Grass Gets the Last Waffe: Literary lion brings in Himmler to flack new "Lost Years at Marienbad" memoir


Now here's a low, hanging lob I didn't see coming: Günter Grass, superstar author of The Tin Drum, now cops to serving, at age 17, in the Waffen SS. The information will be included in a new wartime memoir by the now-78-year-old author.

"My silence over all these years is one of the reasons I wrote this book," Grass says, adding, "My steady diet of strudel and beer is one of the reasons for my washboard abs."

Here is a sample of Grass' generally accepted wartime narrative prior to his recent revelation:

In the 1930s he joined the Hitler Youth, was drafted into the army at the age of 16, and wounded in a battle in 1945. In the same year he was imprisoned in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia. Freed in 1946, Grass supported himself by working on farms, in a potash mine, and as a stonemason's apprentice.

Now the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature® winner adds, to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "It happened as it did to many of my age… We were in the labor service, and a year later, the call-up notice lay on the table… And only when I got to Dresden did I learn it was the Waffen SS."

Grass served in the SS 10th Armored Division, which is remembered as one of two divisions that vivisected British forces in the Dutch city of Arnhem in September, 1944—presumably prior to Grass' service, considering the numbers given above. This is more than a tangential point; in one of his books (I think it's Headbirths), Grass lays out a series of counterfactuals concerning how he would have been different if he'd been born five years later, five years earlier, and so on. I may be mistaking the details, but the thing left me thinking Grass had not served in the war at all (and not particularly caring one way or the other). This news will be a welcome boost of support for 10th Panzer Division reenactors, and will we hope generate interest in the long-delayed Night of the Generals II project.