Ever since The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass has been the self-styled scourge of the German conscience, the one urging his countrymen to face up to the horrible realities of their Nazi past, to acknowledge the sick soul of a country that led millions to their deaths. He didn't stop with Germany, of course -- the past was something all countries had to face. Some 20 years ago he lectured at some PEN get-together on America's treatment of Native Americans.
Alas, it now turns out, the old boy hasn't exactly been shooting straight with his audience for the last, oh, half-century or so, as Grass has only just now decided to let the world know that he was a member of the Waffen SS, Himmler's million-strong killing squad which began by killing people the old-fashioned way -- machine-gunning helpless Jewish families into open graves -- before Zyklon-B arrived to make things more efficient. What Grass's role was in all this I cannot say, but what kind of person is it that carries this kind of enormous hypocritical burden with him all these decades? It makes you wonder if all this time he's been talking about himself when he claimed to be talking about Germany -- if he, as well as Germany, had to face up to the terrors of the past.
The final words of The Tin Drum come soaring to mind:
Always somewhere behind me, the Black Witch.
Now ahead of me, too, facing me, Black.
Black words, black coat, black money.
But if children sing, they sing no longer:
Where‘s the Witch, black as pitch?
Here‘s the black, wicked Witch.
Ha! ha! ha!