Below we have an improved translation of the Gunter Grass poem about breaking silence on Israel’s nuclear threat.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is treating the Gunter Grass poem as an artifact of his service in the Nazi SS as a teenager. “Story inadequate and tendentious by omission, without being exactly false,” writes a friend. “The headline calls it a poem ‘against Israel.’ It is not against Israel. It is against the sale of a German submarine to Israel which is capable of launching nuclear weapons. It speaks against ‘the burdensome lie’ of silence. Silence in general, about wrongs one knows of; and specifically German silence in the face of Israeli wrongs, because of the preemptive operation of self-censorship through an accurate awareness of guilt. It asks: why should Germany not speak the truth now, precisely because of its self-knowledge of the wrong of wars of aggression.”
At the Times, Nick Kulish and Ethan Bronner:
Others said that it was not a coincidence that Mr. Grass so often found himself at the center of controversy, but that controversy was instead his goal in the first place.
“He wrote this poem knowing from the way he wrote it that there would be condemnation,” said Frank Schirrmacher, co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who was interviewing Mr. Grass when he made his revelation about the Waffen-SS membership. “He needs the condemnation to move on to the next step, which is to say that it is impossible in Germany to criticize Israel.”
Mr. Grass, the author of plays and essays as well as novels and poems, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. He admitted that he was a member of the Hitler Youth as a boy and believed at the time in the group’s aims, but long claimed that he was drafted into an antiaircraft unit, never mentioning the Waffen-SS until he was 78.
In the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer, a weekly columnist, devoted his Friday essay to Mr. Grass under the headline “The Moral Blindness of Günter Grass.”
“Logic and reason are useless when a highly intelligent man, a Nobel laureate no less, does not understand that his membership in an organization that planned and carried out the wholesale genocide of millions of Jews disqualified him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began,” Mr. Pfeffer wrote.
More from my smart friend: “The Grass is a true and sober statement. It’s just wrong of Tom Segev to say that Meir Dagan has told Israelis everything they could get from the Grass poem. Who in Israel has spoken of the sale by Germany to Israel of a new submarine?”
Segev: Former Mossad director Meir Dagan, for example, shares the same opinion as Günter Grass. He is also opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran. He talks about it almost every day. There is a very lively discussion about this issue in Israel.
Der Spiegel: Grass also names a reason for his silence: the threat of being accused of anti-Semitism.
Segev: Meir Dagan has never been accused by anyone in Israel of being an anti-Semite. And it has been a long time since people in Germany were not able to criticize Israel — even if some in the Israeli government might regret that fact.
My correspondent: “Who has spoken of the scandal of European and American silence on the subject of Israel’s possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons? Who has signaled the danger of Israeli use of nuclear weapons? It is not true, either, that there is no ‘incitement’ in Israel.’” Segev again:
And it is not as if there is incitement against Iran in Israel. There is even a peace campaign on Facebook.
My correspondent: “Barak, Netanyahu, Lieberman and a half dozen others have been inciting panic-fear in remarks made almost every day for months now.”
And Idrees Ahmad has posted this translation of the Grass poem by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz of Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss”:
Why have I kept silent, silent for too long
over what is openly played out
in war games at the end of which we
the survivors are at best footnotes.
It’s that claim of a right to first strike
against those who under a loudmouth’s thumb
are pushed into organized cheering—
a strike to snuff out the Iranian people
on suspicion that under his influence
an atom bomb’s being built.
But why do I forbid myself
to name that other land in which
for years—although kept secret—
a usable nuclear capability has grown
beyond all control, because
no scrutiny is allowed.
The universal silence around this fact,
under which my own silence lay,
I feel now as a heavy lie,
a strong constraint, which to dismiss
courts forceful punishment:
the verdict of “Antisemitism” is well known.
But now, when my own country,
guilty of primal and unequalled crimes
for which time and again it must be tasked—
once again, in pure commerce,
though with quick lips we declare it
reparations, wants to send
Israel yet another submarine—
one whose specialty is to deliver
warheads capable of ending all life
where the existence of even one
nuclear weapon remains unproven,
but where suspicion serves for proof—
now I say what must be said.
But why was I silent for so long?
Because I thought my origin,
marked with an ineradicable stain,
forbade mention of this fact
as definite truth about Israel, a country
to which I am and will remain attached.
Why is it only now I say,
in old age, with my last drop of ink,
that Israel’s nuclear power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what by tomorrow might be
too late, must be spoken now,
and because we—as Germans, already
burdened enough—could become
enablers of a crime, foreseeable and therefore
not to be eradicated
with any of the usual excuses.
And admittedly: I’m silent no more
because I’ve had it with the West’s hypocrisy
—and one can hope that many others too
may free themselves from silence,
challenge the instigator of known danger
to abstain from violence,
and at the same time demand
a permanent and unrestrained control
of Israel’s atomic power
and Iranian nuclear plants
by an international authority
accepted by both governments.
Only thus can one give help
to Israelis and Palestinians—still more,
all the peoples, neighbour-enemies
living in this region occupied by madness
—and finally, to ourselves as well.