John Irving Defends Author Guenter Grass

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 16, 2006; 11:27 PM

NEW YORK -- Nobel laureate Guenter Grass, who has been strongly criticized for his long-belated confession that he served in the notorious Waffen-SS during World War II, is still a "hero" in the eyes of his friend and fellow author John Irving.

"Grass remains a hero to me, both as a writer and as a moral compass; his courage, both as a writer and as a citizen of Germany, is exemplary, a courage heightened, not lessened, by his most recent revelation," Irving said Wednesday in an e-mail message sent to The Associated Press.

"The fulminating in the German media has been obnoxious. Grass is a daring writer, and he has always been a daring man."

Irving's books include the novels "The World According to Garp" and "A Prayer for Owen Meany."

Grass, author of the classic "The Tin Drum" and many other writings, acknowledged in an interview published Saturday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he had served in the Waffen-SS, the Nazi's elite fighting force. In the interview, he expressed shame at having been part of the organization and said he was making the admission because "it weighed on me."

Previously, it was only known that he worked as an assistant to anti-aircraft gunners _ a common duty for teenagers at the time _ and that he was wounded before being captured by U.S. troops toward the end of the war.

Grass' comments were made in advance of his new memoir, "Beim Haeuten der Zwiebel" or "Skinning the Onion." In the book, scheduled for release on Sept. 1 but already on sale in some German bookstores, Grass remembers the pull of Nazi propaganda, saying that when he was assigned to the 10th SS Panzer Division "Frundsberg" he found "nothing offensive" about the prospect.

"So, enough excuses," he wrote. "And yet I refused for years to admit to myself the word and the double letters. That which I accepted with the dumb pride of my young years, I kept silent about after the war out of growing shame."

On Wednesday, Irving said Grass: "The man (and the writer) is a model of soul-searching and national conscience."

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