Gunter Grass warned of 'sleepwalking' into world war in final interview

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German novellist Gunter Grass was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1999

German novellist Gunter Grass was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1999 (AFP Photo/Pedro Armestre)

Madrid (AFP) - Germany's Nobel-winning author Gunter Grass said he feared humanity was "sleepwalking" into a world war, in the last interview he gave before his death on Monday.

"We have on the one side Ukraine, whose situation is not improving; in Israel and Palestine things are getting worse; the disaster the Americans left in Iraq, the atrocities of Islamic state and the problem of Syria," he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais in the interview published Tuesday.

"There is war everywhere; we run the risk of committing the same mistakes as before; so without realising it we can get into a world war as if we were sleepwalking," he added.

Spain's top-selling newspaper said the interview, carried out at the author's home in Luebeck in northern Germany on March 21, was his last before his death aged 87.

Grass, who achieved worldwide fame with his debut and best-known novel "The Tin Drum" in 1959 was a pacifist, opposing the installation of nuclear missiles on German soil.

In his lengthy interview with El Pais, he also expressed concern over climate change and overpopulation.

"As the years went by I realised that we have the possibility to autodestruct, something that did not exist before: it was said that Nature caused famine, droughts, the responsibility lay elsewhere," he said.

"For the first time we are responsible, we have the possibility and the capacity to auto-destroy ourselves and we don't do anything to eliminate this danger.

"All of this together makes me realise that things are finite, that we don't have an indefinite amount of time.

"If we take into account the existence of our planet, we have to recognise that we are guests that spend a short and very determined period in this world and all we leave behind is nuclear waste," he added.

- 'Need to understand Russia' -

Grass pressed Germany for decades to face up to its Nazi past, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, when the Swedish Academy said his "frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history".

But he also shocked his admirers and provoked an outcry in 2006 when he revealed, six decades after World War II, that he had been called up into Hitler's notorious Waffen SS at the age of 17.

His Danzig Trilogy is set in the ethnically-mixed region of his childhood. Danzig was handed to Poland after the war, when its ethnic German population fled or were expelled.

Grass, who was wounded and taken prisoner by the Allies during World War II, said his strong work ethic stemmed from several near-death experiences he had as a youth.

"During the space of three or four weeks, during the war, I had five or six possibilities to die like many others of my age. I am still conscious of that," he told El Pais.

"The fact that I work as much as possible serves to prove to myself that I have survived, that I exist, that I am still living, that I am alive."

Grass also discussed the rise of tensions between the West and Russia, saying Russia's long history of occupations needed to be taken into account.

"There are Russian traumas, since Napoleon, since World War II, with 27 million dead when the Germans arrived... and now the fear of being surrounded by the enemy has returned to it," he said.

"I don't say that this justifies what they did in Crimea, its unjustifiable, but we need to understand it and that is what we have to do, understand Russia," he added.