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Gdansk Honors Grass

DW staff (nda)October 5, 2007

Günter Grass returned to his birthplace of Gdansk this week to start celebrations for his forthcoming 80th birthday. Not everyone was pleased to see him.

Nobel Laureate Günter Grass
Nobel Laureate Günter Grass remains Gdansk's favorite sonImage: AP

On the second of a three-day celebration making the 80th birthday of German Nobel Laureate Günter Grass, the party in the author's birth city of Gdansk was marred by Polish conservatives who threatened to strip Grass of his citizenship should Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski be re-elected.

Grass, who actually celebrates his birthday on Oct. 16, angered and shocked conservative Poles when he admitted in August 2006 that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS during World War II, a secret the writer had kept for more than half a century.

The revelation sparked calls from politicians that the author be stripped of his honorary citizenship in Gdansk. Grass responded in a letter to the city's mayor in which he said that only in his old age did he find the "right formula" to talk about serving in the SS. The mayor accepted Grass' explanation, and the author kept his honorary citizenship of the city.

However, the prospect of the citizenship being stripped has once again been raised as Grass continues to rile the country's conservatives.

Polish government criticized by Grass

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Grass hopes Prime Minister Kaczynski is not re-electedImage: AP

Grass caused more offense earlier this year by describing the Polish government as a "misfortune" and saying he hoped Prime Minister Kaczynski would fail at the coming elections which have been called two years ahead of schedule after the collapse of the country's conservative-led coalition.

He did little to distance himself from the controversy Thursday when he called for a massive turn-out in the coming vote on October 21 in the hope that a new government would be chosen by the people.

"I am happy to be able to come here and meet my friends on the eve of my birthday," Grass said to an ecstatic crowd in Gdansk. "A huge turn out in the elections would be the most beautiful gift for me," he added.

Gdansk's favorite son -- despite Nazi admission

Günther Grass presents his book "Skinning the Onion"
Grass writes about his SS career in "Skinning the Onion"Image: AP

Despite his Nazi admission, Grass is still the city's favorite son. When he was born in 1927, Gdansk was known as the Free City of Danzig, after having been carved out of the defeated German Empire following World War I.

The city was awarded to Poland after World War II, when its mainly German-speaking inhabitants -- including the young Grass -- fled or were expelled.

Since beginning a new life in Germany, Grass has long been seen as a beacon in the process of post-World War II Polish-German reconciliation.

His best known and Nobel-winning novel "The Tin Drum" (1959) is set in Danzig and Cologne in the 1920s through to the 1950s and is considered one of the finest examples of German post-War literature.

Conservatives protest celebration, honorary citizenship

President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski
The Kaczynski twins have often stirred anti-German feelingImage: AP

However, not all Poles are fans. Despite being invited by the Gdansk municipality, which is controlled by Poland's liberal opposition, city councilors from Poland's governing conservative-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party voiced their objection to the festivities in Grass' honor.

"It's outrageous to spend so much money," PiS councilor Kazimierz Koralewski was quoted as saying by Polish Radio. "Grass doesn't enjoy the respect of Germans or of Polish people any more," he said.