Günter Grass: What Must Be Said

Declared ‘persona non grata’ in Israel, German Nobel laureate Günter Grass speaks out on a tangible threat to world peace


Writer Günter Grass bangs his tin drum against the militarism of Israel’s prime minister | Illus.: M. Szyszkowitz

Why have I been silent, been silent too long,

about what obviously is and has been practised

in a simulated game, at whose end, we will

as survivors, in any case, only be footnotes?


It is the assumed right to a First Strike,

by which an Iranian people,

enslaved by a braggart

and driven to organised fervour,

could be annihilated,

because somewhere in their sphere of influence

someone suspects they are building a bomb.


So then why do I forbid myself to speak

the name of a certain other country,

which for years – even when in secret –

has had an ever-growing, but out of control,

nuclear capacity, because no one is allowed

to inspect?


The general silence about this state of affairs,

next to which my silence is secondary,

weighs heavily on me like a lie

and a force, for which punishment is swift

the moment it is not respected;

and everywhere echoes a verdict of Anti Semitism.


But now, because from my own country,

whose ultimate, original

crimes are without equal,

dragged out time and again and brought up for discussion,

now once again, all very business-like, even as

with a glib tongue it is called compensation,

another submarine is being sent to Israel,

whose special feature consists in

targeting total-annihilation bombs

at a place where the existence of

a single atom bomb is as yet unproven;

yet it is sent for fear of the power of proof,

I now say, what must be said.


Why have I been silent so long?

Because I thought my heritage,

that carries a stain that can never be wiped clean,

forbade me to ascribe this fact, as articulated Truth,

to the country of Israel, to which I feel attached

and hope so to remain.

So why am I only saying this now,

so much older and with my last drop of ink,

that the nuclear power Israel endangers

our already fragile world peace?

Because that must be said

which tomorrow could already be too late,

and because we – as Germans burdened enough –

could be the perpetrators of a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

could not be explained away

with any of the usual excuses.


And granted: I can no longer be silent

because I am fed up with

the cant of the West; and more, in the hope

that many others will throw off their silence,

which is the perpetrator of the acknowledged danger

of calling for the renunciation of violence

while at the same time insisting on it,

and so that an unfettered, permanent monitoring

of Israel’s nuclear capacity

and the Iranian atomic facilities

will be conducted by an international body

authorised by the governments of both countries.


Only in this way is it possible for all,

for Israeli and Palestinian,

and more, for all people, who

in this insanity-occupied region

live in enmity so densely together,

and ultimately for us, to find help.


by Günter Grass
trans. Dardis McNamee

Novelist Günter Grass has been a moral voice in post war Germany since publication of his novel The Tin Drum in 1959. This poem, “Was gesagt werden muss”, was first published 4 Apr. 2012 in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, in La Repubblica in Italy und El País in Spain. This is an original translation by TVR Editor in Chief, Dardis McNamee. For related commentary, see From the Editor, on p.2 of TVR May 2012. 

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