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In Defense of Günter Grass

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph” (Haile Selassie).


Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden” (Bishop Desmond Tutu).


Warsaw ghetto uprising

These two cautionary admonitions capture the thrust of Günter Grasss’ electrifying poem, “What Must Be Said,” that has brought an avalanche of invective – some scurrilous, some vituperative, some even personal vilification – against the man who warns the people of the world as well as the Jewish people of the dangers inherent in the actions of the Zionist controlled government of the State of Israel. Such condemnations avoid direct rebuttal of Grass’ pointed cries of despair as he contemplates continued indifference to the slow yet calculated genocide that exists in Israel’s occupation of Palestine reverting instead to derogatory innuendo, ignorance of conditions prevalent in the occupied territories, ignorance of those determined to destroy Israel, and personal guilt as a German. There is no reflection on the worst sin human kind can inflict on their fellow human beings, the silence of indifference to the plight of the Palestinians or to the potential danger facing the people of the mid-east should Israel preemptively strike Iran.

The title of his poem, “What Must Be Said,” echoes the prophets of old, cries of those weeping in the wilderness to heed the obvious, to hear the hypocrisy that masks the reality of a nation that cries for peace as it stealthily steals more land, that demands dismantling of Iran’s nuclear plants as it declares its right to Demona and untold weapons of mass destruction, that denounces with all brazen duplicity, indeed silences those who criticize the state of Israel while they are free to attack them as anti-Semitic.

“Why silence so long,” Grass asks of himself and answers, as must we all, that we are “slaves to an oppressive lie,” what cannot be said without condemnation because Israel has the “right” to demand and defend what it will. Is it wrong to criticize the obvious? Is it wrong to bare truth when silence once before begot a holocaust? Is it wrong for the German people to mark what they have learned through decades of reflection and reparation and not reveal what they have lived and learned? Is it wrong to speak when devastation threatens, when arrogance buries truth, when the weak have no voice, when the unknown consequence of brutal, raw, preemptive power is imminent?

I would have Günter Grass speak for me, my children and grandchildren, and all others who could suffer yet another World War, by noting the obvious that has been silenced so long:

  • a state provided with the fourth greatest military machine in the world to defend less than 6 million people,
  • a nation, the only nation in the mid-east with weapons of mass destruction,
  • a nation that refuses to sign the mid-east nuclear non-proliferation agreement,
  • a nation that has demonstrated its willingness to invade its neighbors in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and drools to bomb Iran,
  • a nation that occupies a land provided for it by the same United Nations that gave Israel license to declare itself a nation,
  • a nation that damns Iran for proclaiming that it will “wipe Israel off the map,” when in fact it never made such a declaration yet innocently hides its own declaration in the Likud Party Platform that the state it professes to want peace with, Palestine, shall never have a state west of the Jordan,
  • a nation that is of such demonstrable threat to world peace that if it is not condemned would be a blot on all who remain silenced and thereby complicit in its crimes,

and for such inaction, such indifference we must accept responsibility and condemnation; let the indignant ring their bells of anger and hatred, truth will prevail.

Who better to speak than a citizen of a country that supplies Israel with nuclear submarines capable of terrorizing its neighbors if not the world, submarines provided as reparation to a people destroyed so they can become the destroyer. “Why silence so long?” because “this must be said” with strength, conviction, integrity and honesty, and without personal fear or trepidation because the silence has been broken by a voice that resounds throughout the world in righteous thunder against the greatest danger the world now knows, an Israel that can act with impunity to crush whomever they determine to be their enemy.

Let me close this defense of Günter Grass with a story told by Professor Michael Klein years after he had escaped death at Auschwitz. Klein’s brief narrative is titled “Breaking Silence.” It captures what I believe is the real essence of Günter Grass’ plea, both in time and shame. The story reflects on Klein’s close friend, Salamon Abshalom, who had attempted escape and was to suffer death as a consequence. The story is a parable that parallels our time; what if voices had told of the Jewish plight before the trains took them to the death camps; maybe Salamon Abshalom would still be alive.

“My friend Salamon Abshalom was let out. He was barely able to walk; his hands were tied behind his back. An SS guard took him to the back of the camp yard. … He was led to the gallows and made to climb onto what looked like a stepladder. The noose was tied around his neck.

We stood paralyzed, in bewildered despair. How could the Heavens allow this to happen on this holy Yom Kippur evening? Did the Germans set up the execution specifically for Yom Kippur to humiliate the God of Israel and His people? The silence of the Heavens screamed out in our hearts and in our souls. The desecration of the God of Israel, of the people of Israel, of Yom Kippur, and the humiliation of man created in the image of God proceeded in silence as the German hangman, the Camp’s SS commander, stood over Salamon Abshalom.

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a powerful, high pitched voice rang out over the camp yard. It sent chills down our spines, as we heard the cry of “Sh’ma Yisrael…“, Hear O Israel”, as Salamon Abshalom declaimed the eternal proclamation of the Jewish people’s belief in one God….

With his prayer of Sh’ma Yisrael arising from his last breath, he raised all of us standing Zaehlappell to the highest spiritual level. Even as his life was extinguished by the brutal murderer to whom nothing was holy, he still proclaimed the eternity of the Jewish People, in defiance of evil, in defiance of the Germans, in defiance of the silence of humanity, and in defiance of the silence of the Heavens. Salamon Abshalom proclaimed the Godliness of the Jewish People even at a time when God seemed to be totally absent.

I slowly calmed my emotions and tried to analyze my thoughts. The Germans murdered Salamon Abshalom, but I was guilty having been silent in spite of the promise we made to each other in the camps that we will tell the world of what happened. I had kept Salamon Abshalom’s memory a secret for all these years.”

Silence sacrifices the innocent because it allows continuation of slaughter; silence rests in the soul as it acidifies into self-shame; silence speaks no language, offers no aid, but ensures that  time will extinguish both hope and guilt. Silence is the voice of the coward and the accomplice. Silence must be extinguished.

The Plight of the Palestinians by William A. Cook, Ph.D.

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23 Responses to In Defense of Günter Grass

  1. Somoe April 7, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    A beautifully moving and resonant piece of writing, which echoes what most of us understand to be the truth regarding silence over injustice, in that it corrodes the soul and weakens the mind. Silence in this instance is something that must broken by all who recognise it, in order for justice to prevail.

  2. searching April 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    I am a little puzzled ( maybe I shouldn’t be)
    by an article that is placed on Mr Finkelstein’s website.

    • Jay Knott April 8, 2012 at 1:01 am #

      Finkelstein’s response to Grass typifies Jewish reaction to Gentile guilt – contempt. Grass’s angst-ridden, apologetic, half-hearted criticism of Israel is a white flag, and Finkelstein mercilessly exploits it.

      Am I missing something? If concern about Nazism leads Germans to send Israel submarines, from which she could launch nuclear missiles. then it’s better if Germans ceased to be concerned about Nazism.

      It would be healthier, and better for the Palestinians, and for humanity as a whole, if Germans, and white Europeans generally, unceremoniously threw away white guilt, forgot about the holocaust, and started treating Jewish supremacy as an enemy, rather than an understandable reaction to history.

      • Jonathon Blakeley April 8, 2012 at 1:07 am #

        Definitley time to move on from the Holocaust Guilt trips and past Nazi crimes and confront the real and present danger of Zionism.

        • Jay Knott April 8, 2012 at 1:12 am #

          Thanks. I made a mistake though. The article’s not by Finkelstein!

          • Jonathon Blakeley April 8, 2012 at 1:36 am #

            It still is valid. The Germans have been demonised too much i think.
            who is it by?

          • Jay Knott April 8, 2012 at 2:35 am #

            It’s by a shabbas goy named Sebastian Hammelehle. His critique of Grass employs two techniques – ad hominem remarks and a command of pedantry which would make our friend Dr. Mathis blush. Grass talks of the ‘punishment’ of being called ‘anti-Semitic’, and Hammelehle finds an example of a German critic of Israel who wasn’t punished. But even in America and the UK, the charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ is indeed a ‘punishment’, sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes ‘social ostracism’, which Hammelehle dismisses. It is much more so in Germany, as he well knows.

            His claim that Grass is thinly veiling the kind of thing boorish beerhall racists say, “it’s not illegal”, before criticizing immigrants AND Israel is impossible to prove or disprove, but Grass is part of the liberal elite, so it seems unlikely. Anyway, it’s good to hear that, at least among the proletariat, there are guilt-free Germans.

            This guilty, groveling, Guardian hack describes talk of a ‘global conspiracy’ as ‘anti-Semitic’, a red herring which has prevented us from effectively undermining what is, in fact, a global conspiracy. I misattributed the essay to ‘Jewish reaction to Gentile guilt’. It was Gentile guilt, pure and simple. I apologise unreservedly to professor Finkelstein and the Jewish community, and I’m going for sensitivity training to unlearn oppression and anti-Semitism.

          • ariadna April 8, 2012 at 3:01 am #

            Look at Haaretz declaring Grass “tainted for ever”


          • Jay Knott April 8, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

            According to the Guardian, Grass has repented.


            It hasn’t done him any good. Like revolutions, those who make half a critique of Zionism only dig their own graves. It’s no good saying ‘anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism’ – it sounds apologetic. Zionists correctly see German angst and white guilt as a weaknesses.

          • Laura Stuart April 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

            Oh dear ! Appeasement does not work, he should be proud to join a long list of people who are banned from Israel for their moral stance (myself included).

          • ariadna April 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

            “to unlearn anti-semitism”

            Anti-semitism cannot be unlearned, not according to some experts…
            There is a quote from The Pest on Harry’s Place under the discussion about Grass* that makes it clear that, like the pest, anti-semitism can be only temporarily subdued but it lurks forever in hidden corners, on rats, ready to strike and mass kill again. So there!

            *I’ll have to double check to make sure that is where I read it.

    • ariadna April 8, 2012 at 2:01 am #

      Impossible to know if or to what extent Finkelstein agrees with it.

    • who_me April 8, 2012 at 2:02 am #

      the der speigel article is typical of jewish zionist covert smearing (der speigel is an israeli front). instead of critiquing openly grass’ views, they try to destroy his reputation in his work. i’ve seen these people do this dozens of times with those who criticise their disgusting apartheid israeli dung hole. it works like this. say a musician is critical of israel. they will get the usual off the wall slimy attacks from the zio-foamers, like a horowitz or a dershowitz (a lot of witless witzes in that group 🙂 ). The zios will also use their less outspoken media sayanim to then write spurious critiques of the person’s music and talent. usually when i see the media go after some famous person, i assume that person either had been critical of israel (or something thought of as jewish), or they had refused to be subservient to some zionist jewish oligarch. it’s cowardly network of what are about the sleaziest, slimiest creatures to have ever walked the planet.

      fink was a victim of these zionists when they got him sacked a few years ago. now he’s helping them. makes one wonder if that campaign to get him sacked was real. maybe he was wanting to retire from teaching and the campaign was all about giving him credibility as an “opponent” of israel? this sort of thing has been done a couple of times to give chompsky an aura of a zionist enemy, so why not give the fink some street cred for his half-arsed, covert zionist propaganda? fink, at best, never impressed me as much more than an over inflated 15 year old ego stuck in a middle aged body. the more he opens his mouth, though, the more it becomes obvious he’s just another duplicitous israeli tool.

      • ariadna April 8, 2012 at 3:53 am #

        I agree with everything you say up to but not including the last paragraph. NF is not part any zionist “establishment”; he is on his own, gone off the reservation, which has caused all of his (real) trials and tribulations.
        I also believe he is a sort of Gorbachev of zionism, convinced that Glasnost and Perestroika can save Israel.
        I see him as fanatical idealist in a way: he sincerely and deeply believes in the state for Jews and manages to hold simultaneously the idea that such a state can be just and democratic. The idea of one state terrifies him. All the rationales he deploys in supporting a two-state solutions are not the indicative of any pragmatism, but rather the pragmatism is a pretense to reject the one state which is axiomatic for him.
        He is a passionate and sincere critic of Israel and of the Jews who, in his view, give zionism a bad name: the holocaust exploitation, the IDF “excesses.” He probably agrees with Hammelehle’ diatribe against Grass because it touches on Israel’s “existential” fear.

        • who_me April 8, 2012 at 4:41 am #


          “I agree with everything you say up to but not including the last paragraph. NF is not part any zionist “establishment”

          my comments about the campaign to sack the fink being “staged” are speculation, from seeing this routine practiced before numerous times in order to get a fraud accepted as real by zionists. whether it’s true of fink, or not, or if he was a knowing party to it, who knows. my views of fink remain the same. they were formed after hearing his responses in this debate:

          your comparison to gorby is interesting, because gorby is seen in russia as their 2nd worst leader, yeltsin gets the honour of being the worst. 🙂 gorby celebrated his last birthday in london, and gave a speech praising cnn a a great source on honest and impartial world news. he may have honestly believed the bs he championed as he oversaw the deconstruction of the ussr, but he played into the hands of those seeking to remove their major rival. namely, western fascists. he is still calling their tune. which leads me to believe gorby is a bought and paid for stooge of those western interests.

          i’m less sure the fink is so much bought and paid for, like gorby, as opposed to being “recruited” without his own knowledge. he’s an emotional boy with a large ego. these sorts are relatively easy to control without their knowledge (much of the supposed “al qaida” rank and file are deceived in this manner). the thing is, though, the fink isn’t stupid. he’s been around, and done a lot of studying. he knows the score.

          i think we don’t really disagree, fink really is a loyal zionist who wants to see israel “make it” in a way that isn’t so obviously wrong, as it is now. in that way, he is in the same camp with a lot of zionists who call themselves “left”. they turn a blind eye the institutionalised hierarchical bigotry of the system they support, provided that system takes care of the disenfranchised and powerless slaves “humanely”, because it is “their people” who are running it. i think where we may disagree is whether the fink’s bias is conscious, or unconscious?

          • ariadna April 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

            Well then there is a lot more agreement between us than disagreement insofar as NF is concerned. This is pretty much how I vew him too:
            “fink really is a loyal zionist who wants to see israel “make it” in a way that isn’t so obviously wrong, as it is now. in that way, he is in the same camp with a lot of zionists who call themselves “left”. they turn a blind eye the institutionalised hierarchical bigotry of the system they support, provided that system takes care of the disenfranchised and powerless slaves “humanely”, because it is “their people” who are running it.”

            As to Gorby I believe both: that he sincerely believed communism can be made to be humane and that later, especially after he was extruded by the Russians with no hope of rehab, he was bought and paid for and he is now consciously playing the part he was hired to play.

  3. Eldon April 7, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    what are you puzzled about.
    I guess this is what Mr. Finkelstein things…..

    “Grass spent his early years in the Waffen-SS and, now, as he writes, he is at an “advanced age” and, writing with the “last bit of ink,” is “weary of the hypocrisy.”

    It is in poor taste when the Germans, of all people, start telling the Israelis what to do. Never in the history of postwar Germany has an intellectual as prominent as Grass presented such hollow clichés about Israel in such a vain manner. It completely overshadows his reasonable call for both the Israeli and Iranian nuclear capabilities to be monitored by “an international entity.”

    It is in no way certain that the nuclear attack implied in the poem with which Israel “could annihilate the Iranian people” will even happen in the foreseeable future. But one thing is certain: The lyrical first strike has already been launched — from German soil.”

  4. Eldon April 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm #


    I see, are you puzzled, is it because you think Mr. Finkelstein is a “Traitor or Pragmatist?”

    I guess you got a problem with open minded people like Mr. Finkelstein, because they are not brainwashed and salute your way of thinking…..

    • searching April 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      So I guess you also agree with Mr Finkelstein’s statements of calling Israel a lunatic state, Nazi-like ,and from the darkets pits of hell.

      • Eldon April 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm #


        I respect Mr Finkelstein’s thinking, as I am not not obsessed with Hate like you, I his view positivew and negative.
        That’s one of the issue that in your obsession you can’t understand, as you would expect and follow his views, only if he goes with Negative issues about Israel and once he has another view, your obsessed mind is puzzled.
        As long as someone fits your hate Agenda he is FIne for the flock, but once he has another view, for you and most of the haters, he becomes a traitor.

        • searching April 9, 2012 at 2:50 am #

          Eldon, you are one sick, mildly intelligent puppy.
          I have a great respect and admiration for Mr Finkelstein. He is not only very brave, genuinely honest, very intelligent and hard working person, but he is also very independent in his views, and does not cater to some kind of collective/group opinions. With some of his views I don’t agree, but my repsect for him is huge nevertheless.
          I don’t hate anybody . I have no reason to. I may strongly dislike you and your opinions, but I have no reason to hate you.

  5. Jonathon Blakeley April 8, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    German writer Guenter Grass barred from entering Israel
    I don’t think he will be too disappointed.