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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 223

This novel by Gunter Grass tells the story of a maritime disaster that is little known about: the attack and sinking of a refugee ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff (named after a supporter of the Nazi party who was assassinated during WWII). Crabwalk is mainly narrated by a journalist who has direct family connections to the disaster, in which over nine thousand German refugees, half of them women and children, were killed when the ocean liner was sunk in the Baltic by a Soviet submarine torpedo.

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In the novel Grass explores the ways in which Nazi ideology informs the reception of historical events and warps some peoples' understanding of them. One quote from the novel that implies the ruthlessness of the Nazis is this one: "In statistics, what disappears behind rows of numbers is death." The meaning seems to be that in looking at numeric facts about, for example, loss of life during wartime, one focuses on statistical comparisons or benchmarks rather than the idea that the numbers refer to a group of people whose lives have been ended, often suddenly, and possibly in horrifically painful or violent ways. Because the novel's protagonist discovers that his own son has been influenced by Nazi propaganda, it seems this emphasis on cold, dispassionate interpretation of facts is still a lingering influence of the Nazi movement.

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