Pressure rises over Grass role in Waffen-SS

A SENIOR German politician has called for the Nobel prize-winning novelist Günter Grass to be stripped of his award following his admission that he served in the Waffen-SS towards the end of the Second World War.

Grass, who won literature's greatest prize for his monumental anti-Nazi novel The Tin Drum, admitted his service in the elite of Hitler's armies in an interview with a German newspaper.

The Waffen-SS was the armed section of Hitler's state-within-a-state, which comprised the Gestapo and the units that ran the extermination camps where six million Jews were murdered.

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Wolfgang Brnsen, the culture spokesman for the conservative CDU party, said he should give the Nobel prize back because of this "stain".

"With all honour he has left he should hand back the honours he has been given," Mr Brnsen said.

The Nobel peace laureate Lech Walesa has called on 78-year-old Grass to surrender his honorary citizenship of the Polish city of Gdansk.

Joachim Fest, a prominent chronicler of the Nazi period, said Grass's silence was "totally inexplicable".

"I do not understand how someone can elevate himself constantly for 60 years to the nation's bad conscience, precisely in Nazi questions, and only then admit that he himself was deeply involved. I don't know how he could play this double role for so long," Mr Fest was quoted as saying by the Bild newspaper.

"He is seriously damaged," he added. "To use a common saying, I wouldn't buy a used car from this person."

But some writers expressed their support - stressing Grass's short service in the Waffen-SS and his admission that he was swayed by the Nazis' sophisticated efforts to indoctrinate young people.

Grass said he had applied at 15 for the submarine service and been turned down. He was accepted by the military at 17, but when he reported for duty in Dresden in early 1945 he discovered it was with the 10th SS Panzer Division.

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"Anyone who looks closely will likely feel sympathy with an adolescent misled by Nazi propaganda," Stefan Reinecke wrote in the left-leaning Taz.

Some observers suggested the controversy would boost sales of his forthcoming book, Peeling the Onion. The memoir of his youth during the war is set for release on 1 September.

"Gnter Grass thought for a long time how he could get the most possible people to buy his new memoir," wrote Hans Zippert in Die Welt. "Then fortunately it occurred to him that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS but hadn't trumpeted it before."

Michael Wolffsohn, a military historian, wrote in an online newspaper that Grass's "moralising life's work, though not his storytelling life's work, is devalued by his persistent silence".

Milder criticism came from the vice-chancellor, Franz Mntefering, a leading member of the Social Democrats, which Grass has long supported. "It would have been good if it were earlier," he said. He still respected Grass, he added, and was glad he had not faced a similar situation in his own youth.

Grass has admitted he then looked on the Waffen-SS as an elite unit, not as something repulsive. He added in his interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he dodged training for several weeks by giving himself jaundice. He said he did not fire a shot between call-up in February 1945 and being wounded that April.

He said he had felt shame about his SS service and was disclosing it now because "it weighed on me".

It was previously known that Grass did military service and was wounded, ending up as a prisoner of US forces.

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The SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler, began as a personal bodyguard for Hitler, but grew into a sprawling organisation that carried out mass executions of Jews and opponents of the Nazis. One part of it ran concentration camps.

The combat wing, the Waffen-SS, campaigned alongside regular troops and had a reputation for fanatical fighting. Its units helped wipe out resistance by Polish Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.