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Austrian writer Handke slams Grass for SS past

Written by: Staff
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VIENNA, Sep 14 (Reuters) The controversial Austrian writer Peter Handke has lashed out at German novelist Guenter Grass, who confessed last month he had belonged to Hitler's Waffen-SS.

''He is a disgrace to all writers,'' Handke told the Austrian weekly News in an interview to be published today.

Grass, one of Germany's best-known writers and viewed by many in the country as a moral authority, has called on Germans to be open about their past for decades -- which made his confession all the more shocking.

The 78-year-old Nobel Prize winner said he was called up to the Waffen-SS -- a highly-trained Nazi unit instrumental in the Holocaust and other war crimes -- as a teenager towards the end of World War Two.

''The excuse that you don't know anything at 17 is one of the worst,'' Handke said. ''You don't necessarily know what's good, but you know what's bad. Grass knew that too but didn't act accordingly.'' The SS was initially composed of volunteers but by the end of the war most members were drafted and many were under 18.

Handke accused Grass of being ''holier-than-thou'' for the last 50 years. He said Grass had been a genius for a few years of his life, which included the breakthrough 1959 novel ''The Tin Drum'', but ''since then he has imitated his genius''.

Handke, author of dozens of plays and novels, many translated into English, has drawn his own share of controversy for his portrayal of Serbia as a victim during the Balkan wars and for attending the funeral of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in March.

REUTERS DKA MIR KP1034

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