Tuesday 19 November 2013

The deluded Elizabeth Nietzsche: the folly of establishing a German colony in Paraguay

This short selection was to be included in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but was excluded for reasons of space and it was considered peripheral to the chapter on Wagner .
Elizabeth Nietzsche

The fantasy existed in late nineteenth century Germany that rigid programs of inbreeding and artificial selection could only improve the blood strain. The experiment by the sister, Elizabeth, and the proto-Nazi brother-in-law, Bernard Förster, of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche illustrates the foolish if not tragic consequences of attempting to establish a racially pure Aryan community. Friedrich, who described Elizabeth as a “stupid vengeful creature” and “anti-Semitic goose,” perceived in this experiment everything he hated about German chauvinism and imperialism. Her boorish husband Bernard, who became a convert to Wagnerism in the late 1870s, believed that a rebirth of Germany could not occur in contemporary Germany. True Germans he believed should seek “a better and healthier moral atmosphere.” To this end, “the rebreeding of the German race,” (a phrase that Wagner would have never used), the Försters recruited fourteen gullible German families with blue eyes and blood hair to emigrate in 1886 from Germany and live in a remote colony in the mosquito-ridden and uncleared jungle of Paraguay. Within a few years, the duplicitous and debt-ridden Förster committed suicide, and his stronger but equally foolish wife sold their home and returned to Germany to take care of her increasingly mad brother, leaving the remainder of the poverty stricken and disgruntled colonists to fend for themselves. Isolating themselves from the natives, they interbred so that by 1991 when journalist Ben Macintyre (Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche, London: Macmillan, 1992) visited the colony, he saw the debilitating effects of generations of this inbreeding particularly among the children. Some were clearly intellectually challenged, many were just slow, and physically, he noticed the slack, bespittled jaw, and the results of “the handful of old ‘pure’ German families [who] lived off their dwindling genetic capital.”
Luis Fischer at his home in Nueva Germania

Elizabeth reinvented her brother’s ambiguous beliefs to conform to her own racist and nationalistic sentiments by writing a self-serving biography and re-editing his Will to Power to package his work as a nationalist proto-Nazi visionary. A measure of her success in inflating her less than mediocre self as well as corrupting her brother’s work was that in her dotage she became sort of a dowager empress to the Nazi movement. In order to gain an intellectual pedigree for his movement, Hitler visited her for the purpose of being photographed before the bust of a resolute Nietzsche and later, with his photographer present, attended her funeral in 1935.
Friedrich Nietzsche

It is clear that the Försters narrowly interpreted Wagner’s vision stressing the racial component and ignoring what was most important to Wagner, the art. In their utopia, there was no room for art since moral purity had already been achieved. Their vision if not results were more in keeping with the ideas propounded by Houston Stewart Chamberlain. According to Cosima (Diaries, Volume II, 675), Wagner considered Förster narrow-minded, untruthful and a “phrase-making person.”

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