Guenter Grass, Former SS Officer Turned Social Critic, Dies at Age 87

BERLIN (TNS/ Bloomberg News) -

Guenter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning author who explored Nazi brutality and the trauma that Germany suffered after World War II has died. He was 87.

He died Monday morning in a clinic in the northern city of Luebeck, Germany, according to a statement of his publisher, Steidl Verlag.

Grass’s magic realist work wrestled with the impact on individuals of Germany’s tumultuous 20th century. A Social Democratic Party activist, he said the country had no claim to a normal national identity after the Holocaust.

“Guenter Grass accompanied and shaped postwar German history with his artistic, social and political engagement like few others,” Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a letter to his widow, according to an e-mail from the Chancellery. “Germany has lost an artist to whom I bid farewell with deep respect.”

Awarding the Nobel in 1999, the Swedish Academy said that his novel tackled “the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, the losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them.”

The 1959 novel’s complex narrative, shifting perspectives, surreal prose and a collection of circus-like characters created one of the first postwar German works to describe the role – and complicity – of many working-class Germans in Hitler’s dictatorship and the persecution of Jews. It challenged the belief that Nazism was the work of a fanatical few.

Grass waited 61 years to reveal that he had joined a Waffen-SS unit. As the self-styled arbiter of the German national conscience, his belated confession drew an avalanche of criticism.