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Willy Brandt, then Chancellor of West Germany, falls to his knees at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970: This spontaneous gesture was the most powerful and moving image of German repentance of the whole postwar era 

Dear Günter Grass,

First: why an open letter? I have never written one before, whereas you have written dozens. You are, so to speak, Europe's leading man of open letters. I admit that the idea of turning the tables on you did appeal to me.

But there is another, more personal reason for my decision to address you in this way. In a newspaper interview about your autobiography, Peeling the Onion, you have admitted, after 60 years, that you belonged to the Waffen SS. I want to make you aware of my feeling of betrayal —a feeling I believe I share with most of your countrymen. And I want to show solidarity with the victims, living and dead, of the regime you tried so hard to prolong.

A public intellectual like yourself is, of course, entitled to preserve a private sphere. But there are certain biographical facts about which it is necessary to be open, as I am sure you would agree. You do not need me to tell you that, for a German of your generation, frankness about your activities during the Third Reich is not merely a moral imperative, but a sine qua non for any kind of public role.

Let me first recall a memorable scene in 1970: Willy Brandt falling on his knees at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. It was the most moving and powerful image of German repentance of the whole postwar era. You were there at his side, representing German culture, as the German Chancellor went to sign his historic treaty with Poland and made his spontaneous gesture of atonement for the Holocaust.

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john cronin
April 14th, 2015
10:04 PM
He was seventeen. And he was drafted.

Sue Caldwell
June 18th, 2012
5:06 AM
Speaking of the Nazis and radical evil and how it was assisted by the powers that be, namely the Vatican, why not check out the the history of Ante Pavelic. Pavelic and his hench-men were even given shelter in Rome by the Vatican after the war. And with the full knowledge of the British and American powers that be too.

June 10th, 2012
9:06 AM
Daniel, you should read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Spark. One of the themes of the novel is a teacher taking a select group of girls to impress upon and make them the crede de la creme. The teacher, Miss Brodie, is a keen (pre 1939) fascist supporter, especially of Mussolini and laterly of Hitler. Shortly after her forced retirement, Miss Brodie writes to one of her fascisti 'Brodie set', Sandy, questioning who might have betrayed her. Sandy replies, "If you did not betray us it is impossible that you could have been betrayed by us."

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