Gunter Grass Can Keep His Nobel Prize

Posted on August 16, 2006

German author Gunter Grass will keep his Nobel Prize for literature, despite his recent admission that he was a member of Hitler's SS during World War II. Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency quotes Michael Sohlman, the chairman of the Nobel Foundation as saying, "Prize decisions are irreversible." To date, no one has ever had a Nobel Prize revoked.

In Germany, people are not surprised by the revelation because his autobiographical novel, Tin Drum, a biting and brilliant depiction of a boy's life in Nazi-occupied Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), had so many realistic details. In fact, most men his age served in the army and many were Nazi party members. Grass is an ardent opponent of the neo-Nazi movement in Germany and has spent many years warning Germans not to let the past repeat itself. Still, there have been calls for Grass to reject his Nobel Prize, which he has refused to do. The city of Gdansk, Poland may revoke Grass' status as an honored citizen because of the controversy.

German newspapers printed images Wednesday of an official 1945 US document, signed by Grass, that confirms he was in the Waffen SS from November 1944. The war ended on May 8, 1945 and he was interned by US troops. Former Polish president Lech Walesa says the Polish city of Gdansk, known in its German period as Danzig, should strip Grass of his honoured status because of his association with the atrocity-ridden Nazi Party force.
Grass said in an interview with Germany's ARD, "I see no reason to renounce this honour on my own. If the city of Gdansk were to decide so, I would accept the decision." Grass also says, "I was called up into the Waffen SS. I was not involved in any crimes. I've always had the urge to one day describe all of this in its wider context. In addition, I thought that what I had done as a writer, as a citizen of this country, which amounted to the very opposite of what shaped me in my youth in the Nazi era, had made up for it."

Grass' book sales have soared since the controversy erupted.