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Grass' Nazi confession challenged

August 19, 2006|From Times wire services

WARSAW — Polish Solidarity hero Lech Walesa urged German author Gunter Grass on Friday to prove that a confession about his membership in Hitler's SS was not just a marketing ploy to promote his new novel.

The former Polish president also said he would give up his honorary citizenship of Poland's city of Gdansk if Grass, also a holder of the same title, failed to explain why he decided to confess when his autobiography, "Skinning the Onion," came out.

"If Grass will not address his Polish friends, friends who once trusted him, and explain all this, I will myself give up the title.... I do not want to be in the same club with such a person," Walesa told Reuters by telephone from Gdansk.

"Right now it looks like a very successful attempt to promote his new book," he said.

German bookshops are struggling to keep up with demand for Grass's book, saying that his shocking confession has contributed to its success.

The book was due to go on sale Sept. 1, but publication was hurriedly brought forward after the storm of controversy over Grass' confession last week. (It is not due to be published in the United States until the fall of 2007.)

Meanwhile, in an interview explaining his belated confession, Grass, 78, said his Nazi past was "buried within" for 61 years.

"I can't exactly identify the reasons" for failing to disclose his Waffen SS membership earlier, the winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for literature said in an interview broadcast late Thursday on Germany's ARD television network. "It's always occupied me, always been present."

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