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December 20, 2008

Forgotten Fatherland

The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche
Ben Macintyre – 9780060975616

This is the last of the Ben Macintyre books . . . actually, his first, but from the title the least interesting. But, surprise, it’s quite good; altogether is in keeping with my opinion of Macintyre’s talents.

Elisabeth Nietzsche was the sister of the philosopher who is credited with providing the basis of Nazism. In fact, not unlike Jackie Kennedy’s creation of Camelot, Elisabeth warped her brother’s philosophy to make it fit hers, with her nihilism, anti-Semitism, etc. Freidrich was way off the planet in many regards, and became insane at an early age, but a Nazi he was not! His sister took care of him during his last years, and misused his fame and notoriety to wholly mischaracterize his philosophy. This is Macintyre’s quest, and he deals with it quite satisfactorily, disabusing the reader of most everything “Nazish” we’ve learned about Nietzsche. His mini-bios of both characters and their supporting casts is interesting and informative of the individuals, and that period in German history.

What I found most interesting, however, was the back-story of the book; the founding of an obscure German colony in the Paraguayan jungle in the mid-1880’s. Known to most of us is the fact that Paraguay was a hotbed of Nazi sympathizers and Nazi war criminals after WW II, but the little known tale of Nueva Germania is fascinating.

That Elisabeth and her husband--a virulent anti-Semite--undertook to entice and partly subsidize a colony of “pure Germans” is fascinating in itself. The thrust of their effort was to isolate the most Germanic of those interested in participating in this endeavor, thus to breed a “Jew (and commerce) Free” colony of progressively more pure Aryans. At the time Germany was in a serious recession, and many of its peasants were leaving--amongst them my great-great-grandfather. Some emigrated to the United States; others to South America, and some to Paraguay, which had just experienced a depopulating civil war and was encouraging immigrants by selling land cheaply.

Nueva Germania was conceived and executed, but was immediately in trouble. Elisabeth and husband grossly mischaracterized the endeavor, presenting it as a Utopia. It was not, and as this became known subscription dwindled and settlers left, if not for the homeland, at least for the cities of Paraguay. Soon a departing soul wrote a book exposing the settlement as a complete fraud, which all but terminated what remained of interest in settling there.

In the summarizing chapter Macintyre describes in detail his rather harrowing search for the jungle colony in 1992, a century after its founding. He describes the colony in vivid detail and the saga is absorbing. There are a handful of pure Germans there, indeed. These were the struggling offspring of those from generations past who were too poor to emigrate even from their colony. Those who have isolated themselves from the native populations are increasingly physically irregular or mentally retarded because of five generations of inbreeding. Others have begun to integrate with the natives, such that there is a population of dark-skinned, blue-eyed people who care not at all about Germanic ideation or customs.

During the post-war period a few famous Nazis were thought to have spent time there because of its isolation; amongst them Joseph Mengele, though there is no hard proof.

It is a tale of hubris and the ultimate survival of a lost race, the result of near hysterically motivated insistence on purity which has culminated in a forlorn, unknown disaster, except where it is disappearing. An interesting read for those inclined toward such a subject.

Posted by respeto at December 20, 2008 4:14 PM