What makes most Germans feel betrayed is not the fact that you were a member of the Waffen SS, a criminal organisation, but that you made the fateful decision not to share with anybody the most important single fact about yourself.
Not with your fellow writers in the Gruppe 47, most of whom were, like you, war veterans, who gave you your first breaks; not with the publishers and the book trade that marketed you as the voice of a new, untainted but angry young generation, and above all not with the reading public, which has remained true to you since you broke on to the literary scene in 1959 with your first novel, The Tin Drum.
It was, and is, a modern classic. It was followed in quick succession by two more war novels, Cat and Mouse and Dog Years. Over the years you have returned again and again to the war years for inspiration. Four years ago you published Crabwalk, your fictionalised depiction of the tragic sinking of the liner Wilhelm Gustloff, laden with German refugees fleeing the Russians in the last days of the war — a subject dear to the hearts of old Nazis that, had you not been a life-long leftist, would have cast doubt on where your true sympathies lay. But you did not vouchsafe your readers that essential detail about what you were doing at the time.
Throughout your fiction there are characters in denial, whose bad faith or failure to come clean have terrible consequences. From the first, you invested "the power of silence" with supernatural force. Variations on the theme are repeated over and over again in your work. You urged Germans to break their unhealthy silence about the Holocaust, the "inability to mourn" in the catchphrase of the day. But you did not follow your own advice.
I have before me two of your books. The first, a translation of your speeches and, yes, open letters, is entitled Speak Out! Published in 1968, it is introduced by Michael Harrington, a leading American liberal, who praises you for your outspoken courage as a public intellectual. The ironies here are too obvious.
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