Guenther Grass, the German novelist and Nobel prize-winner, has been oh-so-very-keen to moralize all his life. Everyone must tell the truth, that is his message, and Germans especially must tell the truth because for ever their country will be associated with Auschwitz. Truth-telling for him meant criticizing the United States at every opportunity, defending the Soviet Union as far as possible, and pointing an accusing finger at fellow Germans for covering up their Hitlerite past.
To be sure, The Tin Drum — the novel that won him the Nobel Prize — always looked more like a cover-up of Nazism than a critique of it. Its line is that Hitler was an evil magician who cast a spell over helpless Germans. In simple reality, Hitler was a politician who told the Germans exactly what they wanted to hear, and they voted him into power, and then fought for him to the bitter end. Germans believed that they were making a rational choice in backing Hitler, and to ascribe the compact they made with him to magic is to apologize for it.
And now it emerges that our oh-so-moral Grass was a member of the SS, a fact that he has been carefully concealing since 1945. So much for truth-telling, and forcing his fellow Germans to confront their ugly past. His biographer, a specially disillusioned man, says that the revelation now “puts in doubt from a moral point of view anything he has ever told us.” Indeed so. Grass’s constant attacks on the United States and the free world, for instance, turn out to be mere repetitions and embellishments of everything his SS instructors will have taught him about the wickedness of democracy and capitalism. His name will be associated for ever with hypocrisy.