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About the Book

About the Author

Also by Günter Grass

Title Page

Editor’s Note

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

On Stasis in Progress


About the Book

Probably the most autobiographical of his novels, From the Diary of a Snail balances the agonising history of the persecuted Danzig Jews with an account of Grass’s political campaigning with Willie Brandt. Underlying all is the snail, the central symbol that is both model and a parody of social progress, and a mysterious metaphor for political reform.

About the Author

Günter Grass (1927–2015) was Germany’s most celebrated post-war writer. He was a creative artist of remarkable versatility: novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, graphic artist. Grass’s first novel, The Tin Drum, is widely regarded as one of the finest novels of the twentieth century, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.


The Tin Drum

Cat and Mouse

Dog Years

The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising

Four Plays

Speak Out!

Local Anaesthetic

Max: A Play


In the Egg and Other Poems

The Flounder

The Call of the Toad

The Meeting at Telgte


Drawings and Words 1954-1977

On Writing and Politics 1967-1983

Etchings and Words 1972-1982

The Rat

Show Your Tongue

Two States – One Nation?

My Century

title page
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Editor’s Note

The 1969 election campaign in West Germany, which for the first time after the Second World War brought the S.P.D., the Social Democratic Party, to power and Willy Brandt to the Chancellorship, forms the background to this book. In almost one hundred election speeches, Günter Grass campaigned for the S.P.D. against the Christian Democratic Union (C.D.U.) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (C.S.U.), and the incumbent Chancellor of the West German Federal Republic, Kurt Georg Kiesinger.


Dear children: today they elected Gustav Heinemann president. I meant to start with Doubt, whose first name was Hermann and last name was Ott, but Gustav Gustav comes first. It took three ballots to elect him. (He has two doctorates; that’s why the backbenchers who call themselves sewer workers and sit at the Rheinlust Tavern, betting rounds of beer on the outcome of the ballots, call him twice Gustav.) But when I reckon it up with care and enter all the delays (and not only the breakdown of the computer on the first ballot) in my waste book, I see that this day was twenty years in the making, even if he, Gustav Gustav, could scarcely have suspected what he was being simmered for or how tough things—and not only the beef—are in Germany.

Place: the East Prussia Hall next to the Radio Tower. Outside, staggered barriers to ward off demonstrators of the A.P.O., or extraparliamentary opposition. Inside, the Christian Democrats and Neo-Nazis exchanged winks of complicity: their candidate’s name was Schröder. (Gustav Gustav, who knows his parliamentary backbenchers and likes to sit with itching thumb over a game of skat, joined the sewer workers now and then, but never long enough to develop beer buttocks.) Smell: nondescript. Ballpoint at the ready. Rumors: How many Liberals willing to be bought off? Rumor reads the future of the current Berlin crisis from pretzel sticks strewn at random. In the lobby the draft promotes rumors about a deputy by the name of Gscheidle, who with bandaged head is rolled in to vote. The TV camera comes to rest on him. Forecasts that fear to cross the threshold. The unhurriable process of calling names, casting ballots, counting: from Abelin to Zoglmann …

I was sitting on the visitors’ bench. (Not far from me Frau Heinemann crumples her handkerchief.) Making slight slits as usual when something is hanging in the balance, I succeeded in evacuating the hall: even the chairs moved oil without a murmur.

I can do that, children; I can think things so hard that I see them.

Even before it came in, its characteristic sound: foamy crackling. Then I saw it moving through the deserted East Prussia Hall. I tried to adjust my breathing to its haste but, breathless, had to give up.

Or similar happenings in slow motion: when Anna and I settle our marriage accounts in retrospect.

It pushed itself through the picture, never to be encompassed in one glance; even as a fragment it remained part of a will, which preceded the will to further will and, impelled by will, distended space on a wide screen.

Four children seldom united in one photo: antithetical twins, Franz and Raoul, eleven; a girl, Laura, eight, in pants, and Bruno, always motorized, four, who, contrary to all expectation, did not decide to stop growing at the age of three.

When, with its extended tentacles, the snail sensed the approaching finish line, it hesitated: it didn’t want to get there, wanted to stay on the road, didn’t want to win.

You talk Swiss German with Anna—“Mer müend langsam prässiere” and Berlinisch with me: “Was issen nu wieda los?

Only a “naked snail,” a slug. My tedious principle. Only when I promised to set it a new goal, when I cut the future into slices for it to feed on successively, did it cross the imaginary line and leave the East Prussia Hall without waiting for the applause of the majority, who had instantly returned, or for the silence of the minority. (Here are the figures: with 512 Social Democratic and Free Democratic votes against 506 C.D.U. C.S.U. N.P.D.fn1 votes and five abstentions, the Bundesversammlung elected Dr. Dr. Gustav W. Heinemann President of the Federal Republic on March 5, 1969.)

Since then he has been straightening out our screwed-up history and its holidays. (When he came to see us on Niedstrasse the evening before the election, he brought good cheer with him but nevertheless pulled out his wallet and showed us the hatred of his opponents: tattered newspaper clippings; the nagging old sores.) Homeless. I’ve already told you: a naked snail …

It seldom wins and then by the skin of its teeth. It crawls, it goes into hiding but keeps on, putting down its quickly drying track on the historical landscape, on documents and boundary lines, amid building sites and ruins, in drafty doctrinal structures, far from well-situated theories, skirting retreats and silted revolutions.

“What do you mean by the snail?”

“The snail is progress.”

“What’s progress?”

“Being a little quicker than the snail …”

… and never getting there, children. A little later, when the trial meetings had been agreed on and the flights had been booked, when the student Erdmann Linde had moved into our Bonn office and started mapping out our campaign trips with varicolored pins, when the first campaign speeches had been stuffed with medium-term odds and ends and our aims had been (more or less) established, when I had taken to shuttling back and forth between Berlin-Tempelhof and Cologne-Wahn, setting out light and coming home with a bulging traveling bag (presents), when I had begun to be here today and gone tomorrow, but on the move even when here, a mobile, regionally dispersed, almost intangible father—all four of you at once and each of you extra specially fired questions at me, and with questions loaded me into the airport-bound taxi: When, why, how long, against whom?

Bruno has been thinking it over; he knows against whom. Before I say, “So long now,” he says, “Be careful, or the Wahlkampffn2 will gobble you up.” The fact is that from Friday to Monday he sees his father and draws pictures of him on board a whaling ship. Firm and resolute in the bow, swathed in oilskins, wielding a harpoon. “Thar she blows! Thar she blows!” Battling the whale, far far away in danger, home again after a narrow squeak …

“Where are you off to again?”

“What do you do when you get there?”

“Who are you fighting for?”

“What’ll you bring us?”

Once I’ve started out, all this, divided into sixteenths by the jolting of the rails or kept in lane by the Autobahn, acquires a date, puts out stimulus words and takes on meaning.

For me the election campaign began in a drizzle on the lower Rhine. In the Kleve town hall I spoke on “Twenty Years of Federal Republic,” a speech which afterward lost weight in some towns, put on topical fat in others, and never came to a full stop. A few days after Kleve, on March 27, I received a letter from Nuremberg, signed by one Dr. Hermann Glaser, an official in the municipal bureau of cultural affairs. (Which may have had something to do with my choosing Hermann as Doubt’s—properly Ott’s—first name.) From Glaser’s letter I learned how soon the Nuremberg authorities had started to prepare for the Dürer year 1971. I was asked to deliver one of a series of lectures. On April 24, Dr. Glaser wrote to thank me for my acceptance. He hoped, I read, that the election campaign would bring me to Nuremberg. Later on, we visited Erlangen, Röthenbach, and Roth. But not Nuremberg, because we usually avoided big cities and covered only small towns (like Kleve), also, children, because Friedhelm Drautzberg, who drove our Volkswagen bus, kept away from Dürer’s native place to avoid a former fiancée who lives there, and not infrequently justified his detours to himself and me.

Glaser in my ears: throughout the election campaign I argued with that man, who, like Doubt, bore the first name of Hermann. Even in pauses, standing after my own speech or callus-assed from seated discussions, I quoted Dürer’s journals: the pinchpenny; called Glaser’s attention to Pirckheimer by pointing Doubt’s index finger. While following a conveyor belt through the Oberhausen steel mill, I saw severe drawing, rigid even in its draperies; and while we were visiting the Kathmann poultry farm in Calveslage near Vechta and the gadgetry of the General Electric plant at Constance, I casually viewed the cabinet of engravings that accompanied me on my journey. (His signature hewn in stone, dangling from branches roots rooftrees. His playfully tail-wagging, sleeping poodle in the Passion woodcuts, usually in the foreground. His love of muscles and women’s double chins.) First jottings in Gladbeck: slag hellebore moondust. After Dinslaken a paraphrase: angels in nightgowns. In Giessen, recipes for ink: black gall. I thought I was still searching, but I had already made up my mind: for I carried a glossy picture postcard through Upper Swabia and Lower Bavaria, through Friesland and Franconia; but it was not until a few days after September 28 (when Willy Brandt had got down to business and had stopped playing irresolutely with matches) that I wrote to Dr. Glaser: “My lecture will deal with Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I.”

“What’s that?”

“Is that what you get when you write books?”

“Does it hurt bad?”

“Is it like the S.P.D.?”

“What about us?”

“Will we get it, too?”

Since the jottings for my Dürer lecture are entered in my waste book among notes that refer to Hermann Ott or Doubt, which record your exclamations or my own, try to capture the land snail’s mode of locomotion and hold fast the effluvia of the election campaign in shorthand, Doubt in his cellar, you growing children, Anna, and I are getting more and more mixed up with Melancholy: already my spirits are growing heavy-gray; already you’ve spent a whole Sunday playing Melancholy and “there’s nothing to do”; already Anna has developed a faraway look; already the horizon is curtained off by the perpetual rain of Durer’s hatching; already progress is infected with acute stasis; already the snail has found its way into the engravings. In short, the draft of a lecture, which thanks to Dr. Glaser’s prepaid time I won’t have to deliver for another two years, is expanding into the Diary of a Snail.

Be patient. My entries come to me on the road. Since in my thoughts, words, and deeds I am categorically earth-bound and even aboard a Super 111 am at best an unauthentic flier, nothing, not even an election campaign, can speed me or any part of me up. Accordingly, I request you to dispense with cries such as “Faster!” or “Get a move on!” I mean to speak to you by (roundabout) bypaths: sometimes offended and enraged, often withdrawn and hard to pin down, occasionally brimful of lies, until everything becomes plausible. Certain things I should like to pass over in circumspect silence. I anticipate a part of the part, whereas another part will turn up only later and partially. And, so, if my sentence twists, turns, and only gradually tapers to a point, don’t fidget and don’t bite your nails. Hardly anything, believe me, is more depressing than going straight to the goal. We have time. Yes, indeed: quite a lot of it.

We’re having tripe, which yesterday after my return from Kleve and while slimming my speech for Castrop-Rauxel and fattening it up again, I simmered for four hours with caraway seed and tomatoes. Seasoned toward the end with garlic. The stomach walls of the cow hang like too-often-washed Turkish towels from the butcher’s hook, in little demand except as dog food.

Cut into thumb-long strips.

Now they’re steaming in a bowl.

Anna and I like them. Why shouldn’t the children like them?

Now strife is floating on the soup.

Franz Raoul Laura Bruno. This knot that was tied in our bed: something that reaches out and grabs things.

The four-stage rocket rises while skin forms on the tripe broth, which demands to be stirred.

Well-rehearsed interruptions all around.

Sound that no button can turn off.

Only sign language remains.

Because, since no one and everyone wants to be first, lest anyone be first or last, the several-times-repeated cry of “You get the rag!” rises shrill and victorious over the tripe and the spilled H2O.

The family tug at the missing tablecloth, unable to separate the too-dense fabric of their voices or the cause—was it the spilt water?—from the effect, the tripe that insists on backing up: sudden insight.


“Pig yourself.”

“Look who’s talking.”


(None of them makes it mildly Swiss like Anna—“You really are a piggy-wiggy”—they all talk like their father.)

Blubber. Bellow. Stink. Waterworks.

Harmony—or a desire to eat tripe in peace and to remember past occasions on which tripe was eaten, until nothing was left in the pot and we gently grazed our sorrow with friends: pacifist cows …

Where do wars start?

What is the name of misfortune?

Why should anyone travel when home sweet home?

(And no one out of malice or caprice, but only because the glass was smaller than the water or the H2O or his thirst—and because the tripe in its broth: reasons.)

“All right. Now Laura may say something.”

“First Laura, then Bruno.”

“Where are you off to again tomorrow?”


“What are you going to do there?”


“Still the same old S.P.D.?”

“It’s just beginning.”

“And what’ll you bring us this time?”

“Myself, among other things …”

… and the question: Why those streaks on the wallpaper? (Everything that backs up with the tripe and coats the palate with tallow.)

Because, sometimes, children, at table, or when the TV throws out a word (about Biafra), I hear Franz or Raoul asking about the Jews:

“What about them? What’s the story?”

You notice that I falter whenever I abbreviate. I can’t find the needle’s eye, and I start babbling.

Because this, but first that, and meanwhile the other, but only after …

I try to thin out forests of facts before they have time for new growth. To cut holes in the ice and keep them open. Not to sew up the gap. Not to tolerate jumps entailing a frivolous departure from history, which is a landscape inhabited by snails …

“Exactly how many were they?”

“How did they count them?”

It was a mistake to give you the total, the multidigitate number. It was a mistake to give the mechanism a numerical value, because perfect killing arouses hunger for technical details and suggests questions about breakdowns.

“Did it always work?”

“What kind of gas was it?”

Illustrated books and documents. Anti-Fascist memorials built in the Stalinist style. Badges of repentance and brotherhood weeks. Well-lubricated words of repentance. Detergents and all-purpose poetry: “When night fell over Germany …”

Now I’ll tell you (and go on telling you as long as the election campaign goes on and Kiesinger is Chancellor) how it happened where I come from—slowly, deliberately, and in broad daylight. Preparations for the universal crime were made in many places at the same time though at unequal speeds; in Danzig, which before the war did not belong to the German Reich, the process was slowed down, which made it easier to record later on.…

fn1 C.D.U., Christian Democratic Union; C.S.U., Christian Social Union, sister party of C.D.U.; N.P.D., National Democratic Party, the Neo-Nazi Party.

fn2 Wahlkampf: “election campaign.” Walkampf (same pronunciation): “fight with the whale.”


About mountains of eyeglasses, because they strike the eye?

About gold teeth, because they can be weighed?

About loners and their private eccentricities, because multidigitate numbers arouse no feelings?

About over-all figures and bickering over decimals?

No, children.

Only about habituation in its peaceable Sunday best.

It’s true: you’re innocent. I, too, born almost late enough, am held to be free from guilt. Only if I wanted to forget, if you were unwilling to learn how it slowly happened, only then might words of one syllable catch up with us: words like guilt and shame; they, too, resolute snails, impossible to stop.

As you know, I was born in the Free City of Danzig, which, after the First World War, had been detached from the German Reich and, with the surrounding districts, placed under the tutelage of the League of Nations.

Article 73 of the Constitution read: “All citizens of the Free City of Danzig are equal before the law. Exceptions to this law are inadmissible.”

Article 96 of the Constitution read: “Full freedom of faith and conscience is guaranteed.”

But (according to the census of August, 1929) the roughly 400,000 citizens of the Free State (among them I, barely two years old, was enumerated) included 10,448 Jews, few of them baptized.

By turns, the German Nationalists and the Social Democrats formed coalition governments. In 1930 the German Nationalist Dr. Ernst Ziehm decided in favor of a minority government. From then on, he was dependent on the twelve votes of the National Socialists. Two years later, the N.S.D.A.P. (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) organized a parade that passed through the inner city in the morning and through the suburb of Langfuhr in the afternoon until, grown tired under placards and banners, the paraders crowded into the Klein-Hammerpark Garden Restaurant. The concluding speech featured the motto: “The Jews are our misfortune.” Some of the newspapers called it impressive.

Social Democratic Deputy Kamnitzer protested in the name of the Danzig citizens of the Jewish faith, but the Senator of the Interior saw no breach of the law, although a photograph of a placard reading “Death to the Crooks and Profiteers” lay on his desk. (Since there are crooks and profiteers among Christians and atheists as well as Jews, it was argued that the threat applied not only to Jewish crooks and profiteers but also to the crooks and profiteers of other denominations.)

Nothing special; a parade for a purpose among other parades for other purposes. No dead or wounded, no property damage. Only increased beer consumption and merriment verging on the staggers. (What they sang then: “Cornflower blue”—what they sing now: “A day like this, so lovely, lovely …”) Lots of young people in their Sunday best, flowery summer dresses: a folk festival. Since everyone knows, fears, and wants to avoid misfortune, everyone was glad to hear the misfortune called at last by its name, to know at last where the high prices, unemployment, housing shortage, and private stomach ulcers came from. At the Klein-Hammerpark under the chestnut trees it was easy to say all that out loud. There was (is) a Klein-Hammerpark everywhere. Consequently, the meaning was not: the Danzig Jews are our misfortune. But the Jews in general, everywhere. Wherever a handy name was sought for misfortune, it was found: in Frankfurt and Bielefeld, Leipzig and Karlsruhe, Danzig and Kleve, where I recently arrived in the rain and signed my name in the Golden Book at the town hall.

A small town not far from the Dutch border, which, saturated with history and swan lore, was destroyed shortly before the end of the war, and even today, rebuilt in its original small-checkered pattern, looks as if it were about to fall apart. (Little industry—children’s shoes and margarine. Consequently a lot of commuters. By the end of the campaign we had climbed from 25.9 per cent to 31.1 per cent: a town with a future …)

In the afternoon, when I tried to have a discussion with the students at the girls’ high school, disguised schoolboys from Erkelenz or Kevelaer occupied the platform, declared themselves by sheer schizophrenia a majority, and (amid the smell of floor polish common to school buildings) proclaimed in chorus: “We’ve been betrayed by rats. By Social Democrats!”

After the discussion—I tried to chip the paste off the usual historical collages—a few of the executioners asked me for my autograph.

Again, nothing special: a brief scuffle. Rival claims for the microphone. The normally gentle Erdmann Linde joined in. An S.P.D. treasurer was knocked down. (I heard his wrist had been broken.) Nothing remains but the chant: “We’ve been betrayed by …” for the question of betrayal is as old as the desire to hear misfortune called by its name.

In Kleve, a small town on the lower Rhine, and in the neighboring communities of Kalkar, Goch, and Uedem, there lived, in 1933, 352 Jews, united in the Kleve community. Too much misfortune for the townspeople to put up with.

It all begins, children, with: the Jews are. The foreign workers want. The Social Democrats have. Every petit bourgeois is. The niggers. The left-wingers. The class enemy. The Chinese and the Saxons believe have think are …

Signposts with changing inscriptions but identical destination: destroy unmask convert smash eliminate pacify liquidate re-educate isolate exterminate …

My snail knows this rustproof language, the flashing, twice-tempered words, the Freisler finger on Lenin’s hand.fn1

How inoffensive or terrifying are the successive speakers at the microphone when they reel off the destroying angel’s small print—hard total pure sharp—and pledge allegiance to what can do without: the unconditional uncompromising unswerving irresistible betterment of the world—without mercy!

Every day now (sometimes to my consternation) I hear about this kind of thing. They crowd around. And I discover with what a prodigy of deception hate fosters beauty in youthful faces. Something for photographers. They are only a few; the majority look on with sickly alarm. They want to abolish something, anything, the system, for want of anything better, me.

Later, over beer, they’re pleasant and in a relaxed kind of way even polite. They didn’t really mean any harm. Everything—“you know, the whole lousy business”—including themselves strikes them as boring or ridiculous. They sulk because nothing’s going on. They’re sorry for themselves. Homeless because their homes are too good. Embittered, coddled children, who twine their troubles into a litany: parents, school, conditions, everything. (When their spokesman has to speak without a microphone, I see that he’s inhibited and stutters.) Their sheepish self-pity makes me more ironic than I mean to be. I talk, talk beside the point, talk to no purpose, listen to myself talk until they’re sick of me and take their surfeit home.

Where are they headed? What crusade will enlist them? “What should I do, Franz? Tell me, Raoul, what?” Just put up with it? Keep putting up with the same rubbish?

Later on in Delmenhorst, a pretty girl student called me “Social Fascist!” several times in crescendo, till her eyes glittered and her face was covered with spots. But my snail can’t be insulted. When it’s overtaken by rhythmically moving parades, it never speeds up; not long ago, it outdistanced a protest demonstration with banners and placards by antedating it.

In March, 1933, when parades of the SA and the Hitler Cubs had become a daily occurrence, the organ of the Jewish community published an article celebrating the founding of the community fifty years before. The writer spoke of the period before 1833, when there were five isolated communities in Langfuhr, Mattenbuden, Schottland, Weinberg and Danzig. Gustav Davidsohn, chairman of the Schottland community, had managed to unite the dispersed groups and inaugurate the building of the Central Synagogue, an edifice that conformed alarmingly to the “historical” variety of Danzig architecture. But since the new synagogue with its organ was regarded as a sacrilege by an Orthodox minority, the Mattenbuden synagogue was kept open. Synagogues were also built in Zoppot and Langfuhr, for the community was tom by strife. Even in the days when the Jews were respected citizens of Danzig, there had always been open quarrels between Orthodox and Reform Jews, between Zionists and German Nationalists. Dividing lines were drawn: well-to-do citizens bent on assimilation were ashamed of the impoverished arrivals from Galicia, Pinsk, and Bialystok, who spoke Yiddish without compunction and in spite of all the charities did for them remained embarrassingly conspicuous.

Persecution of the Jews had become common practice in revolutionary Russia, and by 1925 some 60,000 Jews from the Ukraine and southeastern Poland had come to Danzig on their way to America. While waiting for their visas, the emigrants were lodged in a transit camp on Troyl, an island otherwise used largely for storing lumber. Three thousand Jews, Polish subjects for the most part, remained in Danzig, failing to suspect what was in store for them.

“What about Doubt?”

“Yes, what about him?”

“Did he have any brothers, or maybe a sister?”

“Or did you just make him up?”

Even if I’ve had to make him up, he existed. (A story told me years ago by Ranicki as his autobiography stayed with me, leading a quiet life of its own; patiently, it insists on an invented name, established origins, and a cellar to take refuge in later on.)

Only now, children, can Doubt come to the surface, predominate, take on body, cloud the atmosphere, pour vinegar on hope, behave bravely and amusingly, be outlawed—only now, in short, is it finally permissible to speak of Hermann Ott.

Born in 1905, the only son of an engineer at the Praust pumping station, he graduated in due time from the Sankt Johann High School. Since 1924 he had been studying, not engineering (hydraulics, for instance), at the Danzig Engineering School but biology and philosophy in faraway Berlin. Only in vacation time can he be seen idling on Langgasse or visiting the Schopenhauer House on Heilige Geistgasse. Obliged to earn his own keep—his father, Simon Ott, had been willing to pay only for hydraulics—he has taken an office job at the Jewish transit camp on Troyl. This is where he is first given the name of Doubt, or Dr. Doubt—the young student is as handy with the word “doubt” as with his knife and fork. He makes himself useful to the camp management and to Rabbi Robert Kaelter by keeping accounts of the receipts and expenditures and calculating the food requirements, which vary from day to day; but when not at work he professes doubt as a new faith. His listeners are Galician artisans who are amused by his categorical Why, which even calls the weather and the chosenness of the people of Israel into doubt. (“Och Zweifelleben, wie bekim ich blojs a daitscheches Visum?” asks the tailor from Lbov. “I doubt,” says Hermann Ott, “whether a German visa will be of much use to you in the long run.”)

In 1926 the transit camps on Troyl were discontinued; the nickname Doubt remained, although Hermann Ott, whose family hailed from the village of Müggenhahl in the Werder, could demonstrate his strictly Mennonite origin. (His grandmother Mathilde, née Claasen, successively widow Kreft, Duwe, Niklas, and Ott, was said to have performed valuable services for the drainage system in the Vistula estuary; but I’ve already written too much about active grandmothers.)

fn1 Roland Freisler, ferocious president of the Nazi People’s Court that judged political crimes.


All sorts of things take refuge in my waste book: found articles, nailed moments, stuttering exercises, and angry exclamatory dashes.

In Kleve, for instance, where I thought of visiting the barrows in the nearby Reichswald, I noted: the island of Mauritius, about which I shall have something to say later on, has been made known by a postage stamp. Must describe Doubt. Autographs on beer mats. Bettina, though patient with our children, has recently become cross with me because her boy friend has “politicized” her.

Or in Rauxel: when the twins are twelve in September, I will not buy Raoul a record player. What did Doubt look like? Tall gaunt stooped? Here we speak in the auditorium of the Adalbert-Stifter High School. Bettina is reading Hegel in a study group.

Or in Gladbeck: Doubt was of medium height with a tendency to corpulence. In the hall pollsters with questionnaires, researching on how and when I make a particular hit with women. One record player downstairs for everybody is plenty. Ride down into the “Graf Moltke” mine. Back on the surface, they make me a present, on the loading platform, of a tin of snuff. Have to repeat the act of snuff taking three times for TV. Chipped beef and schnapps with shop stewards. Bettina’s conversation with me has become strictly impersonal.

Or in Bocholt, where the textile crisis (Erhard calls it a “healthy shrinkage”) feeds discussion: no way of proving what Doubt looked like. At the St. Paulus trade-union house schoolboys are bringing out the red flags. Let’s stick to gray tones from now on! Besides, Bettina has our old record player, and Raoul can borrow it. My hotel is called the Archangel. The loving cups of the marksmen’s societies displayed in glass cases. The word “snail-fug.” A Catholic shop steward takes me aside. “I’m fed up! Welfare commissions, pure hokum! Katzer has hornswoggled us.…” he says.fn1 He’s old tired finished washed up.

And in the Marl, known for its intricate architecture, Doubt looked different. Breed an iron-eating snail. Have to talk more softly to get through because of all the loudspeakers. In the meantime, member of a jury at a poster contest for schoolchildren: despite increasing gray tones, the next decade promises to be colorful. Costume rental: Doubt.

And in Oberhausen, where the local Social Democrats ill-advisedly stage a “Merry Evening” in anticipation of May Day. Meet a lot of people. At the control desk of the rolling mill. Furnace tap, often seen in films. But the noise-silenced work, usually described as a dynamic process, obeys no aesthetic law. I imagine fast-moving things, I want acceleration, I think in hops, skips, and jumps; but the snail is still reluctant to hop or to be accelerated.

Another entry here: pea soup with old man Meinike. (When I listen to old Social Democrats, I learn something, though I can’t say what it is.) How he thunders on, points ahead, says forward, keeps evoking the past, falls silent, blinks watery eyes, suddenly pounds the table to impress his son.

Nothing doing, Raoul: no record player. When he went walking on the walls of the former Rabbit Bastion, Doubt wore checked knickers. Bettina also says “We” when she means “I.” Several suicides at Bonn ministries: civil servants and secretaries. Barzelfn2 disavows Kiesinger. Wonder if Dr. Glaser in Nuremberg has any feeling for the Melencolia. Doubt did not wear glasses.…

“You mean you know him?”

“Is he a friend of yours?”

“Was he always gone, too?”

“Did he look like his name?”

“Well, sort of sad. Sort of funny …”

He looked sad funny nondescript. Think of him as a man with everything out of kilter: his right shoulder sagged, his right ear stuck out; he also blinked his right eye and lifted the right corner of his mouth. This unbalanced face, alien to all symmetry, was dominated by a fleshy nose with a left deviation. Several swirls of hair made a part impossible. Not much chin, always prepared to retreat. A lopsided young fellow, with a tendency to fidgets and knee flexing, eccentric and given to rasping sound effects, weak in the chest. No, children, better not think of Doubt as sickly and blinking. In photographs representing the faculty of the Crown Prince Wilhelm High School, he, who began to teach there in March, 1933, towers almost embarrassingly over his colleagues, who may be described as of medium height. He taught German and biology but might almost have been taken for a hulking gymnastics teacher, though—apart from bicycle trips to the Werder and through Kashubia—he practiced no sport. A man with physical strength that he made no use of. Later on, when a gang of Hitler Youth beat him up, it didn’t occur to him to resist. A man who inflicts pain only in shaking hands. Who in sitting down worries about the chair. Diffident strength on tiptoes. A fussy giant.

No, children, better not form any picture of Doubt. He was made up of contradictions, never looked any particular way. (Possibly the body of a weight lifter supported the lopsided, and under pressure of thought, grimacing face of a book-worm.) Even I, who have known him for years, am unable to define his appearance, to give him a snub nose, an adherent left ear lobe, or nervous sinewy hands.

Imagine Doubt any way you like. Say: extreme ascetic pallor. Say: awkward reserve. Say: rustically robust. Say: nothing striking.

Only this much is certain: he did not limp. He did not wear glasses. He was not bald. Only recently on my way from Gladbeck to Bocholt, as I was trying the snuff received from the Graf Moltke mine without benefit of TV and solely for my own enlightenment, I saw him and was sure that his skepticism peers out of gray eyes.

In other words, he’s still peering, and maybe he blinks after all. Doubt not to be dispelled.

I’ve known him longer than myself: we kept away from the same kindergarten.

When Doubt tried to cancel himself out, I put him under contract: dependent, he gives me orders.

Sometimes he attends my meetings: that heckler in Bocholt the other day; that tumultuously silent fellow in Marl. Now stillness is descending on my hotel room: Doubt arises …

I don’t know whether the withdrawn man whom I call Willy and whose past can never end will soon (as I hope) stop playing with matches and prolong the trajectory from Bebelfn3 to the present day by a snail’s measure of justice. (I am almost inclined to think that when Doubt was sitting in the cellar later on he invented this precise construction of interlocking refuges as a game against time.) Bonn, Kiefernweg. Spent an hour with him today. I’d have liked to swipe his matches, because people are imitating his game, and it’s getting to be a paralyzing fashion. (To say that he was taciturn this morning would imply that one had known him to be talkative.) He listened, took notes, and went right on with his matches. It became clear to me that the man won’t fight until the state he’s in has worn itself out. (What makes him hesitate? His adversaries’ hatred, the servitudes of power?) Before leaving, I succeeded in making him laugh, I don’t remember how: between melancholy and Social Democracy there are sometimes desperately funny short circuits.

Even before the elections, when in March, 1933, the article celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Danzig’s Jewish community concluded with Goethe’s words, “Persevere in defiance of all the powers,” the twenty-eight-year-old Hermann was teaching school; at the same time he was signing letters as assistant secretary of the Schopenhauer Society, an association of elderly and basically conservative gentlemen, devoted more to local patriotism than to any learned pursuits. One of Ott’s functions was to guide visitors to the philosopher’s birthplace in Heilige Geistgasse. There he muddled dates and quotations and (in passing) explained Schopenhauer’s melancholia as the heritage of a family of Hanseatic merchants.

In addition to the organ of the Jewish community, there was in Danzig a Zionist monthly that found readers also in Dirschau and Gdingen. The Jewish Nation was edited by Isaak Landau. And simultaneously with the community organ’s article on the founding of the synagogue, which, except for the quotation from Goethe, abstained from any reference to politics, Landau ran an article about the incipient persecution of the Jews titled “The Situation in Germany.”

In consequence, the journal was suspended for three months. Frightened by anonymous threats, Landau left the Free State on a bicycle borrowed from Ott. Near Klein-Katz he slipped across the border to Poland and sent the bicycle back by train from Putzig before continuing on his way to Palestine. Landau also sent a picture postcard featuring the lighthouse on Hela Peninsula. Between salutation and signature it expressed the hope that there would be no lacking of lighthouses in the future.

“I doubt,” said Hermann Ott, “that this will be the only flight.”

A little later a number of Jewish students at the engineering school had to abandon their studies because their National Socialist fellows made work in the drafting rooms and laboratories impossible for them.

“How did they make it impossible?”

“By chicanery.”

“For instance?”

“Pouring ink on their drawings.”

“Just dumb tricks?”

“It’s possible that some of the SA students thought they were only playing dumb tricks.”

“What about the students now? Would they?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell me the truth. Would they?”

“Some might.”

“The Maoists?”

“It’s possible that some Maoist students think they’re only playing stupid tricks.”

“But if they’re against the system and for justice?”

Let’s try to be broadminded. The violent and the righteous are hard of hearing. Only this much, children: don’t be too righteous. People might be afraid of your righteousness; it might put them to flight.…

After a Jewish instructor at the engineering school was forced out of his job—as a German subject he was handed over to the German authorities in Marienburg and sent to a camp (the word “concentration” was not yet in use)—Ott was horrified by a case of radically logical flight. A seventeen-year-old boy hanged himself in the gymnasium of the Crown Prince Wilhelm High School—from the horizontal bar—after his schoolmates had forced him (only a dumb trick) to display his circumcised prepuce in the toilet.

A few of the guilty students were expelled. But in the presence of the assembled faculty Hermann Ott expressed skepticism: “I doubt that anything can be accomplished by expulsions as long as certain of the teachers see fit to assign generalizations such as ‘The Jews Are Our Misfortune’ as subjects for essays.”

Doubt meanwhile taught fifth-form students—who subsequently in North Africa, on the Arctic front, or as members of submarine crews, found no occasion to become middle-aged or skeptical—the “skeptical view” of Schopenhauer, the lover of poodles. (Of morality and dignity nothing remained but neck stiffeners and powder puffs.) “I doubt,” said Ott to his fifth form, “that you’re listening to me.”

In April, 1933, the Ziehm minority government dissolved the Volkstag. In the elections of May 28, the National Socialists won a bare majority of 50.03 per cent. (In the Reich only 43.9 per cent of the electorate had voted for Hitler in March.)

Someone called Rauschning became president of the Danzig Senate. The unions had already let themselves, without appreciable resistance, be “co-ordinated” with the National Socialist industrial organizations; a disgrace which to this day inspires the German Trade Union League with virtuous protestations of “Never again!” and tortuous confessions of guilt, especially on May Day.…

“Didn’t they go on strike?”

“There was no general strike.”

“Would they now if something like that? …”

“I don’t know.”

“Honest and truly. Would they?”

“I really don’t know.…”

… and at the weekend I bring little certainty home with me in my suitcase: fug-saturated shirts and this pit lamp from the Graf Moltke mine in Gladbeck, given to me along with the snuff by Dziabel, chairman of the shop committee.

Forward—that’s the name of a Social Democratic weekly. The schoolbooks used to call a general, Blücher by name, Marshall Forward. In the Hitler Youth they used to sing (I, too, sang): “Forward, forward, the ringing trumpets blare.…”

A stupid word that has often enough accelerated regression. An inflated, and for that reason quickly deflated word, whose air is enthusiasm and whose pump is faith. A word that leaps over tombs and mass graves, translated into all languages, a catchword familiar to all loudspeakers, which is examined only in retrospect (conversations between refugees). Let’s look and see whether forward isn’t already behind us. Interrogate the rundown heels of our shoes. Clear-cut decisions, but the signposts contradict each other. In the midst of progress we find ourselves standing still. The excavated future. The mysticism of statistics. Gothically ornate ignition keys. Automobiles wrapped around trees …

Later, Franz, when you’re disillusioned,

when you’ve learned—the hard way—the refrain of the “It’s no use” song,

when you’ve sung it in company,

forgotten it out of spite

and learned it again at night school,

later, Franz,

when you see

that this way and that way and even this other way won’t work,

when things start going bad with you

and you’ve spent your portion of hope,

when you’ve forgotten love in the glove compartment

and hope, the well-meaning boy scout

whose knee socks are always slipping,

has lost itself in ashen grayness,

when knowledge lathers in chewing,

when you’re through,

when you’ve been knocked cold:

flattened shredded desiccated—

a man about to give up—

when at the goal, though first,

you recognize applause to be

delusion and victory a punishment,

when your shoes have been soled

with melancholy

and your pockets bulge with slag,

when you’ve given up, at last given up,

given up once and for all, then—Franzeken—

after a pause long enough

to be called embarrassing,

then stand up and start moving,

moving forward.…

… for when we—all of us cubical men—started to meet at my house on Niedstrasse a year ago, to besiege our long table and exasperate each other, we put down between overloaded ash trays, a wee little beginning; it was lame from the start. We all insisted that our wee beginning must regard itself as an experiment, because each man at the table, though each in his own specific way, harbored the intention of giving up very shortly if he hadn’t done so long ago, at the latest when the Great Coalition was ended; only Jäckel senior spoke with the assurance of a historian and called the situation normal.

Hard to let each other finish speaking. That bored poking about with pipes and appurtenances. Evasions into the vestibules of academic intrigues. Compliments to Anna, who “looks in” rather absently for a moment. Precautionary omissions and enjoinders to come to the point.

And so we spoon-fed our wee beginning. It was given paper and parenthetical wisdom to eat. In three pages (no more) we registered the pusillanimity (from which we dissociated ourselves) of the Social Democrats, their internal squabbles that paralyzed the party, their provincial complacency, their fuzzy image making, their cumulation of offices and jurisdictional disputes, their right-wing opportunism and left-wing arrogance, their leadership torn between procrastination and ambition, their lack of determination (despite undeniable instances of zeal and ability) to win the impending Bundestag elections. The impetus—this was our panacea—must come from outside. Under certain circumstances (which remained to be created) a number of small but active groups succeed in shaking the weary party out of its resignation. Provide a spur. Play the pacemaker. Prepare the terrain. Found (Social Democratic) voters’ clubs. Catch and channel the wave of protest …

Our arrogance was rich in cynical sound effects. Desperate long-distance runners trying to outdistance each other by the length of a joke. Lying gasping on our faces, impelled only by the crawling instinct to look for starting holes. Rubbing pepper into a snail’s creeping sole.

Right now I have no desire to brush in atmosphere or doodle little men, although outside, while chairs were stiffening our bones, drama was stalking on a wide screen. Dutschkefn4 in the lead, the student demonstration advanced tight-linked and conflict-oriented, heroic and beautiful (in the segment captured by the camera) against us puny revisionists; and for us, promoting revisionism. Accustomed to noise, we sat on the fringe, pedantic harpers on words, who want everything, even the vaguest things, named with precision.

After Gaus had had his outburst, after Sontheimer had been incapable of any decision, after Baring had regarded his contribution as not negligible, after I had been irritatingly pig-headed, and all of us had once, Gaus several times, been right, Jäckel senior spoke as a historian and called the date of the elections a goal toward which we must move progressively step by step.fn5

fn1 Hans Katzer, Minister of Labor during the so-called Great Coalition, 1965–1969; also chairman of the Social Committee of the C.D.U./C.S.U.

fn2 Dr. Rainer Barzel, Majority Leader of the C.D.U. in the Bundestag.

fn3 August Bebel (1840–1913), German Social Democratic leader.

fn4 Rudi Dutschke, the leader of a militant Berlin student group, shot and critically wounded in 1968.

fn5 Gaus, Sontheimer, Baring, Jäckel senior: fellow Social Democrats


… or should we throw up the sponge? And simply clear out? Sell our possessions and emigrate, no matter where? “My visa has come!” cried the snail and took its house with it.

Hermann Ott was also said to have considered emigrating in those days: to Canada (where he had Mennonite relatives), to London (drawn by insular skepticism). Doubt planned several new existences that canceled each other out. Consequently, he stayed where he was and planned his staying.

We planned to open an office in Bonn, where the organization of local voters’ clubs would be planned and the use of my time meaningfully scheduled: from March to the end of September, with planned intermissions.

One of the three office rooms was assigned to our planned (but still unnamed) propaganda organ. We planned large and small ads and as our first sign of life a press conference in Bonn, which was to be held on Monday, March 25, at the Tulpenfeld Restaurant, and adequate word of which, as planned, got around.

For mid-April we planned Sontheimer’s speech at the Godesberg party congress. (It’s in the minutes. Was received with applause.) We planned posters, leaflets, moderate chain reactions, and a lentil dinner with press and Wischnewski.fn1 (Reported in fifty papers, because lentils are news.)

We also planned names—Baudissin, Lenz, Böll,fn2 and heaven knows who else—and had, a procedure built into the plans of every true planner, to prune, to make new plans, or distil and clarify old ones.