2006: Grass reveals that during World War Two, in 1944, age 17, he was in the Waffen SS.
Grass, Günter Wilhelm (1927- ), German writer, a leading figure in German literature after World War II (1939-1945). Grass received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1999 in recognition of his role in revitalizing postwar German literature and probing the history of the 20th century (see Nobel Prizes).
Grass was born in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) and was deeply affected by the Nazi takeover of that city at the beginning of World War II. Grass was drafted into the German air force in 1944, at the age of 17, and spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp. He went on to study at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. Although he settled in Germany after the war, he remained a constant critic of the German state and its history of war and genocide. A pacifist, Grass opposed the 1990 reunification of Germany, arguing that a united Germany poses a threat to peace. Much of his writing is about Germany's turbulent history in the 20th century. The takeover of Danzig and the horrors of life under the Nazis lie at the core of Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1962), the work for which Grass is best known. These events reappear in Katz und Maus (1961; Cat and Mouse, 1963) and Hundejahre (1963; Dog Years, 1965), which together with The Tin Drum form the so-called Danzig Trilogy.
Grass began writing poetry and plays in the 1950s. His plays Hochwasser (1956; Flood), Onkel, Onkel (1958; Mister, Mister), Noch zehn Minuten bis Buffalo (1958; Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo), and Die bösen Köche (1961; The Wicked Cooks) were published in English in Four Plays (1967).
The Tin Drum, Grass's first novel, was also his first great success and was later made into a motion picture (1979). In addition to the Danzig Trilogy, Grass's novels include Der Butt (1977; The Flounder, 1978), Kopfgeburten: oder die Deutschen sterben aus (1980; Headbirths: or, the Germans Are Dying Out, 1982), and Unkenrufe (1992; The Call of the Toad, 1992). Mein Jahrhundert (1999; My Century, 1999) relates a personal view of Germany's history in 100 short tales, one for each year of the 20th century. Grass's fiction is an unconventional blend of realism, the macabre, fantasy, and symbolism and often deals with the theme of collective guilt. It usually depicts the struggle of a man, himself often grotesque in form or in his perceptions, to maintain his individuality in what Grass conceives as the materialistic nightmare of contemporary life.
A political activist in Germany, Grass was for a time a writer and campaigner for the Social Democratic Party. His political writings are included in Speak Out: Speeches, Open Letters, Commentaries (1968; translated 1969). Other essays, written from 1967 to 1983, were published in English translation in On Writing and Politics (1985). Grass expressed his opposition to a united Germany in another collection of essays and speeches published in English as Two States—One Nation? (1990).