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Last Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Guenter Grass served in Waffen SS
Guenter Grass (photo from 2001)
Guenter Grass is one of Germany's best-known novelists
Nobel Prize-winning German writer Guenter Grass, author of the great anti-Nazi novel The Tin Drum, has admitted serving in the Waffen SS.

He told a German newspaper he had been recruited at the age of 17 into an SS tank division and served in Dresden.

Previously it was only known he had served as a soldier and was wounded and taken prisoner by US forces.

Speaking before the publication of his war memoirs, he said his silence over the years had "weighed" upon him.

"My silence over all these years is one of the reasons I wrote this book [Peeling Onions]," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an interview.

"It had to come out, finally."

Grass, who was born in 1927, is widely admired as a novelist whose books frequently revisit the war years and is also known as an outspoken peace activist.

Call-up notice

Few details of the author's service were given other than that he had served in the Waffen SS Frundsberg Panzer Division after failing to get a posting in the submarine service.

The SS, which began as a private bodyguard for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, grew into a force nearly one million strong and both acted as an elite fighting force and ran death camps in which millions of people were murdered.

The Waffen SS was the combat section of the organization and extended to 38 divisions. It was declared part of a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg Nazi trials after the war.

"At the time" he had not felt ashamed to be a member, he said but he added: "Later this feeling of shame burdened me."

"For me... the Waffen SS was nothing frightful but rather an elite unit that they sent where things were hot and which, as people said about it, had the heaviest losses," he said.

"It happened as it did to many of my age. We were in the labour service and all at once, 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's memoir of his wartime youth is due to be released in September.




SEE ALSO
Pope humbled by Auschwitz visit
28 May 06 |  Europe
My grandad the Nazi
01 Aug 05 |  Magazine
Country profile: Germany
30 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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