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Günter Grass (1927 – 2015) was a German-Kashubian novelist, playwright, poet, artist, and Social Democratic speechwriter and political activist. Grass gained attention early in his career for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), which was followed by the two other parts of the “Danzig Trilogy,” Cat and Mouse (1961) and Dog Years (1963). Grass’ other works include his account of the election of Willy Brandt, From the Diary of the Snail (1973), and his account of the German diaspora in the Soviet Union, Crabwalk (2002). In addition to his novels, Grass wrote plays, made sculptures, and illustrated many of his own works. In 1979, the film adaptation of the The Tin Drum, directed by Volker Schölndorff, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. In 1999, Grass won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his “frolicsome black fairy tales” which helped remind the world of “the forgotten face of history.” Instead of his dwelling of Germany, Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize on behalf of the Free City of Gdansk (Danzig.)
Never a stranger to controversy, Grass revealed in his 2005 memoir Peeling the Onion that he was drafted in the Waffen-SS as a teenager. Grass also opposed the reunification of Germany in 1990, despite Willy Brandt and the Social Democrats’ support of it. Further, his 2012 poem “What Must be Said,” led to Grass’ declaration of persona non-grata status in Israel due to its harsh criticism of Israeli foreign policy. Grass, however, in one of his interviews considered the criticism he received to affect him greatly. Yet he claimed he would rather remain wounded than not receive criticism.
Grass died in April of 2015. He was 87 years old. Among the speakers at a memorial service dedicated to his memory held in Gdansk were the novelists Salman Rushdie and John Irving.