When this book was published in Germany last year it unleashed a furore. The great castigator of the German people for their secrets and lies had kept his own secret for sixty years: he had ended the war in an SS unit. The press rounded on him. Grass was so shaken he couldn’t sleep.
In fact it wasn’t the book itself that caused the storm, but an interview Grass gave for its publication. Newspapers have less space and time than books, and not for the first time the truth was distorted. The SS scandal was absurd. Grass was only seventeen at the time; he was drafted during the chaos at the end of the war; he never fired a shot; and he didn’t know that his destination was the SS until he arrived. It is almost as though the press had picked a paper tiger: an accusation so unfair that Germans reading it could feel, once more, unjustly reviled.
In Peeling the Onion Grass does the opposite. He doesn’t let himself off lightly by admitting something everyone will forgive. The SS story is only one shameful episode among many, and far from the worst. Peeling the Onion is not a paper tiger, but a painful and courageous book. Forget