It is late here, and I appologize if what follows is more a series of thoughts than a complete statement. I felt bad reading this thread on my way home on the train tonight, and, although I come here to read and talk about film, I felt I could not sit this discussion out in silence.
I am not so old, but I increasingly find that some of the ideals that I try to uphold and that I believe are "common sense" seem to be falling very much out of fashion -- I respect my elders, I respect ability (the only true nobility), I generally shy away from commenting on people who are not in the room (especially, if I do not have anything positive to say); I also have a personal ethic about this new wonder of email/internet communication of not speaking any louder from behind the shelter of my labtop, than I would do in a roomful of people.
I read Günter Grass' wonderful novel "The Tin Drum," when I was fourteen. Along with "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Birdy," this was one of the first "serious" books I read, and consequently it made a great impression on me. I could identify with Oscar, whose wish it is to remain a boy; to not have to participate in the folly of the adult world. Although it has been more than twenty years since I read the book, I can imagine the book only as the work of a very fine human being. What made that man capable of writing such a beautiful book, and why is the central character a boy, who wishes to remain a boy, placed by the author at the threshold of an epoch in German history that most German adults would subsequently like to erase from memory? I can supply my own answers to these questions, as I am sure all of us can.
Is it important in which way the boy Grass was made to serve his country? Is it important whether he served enthusiastically? Would we have behaved any differently? I have watched Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph Of the Will several times, and, although I know that my family suffered at the hands of the Germans during the war, although I know that my Grandmother was Polish (and very likely of Jewish descent); although I know all these things, I also feel quite certain that as a 15-, 17-, 19-, 21- or 25-year-old German in the thirties, I too would have joined the rallies. I say that based on my knowledge that none of us know where history will eventually lead us, and neither did the Germans in the thirties. There was no television, no internet, few people had easy access to telephones. People read the papers, they saw the newsreels in the cinemas (if they could afford going), and if they were fortunate they had access to a radio. These were the channels through which people received their information. These media did not speak freely, and if they did, would they not applaud the National Socialists, who were intent on bringing Germany out of depression and indignation?
In George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey there is a segment that moves me. It concerns the liberation of the KZ camps in which Stevens participated, and at which occasion he shot some personal footage. In the film, we see the images of the camps, and we hear Stevens talk about his experience. Specifically he talks about a sense of nausea at the Jewish ex-prisoners, a revulsion at their touch, a need to get them away from him... and, he concludes by saying something to the effect that he felt the "Nazi" in himself. I think that few of us live lives, where we do not at some moments feel the "Nazi" in us, and I think most people act as Nazis more often than they would care to admit, or, probably are even aware of themselves.
I have the greatest respect for Lech Walesa. It was impossible to grow up in the seventies and eighties in Denmark (probably the rest of Europe too), and not follow Walesa's fight for solidarity. Even without completely comprehending the issues at stake, it was impossible not to sympathise with the man. I think I can understand his feelings with respect to Grass, but I cannot help but feel sad at his condemnation of Grass, who in so many ways is his brother in spirit. I cannot bring myself to reintroduce the theme of the "Nazi" in relation to Walesa, but surely for a few moments Walesa did not speak as the standard bearer of solidarity.
In conclusion, I would like to express my hope that Grass will continue to be seen as the central literary personality of the 20th and 21st century that he is, and that discussion will soon turn to his work and life after the war. Furthermore, it is my hope that those inclined to think (let alone speak or write) of Grass in derogatory terms, based on his revelation of his past as a member of the SS, make the effort to imagine themselves into Grass' place and time at the age of 17, even if only for a few moments, and to go and read (or re-read) some of his work. Following that (and not a few summarized lines on an internet news site) it may be possible to begin to form a vague outline of an understanding of Günter Grass.
Last edited by Scharphedin2 on Thu Aug 17, 2006 6:30 am, edited 1 time in total.