Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nobel-Winning German Writer Grass Dies At 87

Guenter Grass

Guenter Grass, a Nobel laureate widely considered Germany's most famous writer in decades, has died at the age of 87.

The Steidl publishing house said on Twitter that Grass died on April 13 in a hospital in the northern German city of Luebeck.

The author's most famous works include The Tin Drum, which was published in 1959, Cat And Mouse, and Crabwalk.

Grass won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999, for portraying what the Nobel committee called "the forgotten face of history."

The committee said The Tin Drum, an anti-Nazi novel, represented a "rebirth of the German novel in the 20th century."

The magical realist novel's narrator decides to stop growing at the age of three, and watches the adult world around him as events overtake his family and Danzig. He communicates through his tin drum and is able to "drum up the past," reporting on events he has not witnessed.

It was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1979 by renowned German director Volker Schloendorff.

Describing The Tin Drum, the Nobel committee said that it was "as if German literature had been granted a new beginning after decades of linguistic and moral destruction."

Renowned as a powerful voice of the generation of Germans that grew up during the Nazi era, in 1990 he openly challenged German reunification and then criticized it later on, saying it was carried out too hastily.

Many of his works often featured the Nazi period, the destruction of the war, and the guilt that Germans faced after the country's defeat.

His later years were marked by controversy over his own World War II past and his stance toward Israel.

His 2006 novel, Peeling The Onion, was by far his most controversial work because of his own revelations that he was briefly a member of Hitler's Waffen SS towards the end of World War II.

Following this disclosure, there were calls for him to be stripped of the Nobel Prize for literature, which he received in 1999 for portraying "the forgotten face of history."

His reputation as a moral authority was shaken after the revelations about his past. Some his opponents even claimed that his confession, which came too late, was an attempt at damage control.

In 1944 he was captured by U.S. forces and kept as a prisoner of war for several months, later becoming a stone mason, then an artist.

What Must Be Said, a poem Grass published in 2012, sparked another controversy for his criticism of Israel, especially Israel's possession of nuclear weapons which he said threatened world peace. He was subsequently declared persona non grata by the Jewish state.

Bernd Saxe, the mayor of Luebeck, Grass' home city, called his death a heavy loss for German and world literature. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “deeply distraught” at Grass' death, calling Grass a great citizen.

Grass was also engaged politically, especially with the Social Democratic Party, and was a prominent figure in Germany's public life.

Grass was born in Danzig, now the Polish city of Gdansk, but he spent the latter part of his life living near Luebeck.

British author Salman Rushdie tweeted that the news of Grass's death was "very sad."

"A true giant, inspiration, and friend. Drum for him, little Oskar," he wrote, referring to the character in The Tin Drum.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa, BBC
  • 16x9 Image


    RFE/RL journalists report the news in 27 languages in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.