The great German author and poet Günter Grass has come under fire in Germany, Israel and increasingly the US for this bold poem about German complicity in Israeli violence. I couldn’t find a structurally faithful translation, so here’s mine:
“Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”) – Günter Grass
Why have I remained silent – too long, silent –
on something so foreseeable, played out in so many simulations,
at the end of which we as survivors
are inevitably footnotes.
It is the supposed right to first strike
that can destroy an Iranian people
who have been subordinated to the will of hawks
and government-controlled enthusiasm,
because of allegations that a nuclear missile was being
constructed within their nation’s borders.
Why then do I hold myself back
from mentioning the name of that other nation
which for many years – if also clandestinely –
has been a developing nuclear capacity,
shielded from oversight by its
inaccessibility to inspectors?
I find the general concealment of this state of affairs,
having subordinated my silence to its cause,
to be an incriminating lie
and coercion that announces the threat of punishment
as soon as it is undermined;
the common verdict, “anti-Semitism”.
Now, because my land,
the land of inherited wrongdoing,
we who are incomparable,
who have time after time been reined in and taken to task,
purely businesslike, even if
we quick of tongue declare it reparations,
will once more send to Israel
another U-Boot whose specialty
lies in its ability to deliver all-annihilating warheads
to a place in which the existence
of a single nuclear weapon remains unproven,
rather, remains a speculation about evidence,
I say what must be said.
Why, however, did I remain silent until now?
Because I believed that my heritage,
marked by permanent blemish,
forbade me to expect acknowledgement
of this reality
from the state of Israel, to whom I am bound
and will remain so.
Why do I only now say,
older and with my last ink:
Israel’s nuclear capabilities jeopardize
the already fragile global peace?
Because that must be said,
for which tomorrow may be too late;
also because we – as Germans, burdened enough –
could become suppliers of a foreseeable transgression,
because of which our sense of complicity
would find no relief
through the usual excuses.
And admittedly: I am silent no more,
because the hypocrisy of the West
disgusts me; furthermore, it is worth hoping for
that many may free themselves of their silence,
demand that the initiators of the apparent danger
abandon violence and
likewise also demand
that an unrestricted and permanent inspection
of Israeli nuclear capabilities
and the Iranian nuclear situation
through international authority
be allowed by the governments of both countries.
Only this way can everyone, the Israelis and the Palestinians,
all people who live,
packed tightly and pitted against one another,
in this region occupied by illusion,
and finally we ourselves, find a way forward.