Storm Continues After German Writer’s Poem Against Israel
By NICHOLAS KULISH and ETHAN BRONNER
Published: April 6, 2012
Günter Grass, Germany’s most famous living writer, tried Friday to quell the growing controversy over a poem critical of Israel that he published this week, saying that he did not mean to attack the country wholesale but only the policies of the current government. However, three days of worldwide debate, including a stinging personal rebuke from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, show no sign of subsiding.
The nine-stanza, 69-line poem, “What Must Be Said,” appeared Wednesday on the front of the culture section of the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Mixing lyrical turns of phrase with discussions of the need for international supervision of both Israel’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, it bluntly called Israel a threat to world peace for its warnings that it might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. By supplying weapons to Israel, including submarines, Germany risked being complicit in “a foreseeable crime,” Mr. Grass wrote. “Why do I say only now, aged and with my last drop of ink, that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace?” his poem asks. “Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow.” In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published Friday, Mr. Grass said he did not mean to attack Israel, but Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. “I should have also brought that into the poem,” he said.
Several leading publications reacted to the poem by calling Mr. Grass an anti-Semite, while others dismissed it as nonsense. Israel reacted with widespread condemnation and fury. Mr. Netanyahu issued a statement on Thursday calling Mr. Grass’s comparison of Israel and Iran “shameful,” saying that it said more about Mr. Grass than about Israel. “It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation.”
Long a self-proclaimed conscience of the German nation, urging Germans to confront the Nazi past, Mr. Grass was branded a hypocrite after he revealed in 2006 for the first time that he served in the Waffen-SS at the end of World War II, when he was 17. Referring to that admission, Mr. Netanyahu said it was “perhaps not surprising” that Mr. Grass “cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself.” Germany’s strong support for Israel in its foreign policy is just one way that the country has tried to make up for the crimes of the Holocaust. But the lessons of World War II also made many Germans strongly pacifist and thus uncomfortable with the hawkish tone and threatening language emanating from Mr. Netanyahu’s government.
“He’s focusing the fears of Germans now around Israel as a danger,” Gary Smith, executive director at the American Academy in Berlin, said of Mr. Grass. “I’m afraid this could be a turning point in the way part of the German public speaks about Israel.” Writing on the popular news Web site Spiegel Online, Jakob Augstein, the publisher of the weekly magazine Der Freitag, said that it was neither a great poem nor brilliant political analysis, but that “one should thank Grass” for starting the debate about the threat Israel poses to peace.
Others said that it was not a coincidence that Mr. Grass so often found himself at the center of controversy, but that controversy was instead his goal in the first place. “He wrote this poem knowing from the way he wrote it that there would be condemnation,” said Frank Schirrmacher, co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who was interviewing Mr. Grass when he made his revelation about the Waffen-SS membership. “He needs the condemnation to move on to the next step, which is to say that it is impossible in Germany to criticize Israel.” Mr. Grass, the author of plays and essays as well as novels and poems, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. He admitted that he was a member of the Hitler Youth as a boy and believed at the time in the group’s aims, but long claimed that he was drafted into an antiaircraft unit, never mentioning the Waffen-SS until he was 78.
In the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer, a weekly columnist, devoted his Friday essay to Mr. Grass under the headline “The Moral Blindness of Günter Grass.” “Logic and reason are useless when a highly intelligent man, a Nobel laureate no less, does not understand that his membership in an organization that planned and carried out the wholesale genocide of millions of Jews disqualified him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began,” Mr. Pfeffer wrote. He added, “Having served in the organization that tried, with a fair amount of success, to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth he should keep his views to himself when it comes to the Jews’ doomsday weapon.”
Nicholas Kulish reported from Berlin, and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.
Grass’ Gedicht im Wortlaut Was gesagt werden muss
Das Gedicht von Günter Grass
Günter Grass warnt in der “Süddeutschen Zeitung” vor einem Krieg gegen Iran. In seinem Gedicht mit dem Titel “Was gesagt werden muss” fordert der Literaturnobelpreisträger deshalb, Israel dürfe keine deutschen U-Boote mehr bekommen.
Warum schweige ich, verschweige zu lange,
was offensichtlich ist und in Planspielen
geübt wurde, an deren Ende als Überlebende
wir allenfalls Fußnoten sind.
Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag,
der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte
und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte
iranische Volk auslöschen könnte,
weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau
einer Atombombe vermutet wird.
Doch warum untersage ich mir,
jenes andere Land beim Namen zu nennen,
in dem seit Jahren – wenn auch geheimgehalten –
ein wachsend nukleares Potential verfügbar
aber außer Kontrolle, weil keiner Prüfung
Das allgemeine Verschweigen dieses Tatbestandes,
dem sich mein Schweigen untergeordnet hat,
empfinde ich als belastende Lüge
und Zwang, der Strafe in Aussicht stellt,
sobald er mißachtet wird;
das Verdikt “Antisemitismus” ist geläufig.
Jetzt aber, weil aus meinem Land,
das von ureigenen Verbrechen,
die ohne Vergleich sind,
Mal um Mal eingeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird,
wiederum und rein geschäftsmäßig, wenn auch
mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert,
ein weiteres U-Boot nach Israel
geliefert werden soll, dessen Spezialität
darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengköpfe
dorthin lenken zu können, wo die Existenz
einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist,
doch als Befürchtung von Beweiskraft sein will,
sage ich, was gesagt werden muß.
Warum aber schwieg ich bislang?
Weil ich meinte, meine Herkunft,
die von nie zu tilgendem Makel behaftet ist,
verbiete, diese Tatsache als ausgesprochene Wahrheit
dem Land Israel, dem ich verbunden bin
und bleiben will, zuzumuten.
Warum sage ich jetzt erst,
gealtert und mit letzter Tinte:
Die Atommacht Israel gefährdet
den ohnehin brüchigen Weltfrieden?
Weil gesagt werden muß,
was schon morgen zu spät sein könnte;
auch weil wir – als Deutsche belastet genug –
Zulieferer eines Verbrechens werden könnten,
das voraussehbar ist, weshalb unsere Mitschuld
durch keine der üblichen Ausreden
zu tilgen wäre.
Und zugegeben: ich schweige nicht mehr,
weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens
überdrüssig bin; zudem ist zu hoffen,
es mögen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien,
den Verursacher der erkennbaren Gefahr
zum Verzicht auf Gewalt auffordern und
gleichfalls darauf bestehen,
daß eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle
des israelischen atomaren Potentials
und der iranischen Atomanlagen
durch eine internationale Instanz
von den Regierungen beider Länder zugelassen wird.
Nur so ist allen, den Israelis und Palästinensern,
mehr noch, allen Menschen, die in dieser
vom Wahn okkupierten Region
dicht bei dicht verfeindet leben
und letztlich auch uns zu helfen.
Translation of controversial Guenter Grass poem ‘What Must Be Said’
Here is an unofficial translation of Guenter Grass’ poem, “What Must Be Said.”
By Associated Press
Published: April 8
Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What is obvious and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.
It is the alleged right to the first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people—
Subjugated by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation—
Because in their sphere of power,
It is suspected, a nuclear bomb is being built.
Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because not accessible to inspections?
The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as an incriminating lie
And coercion–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.
Now, though, because in my country
Which time and again has sought and confronted
Its very own crimes
That is without comparison
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But fear wishes to be of conclusive evidence
I say what must be said.
But why have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Forbade this fact as pronounced truth
To be told to the nation of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound.
Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
The nuclear power Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could become suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.
And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the West’s hypocrisy;
In addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
Appeal to the perpetrator of the recognizable danger
To renounce violence and
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.
Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.
Israel bans author Guenter Grass
Foreign minister calls Nobel laureate an anti-Semite
The Associated Press
Posted: Apr 9, 2012 12:30 AM ET
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2012 2:07 AM ET
Israel declared Guenter Grass persona non grata on Sunday, deepening a spat with the Nobel-winning author over a poem that deeply criticized the Jewish state and suggested it was as much a danger as Iran. The dispute with Grass, who late in life admitted to a Nazi past, has drawn new attention to strains in Germany’s complicated relationship with Israel — and also focused unwelcome light on Israel’s own secretive nuclear program. In a poem called What Must Be Said published last Wednesday, Grass, 84, criticized 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. The poem has touched a raw nerve in Israel, where officials have rejected any moral equivalence with Iran and been quick to note that Grass admitted only in a 2006 autobiography that he was drafted into the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary organization at age 17 in the final months of the Second World War. Grass’s subsequent clarification that his criticism was directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not the country as a whole, did little to calm the outcry.
Accused of anti-Semitism
On Sunday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that Grass would be barred from Israel, citing an Israeli law that allows him to prevent entry to ex-Nazis. But Yishai made clear the decision was related more to the recent poem than Grass’s actions nearly 70 years ago, when he was involuntarily conscripted into the German war apparatus. “If Guenter wants to spread his twisted and lying works, I suggest he does this from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience,” Yishai said. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Grass of anti-Semitism.
The uproar has touched upon some of the most sensitive issues in modern-day Israel: the Holocaust, Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and Israel’s own illicit nuclear program that is widely believed to have produced an arsenal of bombs. It also has unleashed a debate in Germany, where criticism of Israel is largely muffled because of the country’s Nazi past. Grass’s most famous book, The Tin Drum, is about the rise of the Nazis and the Second World War as told through the lives of ordinary people. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999. According to a biography from his museum in Germany, Grass has been in Israel at least once, notably accompanying Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1973 on the first official state visit of a German chancellor to Israel.