Have you ever done anything criminal?
Friedbert Meurer: From Brecht to another great German literary figure: Günter Grass. The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature caused a sensation over the weekend, because in his new book "Skinning the Onion" he admits for the first time that he was a member of the Waffen SS towards the end of the war, at the age of 17. In Poland, Günter Grass enjoyed and he is highly regarded. What do they now say about this admission? In Warsaw I greet the publicist Adam Krzeminski. Good afternoon, Mr. Krzeminski.
Adam Krzeminski: Good day!
Meurer: Are you disappointed with this admission?
Krzeminski: I may not be disappointed; I'm surprised. I am also surprised at the reaction of some celebrities in Poland like Lech Wałęsa. I am surprised at the staging of this revelation and at the same time I am surprised at the coincidence that Günter Grass made this unveiling one day after the opening of the Erika Steinbach exhibition and thereby also put this wave of self-pity among refugees and expellees in quotation marks . It's a shame he didn't do that while walking on crab. That is why so late. It's understandable that this wasn't done in the 1940s, 50s, 60s. With his political position and his literary achievements, Grass has proven for decades that he had freed himself from this youthful sin very quickly.
Meurer: To what extent does all of this have to do with the current debates, for example about the expellees' exhibition, which you just mentioned?
Krzeminski: It does not have anything to do with it. That just has this coincidence. That means here we have a debate about the suffering of the German expellees, which Günter Grass had started with his novella "Im Krebsgang". And here we have a revelation, yes, also one of the refugees from the east, who wanted or unintentionally started this wave of self-pity five years ago. He said we are not just the victims; we were also complicit. That's just the coincidence. Of course, you can now follow both debates in parallel and they are interwoven through the Third Reich, through German history, through German processing.
Meurer: Is Günter Grass still for you, or was he ever the prototype of the other, the good German? Is that still for you?
Krzeminski: Yes! Yes, he is, but he was also a prototype of a perfect media star. I first found out during my visit in December 1970, when Günter Grass was in Warsaw with Willy Brandt. I did an interview and I saw how unconsciously Grass positioned himself very well for the photographer during the conversation. It is in his blood to sell well.
Meurer: So this is a PR stunt to sell the book better?
Krzeminski: Yes / Yes! Something of a PR gag is the timing of this reveal, too. Nevertheless: at the Grass monument - and a few days ago I saw him in Berlin on Opernplatz, this pyramid of German intellectual greats, where the book burning took place. Grass is right at the top and of course he stays there as the top of this pyramid.
Meurer: Will he also remain an honorary citizen of Gdansk? Lech Wałęsa - you mentioned it briefly - says that he should no longer be that, he should resign from this dignity.
Krzeminski: I think that's a rash reaction. One must really not forget the achievements of Günter Grass for the dialogue between the Germans and the Poles, for normalization and reconciliation in German-Polish relations. One must not forget that he campaigned for the recognition of the Oder-Neisse border as early as the 1950s and 1960s. So he clearly has the sins of youth - and they were! - cleared out. So far we have no evidence that he really did anything criminal on the front lines. In this respect you shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath and you have to analyze German history very precisely 60 years after the war. After all, it's also an interesting coincidence. We have a German Pope who was a member of the Hitler Youth, and we have the German Nobel Prize winner who, as a youth, reported to the front for submarine weapons and then was drafted into the Waffen SS. That is the German fate and that is the German burden. Germans, but also their neighbors, have to cope with this German burden.
Meurer: That was Adam Krzeminski, the Polish publicist. Many thanks to Warsaw and goodbye!
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