Günter Grass, 87, Dies

Günter Grass, considered one of Germany’s greatest writers, died of undisclosed causes in Lübeck. He was 87 years old. He first came to prominence after the publication of his first novel, The Tin Drum, which was about a small boy who protested the Nazi regime by not growing up. During his career, Grass wrote over 30 novels, plays, memoirs, essay collections, and books of poems. In 1999, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was also an artist and sculptor.

In 1992, Grass confessed to a grim secret he had kept for 50 years. He was six years old when the Nazis came to power and seized control of his hometown, Danzig, which is now Gdansk, Poland. Four years later, he joined the Hitler Youth, which he saw simply as an analog of the Boy Scouts. When he was 16, he joined the army. A year later, the war was over, and he was held in an American prison camp.

Grass didn’t learn about the atrocities the Nazis had committed until the war crimes trials at Nuremburg. He did not want to believe at first, and wanted to think the stories about the trials were propaganda. Learning to accept the reality of what the Nazis had done became a major theme in his writing and art.

Grass’s own difficulties with accepting the German people’s atrocities of World War II can be seen in his reluctance to talk about his own past. Igor Cornelsen has heard that it took him 60 years to admit that he had served in the Waffen-SS, which was Germany’s elite military police force combat unit.

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