did what he did and he had some good effect after the war. That's what counts. He's still annoying, but you can't have it all.

James McKenzie-Smith

Attn. Mr. O'Dwyer

Dear Sir,

The Blue Division was a part of the Heer, although several thousand Spaniards did end up in the Waffen SS.

Best regards,

James McKenzie-Smith

John Shreffler

Apparently, according to the German U.S. Embassy, most SS recruits were conscripted by that stage of the war:

"Grass’s case was also not so unusual. While the Waffen SS was founded as an elite organization whose members were selected for their “racial purity” and loyalty to Hitler, by 1944 SS leader Heinrich Himmler had ordered all volunteers to be drafted, regardless of their suitability for service. Historian Bernd Wagner notes that forced conscription into the SS became normal by 1942. Ninety-five thousand, or 17.3 percent of all the military recruits born in 1928 (many of whom, like Grass, would not have reached their 18th year by the war’s end) were drafted into the SS this way."

http://www.germany.info/relaunch/info/publications/week/2006/060818/headlines1.html

Not too astonishing as Himmler had planned to do away with the Heer post war. Can't really fault Grass--I'd be ashamed too. The whole country had PTSD for years postwar.

chimneyswift

Pat Lang,

Yes, but the Pope is granted official moral authority in his office AND had been in charge of the official "guardians of doctrine" (or whatever) segment of the church.

That of course is the descendent organization of the Inquisition, and it highlights a very authoritarian aspect of a man who was a part of the Hitler youth. Odd combo for a Pope, esp. when the Pope during the war years is now known to have been somewhat a collaborator.

Grass, on the other hand, has no official moral authority, and furthermore has demonstrrated a clear commitment and effectiveness regarding pluralism and liberal society.

Regardless, I would expect the typical double standard to apply: The pope, being conservative, needs to have his dignity respected, while Grass, on the left, is exposed of having questionable integrity.

Sorry so long, etc.
swift

Angie

Re: Benedict's Flak and Grass's Walffles.

Don't quite see sainthood for either of them.

Very Strange Thread.

Pete Deer

Sir;
Regarding the comrade's comment above; "I did smoke quite a bit of Lebanese red and once a while some Afghan black when I was at that age. Add our personal sins here ...

Grass has been and is a great voice against and mirror for the German and other societies on the path of authoritarian rule. "

Alas, truth be known, I certainly have had my share of illicit substances over the years, (despite the pleading of Nancy Reagan telling me to "Just say No!" some years back). But never, did I ever, get the urge to become muscle for the Third Riesch. I guess what I am trying to say here is that while smoking dope can be explained away (rationally, I think) as a "Youthful Transgression."
Joining the muscle branch of the NSDAP, after failing to volunteer for U-boat duty, shows a zeal for the cause that goes well beyond hagging out in the basement of my folk's house, doing bong hits while listening to The Velvet Underground.
By the way, was he the cat (dude, man, person, object) who wrote "The Tin Drum?" I never read the book, but the movie gave me a headache.

Colonel, this is a great blog! I greatly appreciate the effort you put into it.

Your most humble servant,
Subkommander Dred

sonic

Grass claims he was drafted

http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,432189,00.html

Given the situation at the time if he refused it would have been a short walk to the nearest lampost.

morkfrombrooklyn

Danzig was no longer a "free city" under the Nazis. The main excuse given for invading Poland was to reagin these territories.

Also, near the wars end, Hitler did allow conscritopn into the SS, so I think Mr Grass confession sounds fine to me.

Let's not forget, he was 17. I was an within an inch of joining the Nation of Islam at 17. We all do and think some stupid things when we are that young.

McGee

Pat,

Coming to this post late but I'll add my two pfennigs anyway. Grass's Birthyear (1927) was called up in 1943, and the Waffen SS did start taking conscripts that same year (February 1943 if I remember correctly). So his story is certainly possible and I've seen nothing in the German press up til now to refute it. A lot of hand-wringing but no real questioning of the facts.

BTW, The Tin Drum is an incredibly powerful read in its original German - even more so than in English. Stopped me in my tracks for quite a while in the 60's. And it had a huge and very positive effect on a whole generation of German and European youth. So though I too am troubled by this news am still a huge fan of his writing....

Eric Dönges

The moral arrogance of some posters here really angers me. Do you really expect us to believe that if you had been a German teenager in 1944, bombarded by Nazi propaganda since 1933 (or probably more like 1939 in the case of Günther Grass), with your country involved in a total war (look at pictures of Europe during WWII for what total war means), you wouldn't have volunteered to help defend the fatherland ? You would either have to be mature way beyond your age, or the type of self-absorbed coward any society is better off without.

As for me, I know I would have volunteered for, and been thrilled to be accepted into the Waffen SS if a had been 17 in 1944. The fact that I wouldn't dream of "being muscle for the 3rd Reich" today is not because I am somehow morally superior to previous generations, but because I had the good fortune of growing up in post WWII, democratic (West) Germany.

Mo

b,
"I did smoke quite a bit of Lebanese red and once a while some Afghan black when I was at that age"

Notice a pattern? Perhaps, after all, it isn't oil Bush and Cheney are after? How good is Iraqi Gold anyway?

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