Monday, September 06, 2004

Forgotten Fatherland

Worst. Sister. Ever.

That would be Elizabeth Nietzsche, for those of you keeping score at home. I just finished reading "Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elizabeth Nietzsche," a tremendous biography written by Ben Macintyre, and it chronicles the bizarre and evil life of Friedrich Nietzsche's sister.

A virulent anti-Semite, Elizabeth Nietzsche met and married like-minded Bernhard Foster (it was love at first hate) and together they established a German colony in Paraguay--"Nueva Germania." This colony was founded to protect the 'pure spirit' of the German race from.

Cue Bugs Bunny making the circular motion for 'crazy' with his fingers.

It was nasty business, and Elizabeth's anti-Semitism estranged her from her brother, Friedrich, a syphilitic loner who sometimes banged out obscure philosophical tracts read by almost no one. He was not anti-Semitic and wrote her angry letters about her racism. In fact, he railed against anti-Semitism on more than one occasion, writing once that he thought Germany would be better off if the anti-Semites were deported.

Yes, I know what you're thinking. I had no idea, either.

Nietzsche's 'superman' was not national but supra-national, beyond borders and prejudice. So how were his writings used by the Third Reich as intellectual justification for heinous crimes against humanity?

Cue evil sister music.

After Nietzsche went insane but years before his death, his writing started to gain some notoriety in intellectual circles. Never one to miss an opportunity, Elizabeth abandoned the disaster in Paraguay and came back to 'care for her brother.' What she really did was start editing his unpublished work in addition to changing it to better suit her own racist views. She became a darling of the Third Reich, as did her brother's philosophy, albeit it in its bastardized form.

So Friedrich Nietzsche was a loner, emotionally immature, and kind of a loser, but he was not anti-Semitic. He also, apparently, would have been horrified to have been associated with the Nazis.

Ben Macintyre went to Paraguay in the early 1990's to find out of Nueva Germania still existed, and to find out if there were any descendants from the original settlers. There were, and it's an incredible story. It's all incredible, actually, so strange and bizarre that it would be laughable as a work of fiction.

If you're interested at all in philosophy or evil sisters, this book is a great read.

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