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Guenter Grass Surfaces in the Pages of the New Yorker

Ah. Guenter Grass in the New Yorker this week:

Guenter Grass: What is less certain is when I exchanged my [Waffen SS 10th Division "Frundsberg"] uniform jacket for one less onerous. Did I do so of my own accord? It was more likely the pfc. who, his eye on the runes on my collar, recommended the change of jacket. He could not have been pleased about my markings. Through me, though he did not put it in those terms, he had got into bad company. What he did say at some point, either in the larder of a cellar or while shaving or puffing on his cigarette, was: “Listen, boy, if those Ivans nab us, you’re in for it. They see those ornaments on your collar, they’ll shoot you in the neck. No questions asked.” How he did it I don’t know, but he managed to “organize”--as the soldiers used to say--an ordinary Wehrmacht jacket somewhere. One without bullet holes or bloodstains. It even fit. Minus the double rune, he liked me a lot better. I came to like me better, too...

And Guenter Grass in the New Yorker this week:

Guenter Grass: I most likely viewed the Waffen S.S. as an élite unit that was sent into action whenever a breach in the front line had to be stopped up. I did not find the double rune on the uniform collar repellent. The boy... would be a tank gunner in a division that was named in honor of Jörg von Frundsberg... the “father of the Landsknechts”--crack infantry mercenaries. Someone who stood for freedom, liberation. Besides, the Waffen S.S. had a European aura to it: it included separate volunteer divisions of French and Walloon, Dutch, and Belgian, and many Norwegian and Danish soldiers; there were even said to be neutral Swedes on the Eastern Front in the defensive battle, as the rhetoric went, to save the West from the Bolshevik flood...

The argument that the SS was perceived as

élite... sent into action whenever a breach in the front... I did not find the double rune on the uniform collar repellent...

is in interesting tension with

I exchanged my [SS] uniform jacket for one less onerous... [because] the pfc... could not have been pleased about my markings... [which meant] he had got into bad company.... Minus the double rune, he liked me a lot better. I came to like me better, too...

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