Thursday 27 October 2016

Tributes as Nobel-winning author with Nazi past Grass dies at age of 87


Guenter Grass, the Nobel-winning German writer who gave voice to the generation that came of age during the horrors of the Nazi era but later ran into controversy over his own World War II past and stance toward Israel, has died. He was 87.

Matthias Wegener, spokesman for the Steidl publishing house, confirmed that Grass died yesterday morning in a Luebeck hospital.

Grass was lauded by Germans for helping to revive their culture in the aftermath of World War II, and giving voice and support to democratic discourse in the postwar nation.

"His literary legacy will stand next to that of Goethe," German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said in a statement following the news of his death.

Yet Grass provoked the ire of many in 2006 when he revealed in his memoir Skinning the Onion that, as a teenager, he served in the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of Adolf Hitler's notorious paramilitary organization.


In 2012, Grass also drew sharp criticism and was declared persona non grata by Israel after publishing a prose poem, What Must Be Said, in which he criticised what he described as Western hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear program and labelled the country a threat to "already fragile world peace" over its belligerent stance on Iran.

A trained sculptor, Grass made his literary reputation with The Tin Drum, published in 1959. It was followed by Cat and Mouse and Dog Years, which made up the Danzig Trilogy - after the town of his birth, now the Polish city of Gdansk.

Combining naturalistic detail with fantastical images, the trilogy captured the German reaction to the rise of Nazism, the horrors of war and the guilt that lingered after Hitler's defeat.

Three decades after The Tin Drum's release, in 1999, the Swedish Academy honoured Grass with the Nobel Prize for literature, praising him for setting out to revive German literature after the Nazi era.

"His novels, stories and poems reflect the great hopes and mistakes, the fears and desires of entire generations," said German President Joachim Gauck, calling his work "an impressive mirror of our country".

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