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Lech Walesa Condemns Guenter Grass

15 August 2006 at 08:25 | 988 views

Nobel peace laureate Lech Walesa has asked German novelist Guenter Grass(photo) to give up his honorary citizenship of the Polish city of Gdansk because of his admission that he served in Hitler’s Waffen-SS during the Second World War.

Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity trade union movement and a former Polish president, joins a growing chorus of critics of Grass, a well-known pacifist and symbol of Germany’s left who captured the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.

Grass, 78, had maintained for decades that he was drafted into an anti-airgun unit, but revealed in a weekend newspaper interview that he had applied for the SS submarine corps and was later accepted to a tank division of Hitler’s elite military force.

Grass made the admission ahead of the publication of his war memoir, Peeling Onions, to be issued Sept. 1.

Nazi demands for improved trade access to Gdansk, then called Danzig, were among the pretexts for the invasion of Poland that began the Second World War.

"I don’t know if one should not consider depriving him of this title," Walesa said in the German daily Bild.

"If it had been known that he was in the SS, he would not have got the honour. The best thing would be if he would give it up himself."

Grass, who is best known for his anti-war novel, The Tin Drum, was born in Gdansk and the city features in many of his novels.

Both he and Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity trade union movement and a former Polish president, are honorary citizens of Gdansk.

Poland’s ruling party agreed with Walesa and parliamentarians said they would push the city to rescind honorary citizenship if Grass failed to give it up on his own.

"It is unacceptable for a city where the first blood was shed, where World War Two began, to have a Waffen-SS member as an honorary citizen," said Jacek Kurski, the legislative representative from Gdansk, according to Reuters.

Waffen-SS units were involved in military atrocities during the war and some played a role in rounding up Jewish citizens.

Grass has pushed Germany to come to terms with its Nazi past in his writings.

But critics, including Joachim Fest, a biographer of Hitler and prominent historian, called his long delay in admitting to his own past "inexplicable."

The admission undermines Grass’ "moral authority" as a pacifist and critic of xenophobia, critics said.

Some writers in left-wing dailies expressed their support for Grass, stressing his short service in the Waffen-SS and his admission he was swayed by the Nazi efforts to indoctrinate young people.

"Anyone who looks more closely will likely feel sympathy with an adolescent misled by Nazi propaganda whose ambition drove him into the Waffen SS," Stefan Reinecke wrote in the left-leaning taz daily.

Grass, who spent two years as a prisoner of war, said in his interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday that he had applied for the SS submarine corps at age 15 and was later accepted to a Panzer unit.

He said the secret had been weighing on his mind and was one of the reasons he wrote the memoir.