German author Grass likens Israeli travel ban to Stasi

BERLIN, April 11 Wed Apr 11, 2012 2:24pm EDT

BERLIN, April 11 (Reuters) - Nobel Prize-winning German author Guenter Grass, embroiled in a war of words with Israel, has likened its decision to prevent him from entering the country to a similar ban once imposed on him by the leader of East Germany's dreaded Stasi secret police.

In a comment sent by Grass to be published in Thursday's edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the author said Israel, former communist East Germany and Myanmar were the only countries to have imposed travel bans on him.

He said only Myanmar seemed to offer a glimmer of hope for change, referring to Israel as an "unchecked nuclear power" that viewed itself as immune to criticism.

Grass, 84, caused a storm earlier this month by publishing a poem in the Sueddeutsche in which he attacked Israel as a threat to world peace.

The poem was criticised in Germany as "anti-Semitic" and prompted Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai to declare Grass "persona non grata".

Grass is for many the voice of a German generation that came of age in the Nazi era and bore the burden of their parents' guilt for its horrors, especially the Jewish Holocaust.

But the writer who for decades urged Germans to come to terms with the Nazi past lost much moral authority after his belated admission in 2006 that he once served in the Nazi Waffen SS.

Grass said the travel ban reminded him of the decision by Stasi secret police chief Erich Mielke to prevent him from visiting East Germany.

German courts finally convicted Mielke, dubbed by East Germans as "the Master of Fear", in 1993 not for Stasi activities but for murdering two policemen in 1931 while he was a communist agitator.

"Now the interior minister of a democracy, the state of Israel, has punished me with a travel ban and the tone of his justification ... reminds me of the verdict of minister Mielke," Grass wrote.

He added: "I still see myself irrevocably connected to the country of Israel." (Reporting by Noah Barkin and Annika Breidthardt; editing by Andrew Roche)