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August 15, 2006



Oh it's a pretty story all right, but I'm not sure I believe it. If I recall correctly one was not passively ``enrolled'' in the Waffen SS - they were picky about who they let in, and the candidate had to prove that he had their version of The Right Stuff.

At least Joseph Ratzinger's wartime movements seem to be pretty well confirmed by other sources. Have we any source for Grass' behavior other than what he says himself?

Henry Dieterich

Apparently some people are attacking Herr Grass for his past.

Donald R. McClarey

Big time leftist writer one time Waffen SS recruit! Schadenfreud time! I guess it skipped his mind over the past six decades as he was lecturing the US.

I do hate to admit it, but it was possible that he was "enrolled" in the Waffen SS. By the end of the war the SS was taking anyone they could get their hands on and they were not picky at all.


Please note that the Article doesn't say that Joseph Ratzinger was in the Waffen SS, just that he was a POW. I would expect a POW camp to have all types of POWs, regular German army, SS, etc.


Please note that the Article doesn't say that Joseph Ratzinger was in the Waffen SS, just that he was a POW. I would expect a POW camp to have all types of POWs, regular German army, SS, etc.

Ed the Roman

At the beginning of the war, the SS got the very, very best. By the end of the war, between a perceived ned to keep the Army's quality up and the increased SS recruitment of a...wider variety of talent, Army situation maps had units labeled SS-Division Spass (the Joke SS) or Division Byzantiner der SS (the Byzantine SS).

The cool part for me is Grass having spent sixty years bludgeoning Germans that they had to tell the truth, and sucking up to the follow-on bloodsoaked tyranny.


According to Feldgrau, the 10th SS Panzer Division was destroyed by the Soviets in March through May of 1945. Some stragglers who escaped from Moravia surrendered to the American 102nd by War's end.

It should be easy to verify the chain of events.What is interesting is that Grass kept his service in the SS a secret all of these years. From what I have seen, even pacificsts are proud of the military service. It also gives them a better standing against thier critics.

I do disagree with Grass' detractors; even though I disagree with his views, I think he was one of the better writers of the last 45 years.

Blind Squirrel

Am I not correct in saying that all Waffen-SS personnel had their blood group tattooed on the inside of their forearm upon induction (the mark of Cain, as it were)? One would have thought that somebody at the seaside or the pool--or even, for that matter, Frau Grass--would have noticed?

Ferde Rombola

I won't speculate about Grass's service in the Waffen SS; I imagine there ought to be enough records extant to draw at least a rough outline. What I do know is I read "The Tin Drum" over 35 years ago and still remember quite a bit of it. Can't say that for "War and Peace."

Ferde Rombola

I won't speculate about Grass's service in the Waffen SS; I imagine there ought to be enough records extant to draw at least a rough outline. What I do know is I read "The Tin Drum" over 35 years ago and still remember quite a bit of it. Can't say that for "War and Peace."

James Kabala

Other sources, including Ratzinger/Benedict's own account, confirm that Ratzinger was briefly at Bad Aibling, so the story is possible. And again, no one, least of all Grass, is claiming that Ratzinger was in the SS.

Tom Kelty

Whatever the truth is in this matter and with a bow to you and a tip of the hat for your excellence in so many areas, "Submarinist" is not a word. Submariner is the word as in "Gunter wanted to be a submariner." The German Navy used many, many boys 15 and up because they lost so many subs as the war drew to a close. Grass would probably not have survived. The USA lost 26 boats (a sub is called a boat) one-third of our sub fleet in WW2. I was a submariner after the war.


I would venture a guess that Grass is BS'ing. That whole "a beautiful story, don't you think?" bit is just a little too arch.


Ah but the image of young Joe shooting craps under a poncho!


Who's going to believe anything Grass says after this?



It's a quote.


@ Blind Squirrel: No, Grass did not receive the SS-tattoo; seems there was no time for doing this in fall 1944. His wife was aware of his membership in the Waffen SS though, the only person it seems. BTW: He admitted this also to the US Army when a POW; cf. http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/0,1518,431823,00.html.

The term Grass uses for Joseph Ratzinger is "ein bisschen verklemmt" (a bit uptight/repressed) which doesn't exactly mean awkward, does it?. That both met is possible but even this is doubted at this point. Some commentatore suspect a "Et tu, Josephe" strategy of Grass. In the published interview, Grass says that "Joseph" was Ratzinger only implicitly by not denying. He never states the pope last name himself.


Grass' revelation re: Waffen SS was big news in the past week in Germany and Austria.

Re: submarines
I have no idea in which language the interview was originally held. Some of it apparantly was translated from an Italian article. There are some other strange points in the translation, though (e.g. why "lager" was left untranslated - it should be "camp" or in this case "internment camp/center"). Perhaps the errors stem from a non-native speaker interviewing in English.


The interview was held in German and is available at http://www.faz.net/s/RubCF3AEB154CE64960822FA5429A182360/Doc~ED1E99E51572441E696FB0443CA308A56~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html . The "Joseph" part is missing online - I don't know why, but the quotation is around everywhere in the German press.


It seems that there is some hostility toward Grass because he is a pacifist. Am I reading between the lines correctly?

If so, I'm absolutely speechless.

Ed the Roman

Casualties in the U-boats were truly appalling. If you wanted a branch of service in which you were more likely to die, you'd have to go into a Tokko unit (the proper name for kamikaze).

Not surprisingly, the U-boats were the most Nazified portion of the Navy, which wasn't particularly Nazi overall. There is a saying that the Reich had a Nazi Air Force, an Imperial German Navy, and a Royal Prussian Army. It's no coincidence that when the Captain Langsdorff killed himself after scuttling the pocket battleship Graf Spee he was found wrapped in the old imperial naval ensign.

Ed the Roman

And Dave, yes, there is a great deal of hostility to Grass because he was principally a pacifist vis a vis the Soviet Union. He was far less pacifist regarding "struggles of national liberation."

The phrase I mentally associated with Grass through the 80s was "commie bastard."


Grass was 17 when he joined the SS at the end of a war. As some have already written, by then the SS was desperate for able-bodied men and didn't have much time to either indoctrinate, train and tatoo them. I have never read a Grass novel, but I think we can get a much truer sense of his believes and morals in looking at his activities as an independent adult (over 21) than by what he did when he was 17 at a time his country was being ravaged by war. Remember that Grass was only 5-years-old when Hitler came to power and I believe he himself has written that his father joined the Nazi party out of opportunism--not much of an example to a young kid.

Blind Squirrel

Many thanks, Scipio. The legend of "Teutonic efficiency" takes another hit...



Joining the Waffen SS even as later as 1945, wasn't just another career choice. Only true beleivers joined this branch of service. The History of the Waffen SS is one of fanaticism, brutality, and unbelievable fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds. It wasn't unusual for one SS division to hold off an entire Russian Armoured Corps. To put things in perspective, The final Russian assualt against Berlin(The Russians employed over 2 million soldiers) cost the Russians over 500,000 casualties.

The SS training and indoctrination were brutal. I have a hard time imagining a young Grass joining the SS on a lark. Every young German knew what they were like. If Grass was an active member, than his entire bio should be re-examined. Is he who he says he is? I think there's a bit of mendacity in his late in life confession.


According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, faz.net, Mr Grass at seventeen was drafted to the "Arbeitsdienst" and then transferred to the depleted SS-Panzerdivision "Frundsberg" to fill out the ranks. Young Mr Grass did probably not get to choose which outfit to join after basic military training, but was more likely simply assigned to a unit. This late in the war it would have been difficult for the German army to accommodate any personal preferences.

Marc J. Rikmenspoel, page 80 in the "Waffen-SS Encyclopedia":

"The supply of volunteers was largely exhausted during 1942, and the Waffen-SS, including its elite German divisions [...] then had to rely heavily on conscripts from ordinary German draft pools, just as did the Heer. It also became common for excess Luftwaffe and Navy personnel to be assigned to the Waffen-SS, without any say in the matter. The Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg Panzer Divisions, raised during 1943, were supposed to attain the same elite level as the "classic" divisions, yet included a majority of young German conscripts."

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