Gunter Grass, the left-wing poet, playwright and author of The Tin Drum and Dog Years, has died in Germany at the age of 87.
In 1999, the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature but his reputation was damaged seven years later when he confessed that he had volunteered for military service and served in Hitler’s SS during the Second World War. The fact that he had kept this quiet for six decades prompted calls for him to return his Nobel Prize.
Historian Joachim Fest had this to say about about Grass’s disclosure:
“After 60 years, this confession comes a bit too late,” he told the German weekly Der Spiegel. “I can’t understand how someone who for decades set himself up as a moral authority, a rather smug one, could pull this off.”
More controversy followed when, in 2012, he published an anti-Semitic poem called “What Must Be Said,” in which he accused Israel of being a threat to world peace and conspiring to annihilate Iran. Instead of engaging with the complex debate over whether Israel had the right to defend itself against a country that repeatedly calls for Israel’s destruction, Grass singled out the Jewish state for criticism and made no reference to Iran’s genocidal intentions. The poem also stated that Israel intended to annihilate the Iranian people – a gross error, as any attack on Iran would have been on nuclear facilities and not the entire populace.
The fact that Gunter published the poem just before Passover eerily recalled the ancient European Christian tradition of accusing Jews of ritual murder just before the annual Jewish festival.
In response, Israel declared banned Grass from entering the country.