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
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
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.