Should We Care About Günter Grass’s Vaguely Anti-Semitic German Poetry?

Gunter Grass

For some reason, people still care about what Günter Grass, German author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has to say about things. He wrote some novels more than fifty years ago that he somehow was able to convince people were good, even if they were just overwrought and overhyped piles of nothingness. Germany thinks of Grass as its own Philip Roth, even if he is in reality just a second-rate copy of Thomas Mann, with cookie-cutter grotesqueness instead of stiff philistine blathering.

Even worse are his late poems, which are basically all about how awesome it is that he can still get it up and bonk. (In contrast to Roth, who seems to be denied that grace.) “We licked ourselves like animals and then talked about Beethoven” surely must be one of the most disgusting things ever written about sex, in itself not a disgusting endeavour.

Grass likes to think himself as the moral conscience of post-WWII Germany. For a long time Germany seemed to agree. Then, a couple of years ago, a revelation only shocking to those unable to count came to light: Grass had been a member of the Waffen-SS as a teenager. That should have been enough to shut him up and send him into retirement, but suddenly this man of the left became very appealing to his former enemies on the right who never pass up an opportunity to celebrate a “conflicted German,” which is code for Nazi.

Grass fit right into his new role and gave an interview in which he alleged that the Red Army liquidated six Million German soldiers. The actual number was 1.1 Million, but whatever: The equation was clear, six million Jews against six million Germans.

Yesterday, Grass published a poem called “What needs to be said” in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Pais and La Repubblica. It is about Israel, Iran and the danger of a nuclear conflict, at least on the surface. Actually, it is about a cranky and dirty old German who is so sick of being constantly reminded of the Holocaust by the world and his own guilt that he constructs the possibility of another Holocaust—this time, perpetrated by the former victims—just so he can feel better and righteous once again.

Or that’s one possible interpretation. In any event, it’s a laughably bad “poem” that’s almost totally unreadable and basically appears to be an op-ed piece with line breaks. Why everybody acts all shocked that a former SS-member would have problems with Jews I don’t know.

The real crime is the huffy, smug and incredibly self-satisfied tone with which Grass talks about politics—“I have been silent for too long”, as if the world was only waiting for the opinion of this alte-kacker. (Also: Uncomfortable echoes of “When they came for me, there was nobody left to protest.”)

Anyway. At least he isn’t writing about fucking.

Excerpts from “What needs to be said” translated by Fabian Wolff:

But why do I forbid myself to
call this other county by its name,
in which for years—as a secret—
a growing nuclear potential is available
but out of control, because inaccessible
to any inquiry?

The general concealment of this fact
that my silence has subjugated itself to
is a burdensome lie to me
and a bondage, with punishment in sight
if violated;
the verdict “antisemitism” is familiar.


Why have I been silent all along?
Because I thought my origin,
tainted by an unredeemable stain,
forbids me to expect Israel,
to whom I feel connected
and want to continue to be,
to put up with this fact uttered as truth.

Why do I only now say
old and with my last ink:
The nuclear power Israel threatens
world peace, fragile as it is already?
Because it needs to be said
and it could be too late already tomorrow;
also because we—burdened enough as Germans—
could become suppliers to a crime,
that is foreseeable, which makes our complicity
unredeemable by none
of the usual excuses.

What do you think?

About The Author

Fabian Wolff

Fabian Wolff was born in East Berlin just before the wall came down and is, sadly, still living there. He writes all kinds of things and desperately tries to out-Jew Leon Wieseltier. Has some funny stories about dead animals, too.

14 Responses

  1. Goodbye Columbus

    Wow, a senile old Waffen-SS member talks about threats to world peace. He has a lot of street cred on the peacenik scene. His remarks are no different than the usual anti-semitic rants disguised as art or intellectual discourse by the ‘enlightened intelligensia’. F-him. Never again. He is upset that the Jewish people can defend themselves and fight back. This time we will not go quietly.

  2. gpskip

    Anti-semetic?! Acknowledging his past and expressing fear of nuclear warfare breaking out — sorry, that ain’t antisemitism.

  3. Goodbye Columbus

    GPSKIP, if Israel wanted to use the bomb, it would have done so already. It is only meant to deter the world from trying to destroy the Jewish people, again. Jews face an existential threat. Gunter, like you I suspect, will only be happy if Jews are in the history books. Anyone who denies our existence and ability to defend ourselves, in my mind is an anti-semite. Using the cover of ‘I want peace’ is bullshit. You want us to cower in a corner and die. Guess what, we are not going to do it. Never again.

  4. Karen Alkalay-Gut

    “At least he isn’t writing about fucking” But he is. He’s writing about fucking Israel. As if we can’t let those guys get out of control again because they’ll destroy the world. Where have we heard that argument before? Hmmm.

  5. EeeGee

    Can we please ditch the term “anti-semitic?” It only obfuscates issues that are already highly complex. If you want to say “anti-Jewish,” then say that. If you want to say “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Israel,” say that! People who hate Jews do not necessarily hate all “semites.” People who are not in support of the current Israeli government and its policies, do not necessarily hate Jews. And guess what? Jews who hate Arabs or Palestinians are–by very definition of the term “Semite” — anti-Semitic.

    What’s wrong with saying what we really mean?

  6. Gene Schulman

    Geez, I wouldn’t say Wolff is biased or anything like that. The very web site – Heeb, gives him away. His take is not only against Grass, but anything German, including Thomas Mann. I think he’s just jealous that not only can Grass still get it up, but he can also teach us the truth. Let’s face it, the Holocaust IS a bit boring these days, especially as the Zionists throw it in our faces. And the Israelis are even a bigger threat to our future than ever the nazis were. THEY’RE the ones waving the nuclear weapons, not the Iranis.

    I think the author bio of Wolff says all there needs to be said.

  7. Peter Matschke

    An old man, coming back to where he voluntarily started out more 70 years ago, Waffen-SS, brown ideas, not worth to be discussed ….

  8. Nikki

    This poem does not warrant the negative reactions he has gotten…lol and its pathetic that grass has been barred from israel(yeah i can see him wanting to go to israel real soon and bust the doors down and take every jewish person hostage lol )Natanyau is just stomping his feet and having a tempur tantrum like a little kid!…gras is not and antisemite…dare i say the zoinist regme/jews are infact the worst antisemites of all..(the fat they teach jewish children at a young age to hate (non jews)

  9. Jan

    Too many fellow Germans in the comment section here. I’ve got the impression that my fellow countrymen will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz. ;)

  10. Adrian

    Horrendous analysis from Mr. Wolff. It’s a terrible poem, and not a very good political analysis. But it’s not really anti-Semitic. As for Grass’s history in the Waffen-SS, he was conscripted, as a teenager, 70 years ago.

  11. michael roloff

    Reading Fabian Wolff’s nasty tripe I was transposed momentarily to the manner in which Der Stuermer discussed people it despised. One canard at a time; Grass was conscripted into the Waffen SS at age 17. Mr. Wolff I’m sure would have refused and been shot on the spot. How cheap to rub someone’s nose in something for which Grass in the poem he writes feels ashamed. I don’t think it is a particularly good poem myself, but reading the likes of Fabian makes me realize how Jews can be fascists too. Especially when they engage in the cheapest and most facile self-righteousness, as Fabian Wolff does here. If anyone is seriously interested in the great variety of reactions to the Grass poem, the Neo-Cons in Germany are even more upset in Germany but write far better and sharper attacks than what I have come upon here in Commentary, the New Republic and the National Interest:

  12. Bernard Mendelbaum
    Bernard Mendelbaum

    Reading Fabian Wolff’s nasty tripe I was transposed momentarily to the manner in which Der Stuermer discussed people it despised.

    No offense, Mr. Roloff, but you’re a lazy-ass motherfucker.

  13. Mike

    Noch einer von der jungen Garde die sich, wie weiland die Streber im Deutsch-Leistungskurs, an einem alten Mann abarbeiten.

    Es scheint als gäbe es eine Reihe von jungen Männern und Frauen die in die Lücke stossen möchten die -zumindest im öffentlich-rechtlichen Fernsehen- von einem Moderator hinterlassen wurde der sich ab und an eine Nase voll Schnee gönnte.
    Vielleicht heißt es ja schon bald “Vorsicht! Wolff”.


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