Alison Flood’s piece in the Guardian, ‘Gunter Grass poem praises Mordechai Vanunu‘, Oct. 1, begins thus:
“Germany‘s Nobel literature laureate Günter Grass, who earlier this year was barred from Israel for criticising its nuclear policy, has written a poem praising the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.”
Actually, Grass was declared ‘persona non-grata’ in Israel specifically because he’s a former member of the Nazi Waffen SS who wrote a poem suggesting Israel was contemplating a nuclear strike to annihilate the Iranian people, and represents a threat to world peace.
Here’s the poem, written by the “liberal” German poet, and Nobel Laureate:
What must be said
Why have I kept silent, held back so long,
on something openly practiced in
war games, at the end of which those of us
who survive will at best be footnotes?
It’s the alleged right to a first strike
that could destroy an Iranian people
subjugated by a loudmouth
and gathered in organized rallies,
because an atom bomb may be being
developed within his arc of power.
Yet why do I hesitate to name
that other land in which
for years—although kept secret—
a growing nuclear power has existed
beyond supervision or verification,
subject to no inspection of any kind?
This general silence on the facts,
before which my own silence has bowed,
seems to me a troubling lie, and compels
me toward a likely punishment
the moment it’s flouted:
the verdict “Anti-semitism” falls easily.
But now that my own country,
brought in time after time
for questioning about its own crimes,
profound and beyond compare,
is said to be the departure point,
(on what is merely business,
though easily declared an act of reparation)
for yet another submarine equipped
to transport nuclear warheads
to Israel, where not a single atom bomb
has yet been proved to exist, with fear alone
the only evidence, I’ll say what must be said.
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel’s atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because—burdend enough as Germans—
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
will not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger
we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
No other course offers help
to Israelis and Palestinians alike,
to all those living side by side in emnity
in this region occupied by illusions,
and ultimately, to all of us.
Grass’s attempt at political lyricism is nearly farcical, conveying the following:
- The Holocaust denying Iranian President who seeks the end of the Jewish state – representative of a regime which has provided religious and moral justification for genocide against Israel, a fatwa on the lives of millions of Jews – is merely an annoying “loudmouth”.
- The classic antisemitic victimological conceit: that criticism of Jews will bring unfair “punishment” over false claims of antisemitism, and that such critiques of every conceivable sin, real and imagined, of the Jewish state are brave and, yes, rare. Grass is “breaking the silence”!
- The pure fiction that Israel is considering a nuclear strike against Iran. (Anyone following the issue would surely know that the only thing Israel is contemplating is a conventional attack specifically targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities).
- It is only Israel’s atomic power which “endangers an already fragile world peace”. (There are at least nine nations with nuclear weapons, yet Grass’s poem is strangely concerned with the nuclear capabilities of just one of those countries.)
Further, as SPIEGEL ONLINE columnist Jan Fleischhauer wrote, on both the poem and the author’s likely motivation:
“One needs a fair bit of fantasy to portray Iran as the victim of Israeli extermination plans, but such a spin follows a tortured logic. If the Jews are the real aggressors, then one’s own guilt isn’t as great. This moral shift grants one a clear conscience to provide moral instruction to others.”
Near the end of her story, the Guardian columnist decided to finally note Grass’s background:
“Grass, who won the Nobel in 1999, served as a teenager in the Waffen SS during the second world war, a fact he revealed in 2006.”
In fact, Grass revealed his Waffen SS service more than sixty years after WWII, and after continually falsely claiming, throughout his career, that he was conscripted into a German air defense unit late in the war. Grass, Germany’s post-war “moral authority“, who had spent a lifetime urging Germans to face up to their Nazi past, himself had kept silent for decades about his own SS service.
While the issue of responsibility for the generations of Germans born after the Holocaust is certainly a complex one, those living in the modern, democratic German state certainly bear much less of a moral burden than those Germans who directly participated in the Nazi killing machine and their willing accomplices.
While Grass is, of course, free to say and write what he wishes, it seems reasonable to expect that former Nazis consider showing a bit of humility – even an ounce of shame – the next time they consider waxing poetical on the sins of Israel, or lecturing Jews on their dangerous lack of morality.