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Nobel prize winner Saramago calls Grass critics 'hypocrites'


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Portuguese writer Jose Saramago defended German novelist and fellow Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass after the revelation of his SS past, calling his critics "hypocrites" in an interview published in Spain on Sunday.

The German novelist, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1999, last week revealed he served in the Nazis' notorious Waffen SS unit just before the end of World War II, stunning Germany and drawing criticism in Poland.

"I think that the reaction that he had was hypocritical from many people who are not probing their own consciences," Saramago, who lives in the Canaries, told El Pais, adding that he was "surprised by the violence of the reactions".

The 78-year-old German novelist's autobiography, "Peeling Onions", came out two weeks early because its publishers moved forward the release date after Grass admitted that he enrolled in the elite unit in 1945 at the age of 17.

"He was 17 years old. Does the rest of his life not count?" said Saramago.

The 150,000 copies of the book already printed are almost sold out.

"I think that the insinuation that Grass said it to promote is book is despicable and shameful," Saramago added.

Grass, arguably his country's greatest post-war writer, said he had waited more than 60 years to reveal his secret because he had wanted to use the book to fully explain his past.

"I would never have thought that he could have been in the Waffen SS, and even less so as a volunteer," said 83-year-old Saramago, who has also just finished writing an autobiography.

mck/shn/smc

AFPEntertainment-Portugal-Spain-history-WWII-literature

AFP 201155 GMT 08 06

COPYRIGHT 2006 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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