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Archive for April, 2012

 

The Agony of War (Satis Shroff)

 

 

Once upon a time there was a seventeen year old boy

Who lived in the Polish city of Danzig.

He was ordered to join the Waffen-SS,

Hitler’s elite division.

Oh, what an honour for a seventeen year old,

Almost a privilege to join the Waffen-SS.

The boy said, “Wir wurden von früh bis spät

Geschliffen und sollten

Zur Sau gemacht werden.”

A Russian grenade shrapnel brought his role 

In the war to an abrupt end.

That was on April 20, 1945.

In the same evening, 

He was brought to Meissen,

Where he came to know about his Vaterland’s defeat.

The war was lost long ago.

He realised how an ordinary soldier

Became helpless after being used as a tool in the war,

Following orders that didn’t demand heroism 

In the brutal reality of war.

It was a streak of luck,

And his inability to ride a bicycle,

That saved his skin

At the Russian-held village of Niederlausitz.

His comrades rode the bicycle,

And he was obliged to give them fire-support

With a maschine-gun.

His seven comrades and the officer

Were slain by the Russians.

The only survivor was a boy 

Of seventeen named Grass.

Günter Grass.

He abandoned his light maschine-gun,

And left the house of the bicycle-seller,

Through the backyard garden 

With its creaky gate.

What were the chances in the days of the Third Reich

For a 17 year old boy to understand the world?

The BBC was a feindliche radio,

And Goebbels’ propaganda maschinery 

Was in full swing.

There was no time to reflect in those days.

Fürcht und Elend im Dritten Reich,

Wrote Bertold Brecht later.

Why did he wait till he was almost eighty?

Why did he torment his soul all these years?

Why didn’t he tell the bitter truth,

About his tragi-comical role in the war

With the Waffen-SS?

He was a Hitlerjunge,

A young Nazi.

Faithful till the end.

A boy who was seduced by the Waffen-SS.

His excuse:

Ich habe mich verführen lassen.“

The reality of the war brought 

Endless death and suffering.

He felt the fear in his bones,

His eyes were opened at last.

Grass is a figure,

You think you know well.

Yet he’s aloof 

And you hardly know him,

This literary titan.

He breathes literature 

And political engagement.

In his new book:

Beim Häuten der Zwiebeln

He confides he has lived from page to page,

And from book to book.

Is he a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Dr. Freud and Mephistopheles,

In the same breast?

Grass belongs to us,

For he has spent the time with us.

It was his personal weakness

Not to tell earlier.

He’s a playwright, director and actor

Of his own creativeness.

His characters Oskar and Mahlke weren’t holy Joes.

It was his way of indirectly showing

What went inside him.

Ach, his true confession took time.

It was like peeling an onion with tears,

One layer after the other.

Better late than never.

* * *

Commentary: Günter Grass: “I Will Not Be Silent“ (Satis Shroff)

 

Günter Grass, the German Lit Nobel Prize winner, defended his Israel poem which came under heavy fire from the international media.

 

Whereas the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanjahu called the poem a shameful comparison of Israel with Iran, Beate Klarsfeld, the Nazi-hunter based in Paris attacked Grass with a comparison to Hitler.

 

Earlier, Grass had wanted his poem to be published only in two renowned newspapers: New York Times and Germany’s intellectual weekly Die Zeit, but both showed a reluctance because it was about the atomic power Israel posing a danger to Iran.

 

The question in the poem was whether Israel has the right to strike a nuclear blow in former Persia, and to eliminate the Iranian folk the way the USA did in the aftermath of World War II in Japan with the bombardments in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli argumentation is that Iran has been allegedly all the while been busy developing an Islamic nuclear arsenal.

 

Grass himself says in the poem that the verdict ‘antisemitism’ is going to be passed, when one speaks of the reality of Germany today, which has provided Israel’s Navy with another U-boat (submarine). He reassures that Israel is the country he was attached to, and wants to be attached in future, and reasons why he writes his verse so late, elderly and with the last ink-drops: the nuclear power Israel endangers the already fragmented world peace? He goes further to say: ‘because it has to be said, what tomorrow could be too late; that we Germans are involved enough through our arms delivery, and our guilt cannot be excused. He’s sick of the hypocracy of the West which warns of the danger of a nuclear war on the one hand, and promotes peaceful means of solving political problems, and in the same breath demands permanent control over Israel’s atomic potential and Iran’s nuclear plants through an international instance with the permission of both countries. As a consequence it would be helpful for us all humans if the Israelis and Palestinians who live in a region occupied by madness, side by side as enemies.

 

I personally find Günter Grass’ verses are the thoughts of a poet who fears the escalation in the Middle East , and there is no shade of antisemitism to be encountered in any of the stanzas.

 

The historical evidence states that Günter Grass joined, or hat to join, the SS-Division Frundsberg at the tender age of seventeen. For the Israelis, and friends of Israel, he’s a marred person no matter how pacifistic his verses may be.

 

Grass is the man who wrote ‘While Skinning an Onion’ (Beim Häuten der Zwiebel) and who kept his SS-membership an open-secret by not commenting on it for fifty long years (he’ll be 85 soon). In his best years the poet and writer Grass maintained a diplomatic silence regarding his SS-role. In the winter of his life, Günter Grass has at last chosen to speak out his thoughts discreetly and exclusively, but the words have been echoed like a big detonation all over the world. And for the first time, he spoke in the first person singular and said: “Ich schweige nicht mehr.”

 

The media didn’t see in him a prophet warning mankind of the dangers of nuclear war. He, on his part, spoke of a ‘fast gleichgeschalteten Presse,’ that is, the media was out to bring him in disrepute through a concerted action. ‘Gleichschaltung’ is what the National Socialists did when they took over Germany in the days of the Third Reich. The media is free in the Federal Republic of Germany today. Over the decades many politicians and writers have come and gone and the press has always been fair.

 

Even a poet of Günter Grass’ stature can irr. Perhaps Grass should have consulted Roget’s Thesaurus and chosen a suitable word or indulged in euphemism, instead of coming up with a Nazi-tested expression. That made the press wary. In the words of PB Shelley:

 

O World! O Life! O Time!

On whose last steps I climb,

Troubling at that where

I had stood before;

When will return the glory of your prime?

No more—

Oh, never more!

 

Read the poem in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung or in the Badische Zeitung and decide for yourself whether this poet’s verses are good or bad.

 

 

Works by Günter Grass: Surrealist poems Die Vorzüge der Windhühner 1956, grotesque plays Hochwasser 1956, Onkel-Onkel, Noch zehn Minuten bis Buffalo, Die bösen Köche 1957, original novel Die Blechtrommel 1959 (The Tin Drum), poems and drawings Gleisdreieck 1960, Hundejahre 1963, Die Plebjer proben den Aufstand 1966, Büchner Prize 1965, illustrated poems Ausgefragt 1967, third novel örtlich betäubt, play Davor, 1969 gesammelte Gedichte1971, Maria zuehren 1973, Liebe geprüft 1974, wie ich mich sehe 1980, ,fourth novel Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke 1972,a study of melancholy Melancholia I, lengthy novel Der Butt1977, Das Treffen in Telgte 1979, Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus 1980, Widerstand lernen, Politische Gegenreden 1980-1983, Aufsätze zur Literatur 1957-79 in 1980.Beim Häuten der Zwiebeln 2006.

 

* * *

 

Peace and War (Satis Shroff)

 

It’s Volkstrauertag

Death through war,

Gewaltherrschaft,

Go through your mind.

It’s 2011,

Peace at last?

 

The victims of wars,

Memorials with mourning choirs,

Weeping war widows, orphans,

Wreaths and flowers for the dead.

The fire brigade stands at attention.

Uniforms,

Stiff humans

With eyes moving,

To take in the mourning.

In Freiburg-Kappel we sing

A Russian song,

To remember

The sons and husbands of Freiburg-Kappel

Who didn’t return.

 

Ninety years ago,

The Constitution of Weimar.

Germany’s Fundamental Laws,

Proclaimed sixty years ago.

The ugly Berlin wall

Fell twenty years ago.

The Second World War,

Began seventy years ago.

 

Alas, young Teutonic widows

Still cry today

In Germany,

For young husbands

Who died

And still die,

In the killing fields

Of the Hindukush,

 

There’s a war

In far off Afghanistan.

The grandfather died

For a totalitarian regime.

The grandson dies today

For a democratic idea.

 

We Germans train the police

In the Hindukush.

What happens when they run

Over to the Talibans?

Islam binds the people

In the Hindukush.

What have we to offer?

 

Is war capitulation,

Against the forces of evil?

People who are beaten, tortured

When their ethnicity

And genes differ,

When people with illness or disability,

Are meted injustice,

Stamped as ‘unworthy of life.’

There are those who faced

A firing squad,

When they defied

The rule of power,

Clutched to their beliefs,

Their pure conscience.

 

You can’t change the past.

What has happened,

Has happened.

Don’t close your eyes

To the hoary past,

Lest you be blind

To the present,

And the future.

 

It’s not the Third World,

Where ideologies,

Fundamentalists,

Terror

Find their breeding grounds.

Rightist ideology

Is still mushrooming,

In the streets of Berlin,

Vienna and Bern.

The ‘others’ are still

Being terrorized,

Beaten, stabbed and kicked

In broad daylight.

 

Freedom and forgiveness,

Within and without,

Where art thou?

He who searches

Finds hope,

Tolerance,

Empathy

And dignity,

For there are enough

Righteous, honest,

Spiritual people with integrity

Who care about others.

                                    * * *

 

Satis Shroff teaches Creative Writing in Freiburg and is the published author of three books on http://www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace”, poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer.

Satis Shroff is a poet and writer based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) who also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize and was nominated for the German Engagement Prize, Berlin by Green City Freiburg.

 

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