August 28, 2006

Jewish group praises Grass for Nazi archive access

BERLIN (Reuters) - The Simon Wiesenthal Center said on
Monday that it welcomed Nobel prize winning novelist Guenter
Grass's decision to waive restrictions on his Nazi archives so
the center could investigate his time in Hitler's Waffen-SS.

Last week the center appealed to Grass to waive Germany's
strict data protection laws aimed at protecting privacy.
However, the center cautioned that documents alone would not be
enough and that Grass's own testimony would be necessary.

"While access to archives will certainly make a historical
investigation easier, documents by themselves will not deliver
a clear picture of his war service," Efraim Zuroff, head of the
Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said in a statement.

The center said that press reports on his past have been
contradictory and said he should set the record straight.

"We call on Mr. Grass as soon as possible to give details
about the unit or units he belonged to and about any operations
and his role during this time," Zuroff, who has been hunting
Nazi war criminals for the past quarter century, said.

Grass, one of Germany's best-known writers and viewed by
many in the country as a moral authority, has for half a
century called on Germans to be open about their past.

But earlier this month the 78-year-old shocked admirers at
home and abroad by disclosing he had volunteered for submarine
duty at 15 but was rejected and was later called up to the
Waffen-SS toward the end of World War Two.

The Waffen SS was a highly trained Nazi combat unit,
initially composed of volunteers, which took part in the
Holocaust and committed war crimes. By the end of the war,
however, most members were drafted and many were under 18.

Grass said that he had joined the SS in order to escape
from his family and insisted that he never fired a shot.

But some critics inside and outside Germany say that this
explanation is too meager and comes too late.