Grass is important to the German public — I would go so far as to say “necessary” — because he has accepted being the emblem of the “German problem.” For instance, in his play, Grass is trying to force his countrymen, on both sides of the Wall, to admit the truth about at least one incontrovertible fact in German history: that the June, 1953, manifestation, which the East Germans describe, in Grass’s words, “as the work of Nazis sent in by the West” and which the West Germans call a heroic “uprising of the people,” was, in fact, “neither one nor the other, but a simple workers’ demonstration. The intellectuals, the church, the bourgeoisie abstained completely,” Grass said to me (slipping, for the only time in our talk, into real bitterness). “It was neither the Nazis, nor was it the whole German people. That would be too easy. I subtitle my play ‘A German Tragedy’ because, by telling a few lies, everyone got off the hook.”
Naturally enough, I asked Grass what he would have done in the circumstances. He would not, he said with some anger, have told the German people, as the Adenauer Government implied in 1953, that keeping peace and quiet was the citizen’s first duty: “Rühe ist die erster Bürgerpflicht.” For Grass, the horror of this attitude was its calculating hypocrisy, which he finds everywhere in West German society.