Mourning for Günter Grass

German author Günter Grass died on Monday in Lübeck, aged 87. The press praises the Nobel literature laureate as an incommodious voice who embodied the contradictions of German history.

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Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

The voice of a bad conscience

Even with his admission that he was once a member of the Waffen-SS Günter Grass never lost his status as a moral authority, the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk writes in praise of his work as a political author: "Without ever casting himself in the role of victim, Günter Grass was and remains the unmistakable voice of Germany's bad conscience, the sublimation and reorientation of the guilt-ridden heirs of the German Nazi regime. ... He was difficult right until the end, towards himself and everyone else. At first glance his admission that he'd served in the Waffen-SS wasn't really compatible with his role as a moral authority and Nobel laureate, but it well suited the existential state of the entire German postwar generation that, as Grass once put it, was devoured by this criminal regime. ... Grass did the only right thing, which all too few writers and aesthetes do: he got involved and spoke his mind, even if that sometimes meant strongly overstating his point of view."

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

An icon of German history

Günter Grass was one of the icons of German postwar culture, the conservative daily Lidové noviny writes in praise of the Nobel laureate who died on Monday: "Grass wasn't 'just' a writer. He was also the symbol of the politicised intellectual who represented Germany's postwar democracy: a poser of uncomfortable questions, a civil-minded critic as a matter of principle, a non-conformist and at the same time a friend of politicians like Willy Brandt. Grass was part of German history, complicated and full of contradictions, and like that history he was hard to understand and accept. In was in literature, however, that he made his real mark. Grass was never able to surpass his début novel The Tin Drum. That constellation was simply one of a kind, unrepeatable. But that one book was enough for him to ascend the throne of postwar German literature."

Die Presse (AT) /

A moral authority despite his mistakes

As a consciousness-creating intellectual Günter Grass had earned the right to err, writes the liberal-conservative daily Die Presse: "With his view that German reunification was an 'ugly' mistake Grass was profoundly mistaken. His admission that as an ignorant youth he was a member of the Waffen-SS came too late for a man who had criticised so many so harshly for their past. And he would have been better off saving the 'last ink' he used to pen the denunciatory poem in which he equated Israel with Iran. Did this 'old leftist fossil', as he described himself, always have to open his mouth so wide? Did he have the moral right to moralise? He certainly did. Because Grass fought for his licence to make mistakes - through his rank as an intellectual. ... In his major works he created a collective consciousness of the past, of the guilt and responsibility that it creates."

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Like Oskar, Grass kept on banging his drum

Not everyone will mourn the passing of the controversial author Günter Grass, writes Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza: "German nationalists can breathe a sigh of relief while German and Polish democrats are united in grief. Grass was the conscience of German and European democracy. ... He was very precise in unmasking the resentment of the Nazi tradition in Germany's public life. He was an enemy of all totalitarian systems, a social democrat and anti-communist, a stubborn boy who didn't want to grow up - like the little hero in The Tin Drum. ... As a teenager reared in the spirit of national socialist propaganda he registered of his own free will for the army. Years later he faced angry accusations for this - the revenge for his non-conformism, his literary talent and his courage."