Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss” (my translation)

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.


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