Grass admission stirs debate in Poland

Guenter Grass, photo: CTK

Debate about Guenter Grass, the German Nobel Prize laureate in literature, has been raging across Europe - after his recent admission that he was recruited into the Waffen SS just near the end of World War 2. And outside of Germany, nowhere is the debate more intense than in Poland. Guenter Grass was born in the port city of Gdansk and has been awarded honorary citizenship of Gdansk. Now politicians from Poland's governing Law and Justice party have called on the writer to give up that honour. Slawek Szefs reports.

Guenter Grass, photo: CTK
The news has evoked some strong reactions among Polish quarters for whom the Gdansk born writer has for decades been a moral authority. One of the most sonorous Law and Justice (PiS) politicians MP Jacek Kurski has publicly appealed to Guenter Grass to give up his honorary citizenship of the city.

"It is unacceptable that Gdansk, which had been the first city to sacrifice the blood of its people in the Second World War, have as its honorary citizen a member of the Waffen SS."

MP Kurski has urged Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz to use diplomatic persuasion for the German writer to take such a decision. But the Gdansk official has presented an entirely different point of view on the matter.

"This is an attempt to play a political card at the expense of the Nobel literary prize laureate in an internal Polish game. Politicians are the least qualified to pass judgment on a writer's life."

Mayor Adamowicz added that neither the Gdansk authorities intend to take away the citizenship from Mr. Grass, nor does the city's prestigious university consider any such move with regard to the honorary doctorate bestowed on the German writer.

Do the latest facts concerning the wartime biography of Guenter Grass put to doubt the sincerity of his views and his status as a moral authority? Oskar Chomicki from the Poland in Europe Foundation says the author's decades long silence on the uncomfortable events may give ground to such impressions.

"The fact that he kept all that information hidden for over sixty years is indicative of the severity of the case. Otherwise, he would have revealed it much earlier."

Professor Andrzej Sakson from the Western Institute in Poznan looks at the problem in a wider historical context.

"The case of Guenter Grass and numerous others would testify to the fact that the Nazi regime of the time enjoyed considerable support of German society. This was very evident among German youth, which similarly to Grass, had been overwhelmed by the victories of the Thousand Year Old Reich, especially around 1942. This proves wrong the often repeated thesis that Hitler's ideology had been enforced on the German people."

Oskar Chomicki sees the case of Guenter Grass' admittance to wartime moral wrong as a pretext for some Polish politicians to add fresh items to the latest controversies in relations with German partners.

"Those who want to exploit the national anti-German feelings would like to see him in a position of an accused person, guilty of some crimes which he did not commit. From this point of view, politically speaking, this is not good and it speaks very poorly of the future relations between Poland and Germany. Especially as it comes on the top of other issues raised by Polish politicians in power, who have demonstratively shown they do not really rely on good Polish-German relations."

On Wednesday the Polish foreign minister's former plenipotentiary for Polish-German affairs, Professor Irena Lipowicz, petitioned the media to refrain from simplifications creating unnecessary tension among both nations. In her opinion, many reports and commentaries do not reflect all the subtleties of events presenting audiences and readers with their over simplified version.