Thursday, 28 April 2011

Wittgenstein Family

(Happier times: Paul (left) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (right) with their three sisters: Helen (left), Hermine (middle) and Gretl (left))

A quick recap: In the previous posts I have written about the four brother's of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: Hans, Rudi, Konrad--all three committed suicides--and Paul, who, in the 1920s and 1930s, became a distinguished musician. The last post saw the family's fortunes declining after the annexation of Austria to Germany.

The Wittgenstein family was one of the richest in Austria. The family wealth was essentially created in two generations: Herman Christian Wittgenstein, the children's grandfather, had started the family on the path of prosperity with his business enterprises. Karl Wittgenstein, the children's father, had sent the family's fortunes into stratosphere; what is more, he had invested money very wisely, both in and outside of Austria.

A great part of the family’s fortune was invested in foreign currency. Gretl had incorporated a company in Switzerland, under the name Wistag, AG & Cie. The company had a subsidiary trust that held Wittgensteins’ entire foreign investments, which, in 1939, were valued at 9.6 million Swiss francs! The deeds of the incorporation stipulated that while each of the share-holder (all the Wittgenstein children except probably Ludwig) could receive a small sum of interest from the trust, the capital sum must remain with the company for ten years. This meant that the trust could not be broken and the capital could not be taken out until 1947. 

Paul Wittgenstein Escapes Austria and goes to Switzerland 

It was at this stage that Paul Wittgenstein became convinced that he must leave Austria; he could think or speak of nothing else. His sister Hermine remembered that Paul suffered ‘indescribably’ during this period because of the abominable prohibitions . . . that wounded his self-esteem.’ 

Hitler was still allowing the Jews to leave, but not before fleecing them and divesting them of their wealth. So long as Paul had money abroad the authorities were not going to let him out. They demanded that Paul bring all his foreign money back and then pay 25% Reich-sfluchtsteuer (emigration tax) and all the other tariffs the regime had put in place to rob the emigrating Jews. 

Paul’s problem was all his foreign assets were locked in the Swiss trust until 1947. He decided to flee the country. 

Even at this late stage, the family was very well connected, and Gretl managed to cadge an interview with Arthur Seyss-Inquart (hanged in 1946 in Nuremberg for war crimes), the Reichsstatthalter or head of Osmark, as Austria was now called. Gretl had known Seyss-Inquart’s brother, Richard, indeed she had nursed him when he had suffered a nervous breakdown in 1928 when he was going through divorce. Gretl pleaded with Arthur Seyss-Inquart the case of her brother. She admitted that emigration was out of the question, but since his racial status was not fully determined (the family was still searching for evidence that their grandfather was an illegitimate son of an Aryan) she requested that Paul be granted a leave of three weeks so that he could give a few concerts in England. Seyss-Inquart granted permission. 

On 24 august 1938 Paul left Vienna for England. In England he stayed with his friend Marga Denke who tried to persuade him to stay there. England would have been a natural choice for Paul in many ways. He spoke English fluently, had visited the country every year for the previous fifteen years, and his younger brother with whom he got on well (at that time) also lived there. However Paul rejected the idea. He would have needed one or two years to get British citizenship, and if the war broke out between England and Germany, he faced the prospect of either getting deported back to Austria or facing imprisonment as a resident alien.  

Five days before his permit expired, Paul returned to Vienna into deep trouble. He was summoned to appear in court on a charge of Rassenschande—the Nazis had discovered his Aryan mistress and children—, and faced a minimum of four to five years of hard labour for the crime of having had an extra-marital intercourse with an Aryan. 

Paul had to act swiftly; and he did. He packed his bags, cramming as many valuables as he could into his pockets and suitcase. He left the Wittgenstein Palais without saying goodbye to his sisters and servants, and boarded a train for the Austro-Swiss border (he had an unexpired Swiss visa). Miraculously he was not stopped at the border and was safely in Switzerland.  

               (Salon of Palais Wittgenstein. It was pulled down in the 1950s

Paul’s first act after arriving in Switzerland was to send a message for Hilde to bring herself and their children immediately out of Austria. Hilde left with their daughters for Italy—without informing her father, who, having embraced the new regime with the zeal of a convert, had moved into a flat of a Jewish family, driven out after the night of Kristallnacht—the night when Nazi hooligans all over Germany and Austria looted thousands of Jewish homes and destroyed synagogues— (Franz Scania resided in the flat until his death in 1970)—and waited at the Italian-Swiss border while Paul organized their entry visas. In due course they were united with Paul.

By this time the Reichbank had got wind of the Wittgenstein fortune stashed away in Switzerland, as also of the 215 kilograms of gold—worth more than the one tenth of the national gold reserves of Czechoslovakia, which the Germans had invaded. Since the trust could be broken only with the agreement of all the beneficiaries, in order to get their grubby hands on the Wittgenstein wealth the Nazis would have to negotiate with Paul, who was now out of their clutches. 

Gretl, who could move across countries without hindrance because of her American passport, met with Paul in Switzerland. This was a difficult meeting between the brother and sister. Gretl gave Paul a rocket for having fled Austria and putting her in a very awkward position with the Nazis). In the meeting (which marked the beginning of the problems between Paul and Gretl) Paul left Gretl in no doubt as to the fate awaiting their sisters, Hermine and Helena, if they carried on living in Austria. His advice: they should do everything in their powers to get out of Austria. This is what Gretl attempted to do when she returned to Vienna. 

Gretl's Unsuccessful Attempt to get her Sisters out of Austria

                                                 (A painting of Gretl Wittgenstein)

After her return to Vienna, Gretal attempted to obtain fake Yugoslavian passports for Helena and Hermine. The plan backfired and all the sisters were arrested. They spent two nights in the police cells, before they were transferred to the National Prison. They spent the next week in prison, before Helena’s daughter-in-law managed to get everyone, except Gretl, out, after paying a huge sum for a bail.  Gretl, who had decided to take all the blame for the fake passport fiasco (she felt she would be able to get away with it because of her American citizenship), emerged much later, in a shocking condition, having been treated very roughly by the prison officers. The hearing was set in April 1939, but Helene, who was not deemed to have been a party to the original fraud, was not charged. In the court Gretl and Hermine pleaded guilty, yet were acquitted by the judge and the jury. It is very likely that the family who was still very well connected pulled strings to get the favourable verdict (‘We are protected!’ they would often say).

Paul Wittgenstein Leaves Switzerland for America

Paul, who believed he was more ‘Jewish looking’ than any of his siblings, was becoming increasingly restless in Switzerland. He had had to sell his precious violins to pay the mounting hotel bills; also he was becoming alarmed by the rising anti-Semitism in Switzerland. He came to the conclusion that Switzerland was not going to be the safe haven he was hoping for, and decided to move again: to America. 

Hilde joined Paul with the girls in November 1938, only to be told that he would be leaving for America in a week’s time. 

On 1 December 1938 Paul sailed for America, leaving Hilde and the girls behind in Switzerland. Arriving in New York, Paul was detained for twenty-four hours by the immigration officers, who classified him as a ‘German Hebrew’. 

Paul's nephew, John, or Ji, Stonborugh (Gretl’s son), who was all this time leading a life-style not very different from that which his uncle, Kurt, had led twenty-five years ago, arranged for Paul to meet influential officials in the visa office, who arranged to extend Paul’s visiting visa. 

To the end of his life Ji remained furious that his uncle did not, at the time, seem appropriately gratefully. (Much later, Ji recalled that he disliked Paul intensely, and did not like Ludwig much either). 

(to be continued)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Royal Wedding: Does Anybody Care?

Last weekend, which was hotter than in Istanbul, I was sitting in the garden of a friend, eating incinerated meat of three different farm yard animals (though not at the same time) and sipping (surprisingly drinkable) Australian shiraz. As an aside, the Australians might be, as another friend of mine puts it, thick as shit in a bottle, but they know how to make wines. (This guy is weak, passive, selfish, mean-spirited, idle-minded, sex-starved and just this side of venal, but, occasionally, probably randomly, makes an observation that comes close to having a point—I am of course referring to his opinion about the Australian wines. I don’t know many Australians; and while those I have come across were foul-mouthed drunks, as probably were their fathers, and their grandfathers, stretching all the way back to the first convict ship, I am not one to jump to hasty judgments.) I am coming round to the idea that the New World wines are not all horse-pee; some of them can not only be consumed without gagging, they can also be mildly enjoyable.

But this post is not about the merits and de-merits of New World Wines.

So there I was, in the back-garden of my friends. I should clarify what I mean by ‘friends’. The husband is my friend; in a manner of speaking. Years ago we used to work together. I can’t really put a finger on why we have remained in contact. I guess we live in the same city, which helps. But I can’t remember a single occasion when I found a reason to invite him to my place. He, on the other hand, phones me from time to time and invites me to go out with him and another friend to watch Arsenal play. (I must take the blame for this. I had told him, for reasons I won’t go into now, when we used to work together, that I supported Arsenal. It turned out that he too was an Arsenal supporter. And although, over the years, it must have been clear as daylight to him that I have little knowledge and less interest in Football, he has decided to persist with the illusion that I am a football aficionado and an Arsenal supporter, even though I have repeatedly failed to name Arsenal players who routinely make the first eleven for the club.) In the summers (or unseasonably hot spring) I am invited for barbecues. I always manage to avoid going to the dreadful football matches. Being cooped up in some grotty pub, surrounded by low-IQ, tattooed men speaking a language that broadly resembles English and drinking gaseous lagers is not my idea of a good night out. However I always avail myself of the barbecue-invitations on the principle that it is ungentlemanly to reject an invitation when it involves free food and the opportunity to look at the cantaloupe breasts of the host’s wife. And, because I am English, there is no obligation on me to bring anything with me. It is, I believe, called a win-win situation.

However this post is not about barbecues (or breasts).

So there I was, sitting in the back-garden of my friends. The garden was long and layered, and we were in the middle portion of the garden. My ‘friend’ was wittering about his herb garden (over-run, insofar as I could see, by basil which had killed all the other herbs) and the gooseberry bush which he was worried would run wild. I was sitting in my chair alternatingly marvelling that anyone could speak non-stop for ten minutes on f**king herbs and debating (in my mind) whether I would be able get a glimpse of his wife’s knickers (who was sitting opposite me wearing a bikini top and diaphanous white skirt which ended a few inches below her crotch) if I bent down on some pretext; then wondering (only briefly) whether I was a pervert to be lusting after my friend’s wife; and concluding that it was entirely normal to fancy your friends’ spouses if they came as lusciously packaged as this one, and, in any case, this friend was not really a friend—he was just a bore whom I tolerated when I had barbecue with him once or twice a year, and who had an ogleworthy wife. As I saw it, I was bringing, albeit only briefly, wit and intelligence to his life, and I must get something in return.

However, this post is not about the moral dilemma faced by men who have friends who have wives who are hot.

So there I was sitting in the back-garden of my friend when his wife (perhaps in an attempt to shift my gaze away from her breasts) said to me, ‘so what are you doing this Friday?’ Not immediately knowing where this was headed (surely I was not being invited for another barbecue, in which case there was no reason for me to visit them), I said I was probably a bit busy.

‘It’s a bank holiday,’ the friend’s wife said.

‘You know, for me,’ I said, ‘every day is a holiday these days. Why a bank holiday?’

‘It’s the royal wedding.’

‘I see,’ I said, not seeing at all, ‘and?’

‘Aren’t you going to watch it?’

‘Let me see,’ I said, ‘this Friday, is it, the wedding? Now then, what am I doing this Friday? Looking through my diary’—miming to take out a diary and turn its pages—‘the whole day is totally free. I am not doing anything. So no. I won’t be watching the royal wedding.’

This was obviously not the right thing to say. After an awkward silence, the friend said, ‘Jenny loves the royals.’

‘Who is getting married again?’ I asked, hoping that this would annoy her further.

‘Surely you know that,’ Jenny said. ‘You are just being cantankerous.’

‘Of course I know,’ I said. ‘It is Charles’s son, what’s his name, who is getting married to that girl, what’s her name.’

My friend’s wife fizzed like a lightbulb about to blow; opened her mouth as if she was about to say something cutting; then seemed to change her mind; instead she bent forward—the skirt receded further (but not so far that I could check out her knickers)—and got up. ‘Anyone for tea?’ she said in a voice she obviously hoped was frosty. ‘I’m putting the kettle on.’ With that she walked towards the house, her buttocks bouncing in disapproval.

‘Oooh,’ my friend said with a mock-shudder. ‘You have upset Jenny.’ ‘Well, I am sorry,’ I lied. ‘That was not my intention. But it is not as if she is a personal friend of the Windsors; or a bridesmaid.’

I am sure I am not the only one in these isles who couldn’t give a toss about what the Windsors get up to. They are just a bunch of useless, filthy rich, selfish, vain nicklefuckers who haven’t done an honest day’s work in their lives.

The Bolsheviks had the right idea about what to do with these inbreds. Or (having recently finished Hilary mantel’s superb A Place of Greater Safety) the French. I am not saying that these donkeys should be shot or guillotined—although if anyone deserves to be, at the very least, kept in permanent solitary confinement, it is the groom’s father—but I wouldn’t be sorry to see the whole rotten bunch of them dumped under a rotting mound of cabbages (why cabbages? Have you smelled a rotten cabbage?).

At my friend’s barbecue, his wife (after she returned with tea) felt it was her duty to inform me—which she did with relish, as if it was some sort of personal victory for her—that Messrs. Blair and Brown were not invited for the wedding.

While I don’t honestly think that Brown would care whether he is invited or not, I am very pleased to learn that BLiar has been snubbed; for no reason other than the certainty that he will suffer deeply that he has not been invited, care as he does for meaningless ceremonies and positions and titles. I remember reading somewhere that BLiar’s wife, the loathsome Cherie, would refuse to curtsey to the queen whenever they met. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but if it is true, then it is about the only thing the obnoxious woman has done during the years when she was Mrs. Prime Minister that I approve of. This would be enough of a reason to make the wicked witch (Queen) to hate the BLiars, but I think the reason BLiar is snubbed is to do with Diana’s death.

Cast your mind back to 1997, the year Diana died. Did I shed any tears when she died? Of course not. She was a deeply flawed, manipulative and utterly talentless woman whose only means of making men feel for her were slashing her wrists or opening her legs—a car crash waiting to happen. And that’s what happened, figuratively and literally, in 1997, when she was eloping paparazzi in the company of her most recent lover. One always feels sorry for the children when one or both parents die, although given the kind of erratic, promiscuous life the woman had led until then, she couldn’t have been a good role model for her children. Indeed you deserve all the commiseration if you are the progeny of a man whose IQ might just touch average and whose head resembles from behind a cab with doors open, and a woman whose character defects were so many and so myriad that one wondered whether she was not the result of the genetic experiments of Dr. Mengele.

Anyway, let’s get back to 1997. Diana, having made numerous unsuccessful attempts at dying because she was sooo fed up with life, finally died when she was probably not intending to.

BLiar had been a prime minister for a few months. And the piece of shit decided to treat this as a godsend to hog prime media time. He was all over and everywhere, like herpes. Not a single news bulletin on any of the channels for the next however many days the hysteria lasted went by without BLiar mouthing inane banalities and trying to look more grief-stricken than those (not many I should imagine) who were genuinely devastated by Diana’s death. 

It was common knowledge that the old witch and the jughead hated Diana, and were probably not at all sorry when she removed herself, albeit unintentionally, from the gene-pool. (Mohamed Al Fayed, the Egyptian tycoon and father of Dodi who was filling the vacuum in Diana’s life with intra-vaginal therapy at the time of her death, is clinging on to the notion, which obviously appeals to him, that Diana was bumped off by the Windsors as she was becoming a pain in the butt. However, since Al Fayed is a few donor kebabs short of an Egyptian lunch, we can safely ignore his conspiracy theories.)

Anyway, the dyspeptic old witch must have been aggravated when the Prime Minister joined in with the nation’s hysteria and actively encouraged it. Watching BLiar, giving interviews, hands clasped in front of his crotch, and speaking lies about a woman he probably didn’t care about was a truly revolting spectacle. He not just put the ham but also gammon and sausages in his performance. That’s what I found so galling about BLiar at that time: he was totally, unashamedly, unabashedly, wilfully, and enthusiastically dishonest. This was the first indication that BLiar who would be Britain’s Prime Minister for the next ten years was the sort of man who, if he told you he saw the sun rising in the east, would make you check the west.

So, just in case I have not made it clear, here is a recap. (1) I hold the royal family in contempt. They are a bunch of retards. And not very amusing retards at that. Charles, for example, is more irritating than sand in your urethra, more painful than piles, and more infuriating than Kevin Pierterson (besides being as stupid as George W Bush).  (2) I will not be watching the royal wedding. (3) Even though I don’t care for the royals or for the wedding of the balding heir to the throne, I am still inordinately pleased that BLiar is snubbed. Finally, (4) there is a man in the city I live in who thinks I am his friend, and (5) he is a bore but his wife has sensational boobs, so I meet them off and on.

So the BLiars are not invited. Who is invited? Apparently Victoria Beckham is invited. What’s the point of inviting Victoria Beckham? Unless you want to see the longest projectile vomitus after she has been force-fed a cake. Cherie Blair at least would have done justice to the poncy food. Indeed with a mouth like hers she would probably have eaten the table leg.

I read recently that the expenditure of this wedding is $34 million. That takes the biscuit. We are supposed to be in the middle of the worst recession since the Black Death and the monarch is blowing $ 34 million on the wedding of her grandson whose only plus point is that he is not as much of a loser as his younger brother, Harry the tw*t. It just goes to show how much removed the royals are from the common man. Such an obscene demonstration of wealth, showing complete disregard to the plight of common people, I believe, results from a combination of shamelessness and arrogance, the belief that they have the God-given right to do as they please.

The researchers have estimated that the wedding will generate thousands of tons of CO2 equivalents. That great! Not content with blowing up millions of pounds they haven’t earned, these morons are bent upon f**king up the environment. (By the way who in the name of Allah commissioned this research? How many researchers worked on this ‘project’? How many thousands were given in grants?) 

One Gary Hertley from Energy Saving Trust, who I think is a very sad man, has suggested that the best way for the couple to travel from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace is horse and cart which will emit no emission (except, I suppose, intestinal gases emitted by the animals) instead of the Rolls-Royce. What next? Carbon-neutral underwear for the bride? Does Gary Hartley really think that these people who are wasting millions on the wedding that is going to produce hundreds of tons of waste give a flying f**k about the carbon emission? (But don’t worry. Prince of Wales is on the case. He has seen to it that the canapés are sourced locally, the flowers are local and—this his final revenge on the guests—some of the wine English.

Having seen the picture of the couple I am obliged to conclude that the bride is a dish, and the only reason she has agreed to marry this balding man with the jawline of a horse is that he is filthy rich and is the heir to the throne (in a country which has time for such anachronistic nonsense and which, in a smug manner that only we Brits can manage, it does not expect other nations to ‘get’ its eccentricities). Nothing wrong in this per se. Kate Middleton is not the first and won’t be the last woman to marry for money and position. These things, as her father-in-law-to-be (who managed to get into Cambridge despite dreadful A levels) and her (equally useless) uncle-in-law-to-be (who manages to be Britain’s cultural ambassador (now that is a joke) without having the slightest qualification for the job) know only too well, go a long way.

I am very much tempted to say that we should do away with the monarchy. But what would we replace them with? If we replace them with the presidency system (where the president, just like the queen, is expected to be a figurehead) we would just have more dishonest politicians queuing up for the job. Worse, we shall one day have President Bliar. I couldn’t cope with that. I’d rather have the old witch (a corpse would look more lively than her) and, when she does the decent thing and dies, the jughead (who, I agree, would insufferable), and, after him, the baldy. 

Monday, 25 April 2011

Wittgenstein Family

(In the above photograph Margarate (Gretl) Wittgenstein, who, after her marriage became Stonborough (her husband, Jerome, had anglicised his original German-Jewish surname Steinberger) is sitting to the left of the eldest sister Hermine, with her hand on her chin. Paul Wittgenstein is sitting at her feet. In later life Paul and Gretl would fall out spectacularly.)

A quick recap: In the previous posts I have written about the four brothers of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hans, Rudi, Konrad--all them killed themselves--and Paul who, in the 1920s and 1930s became a distinguished musician in Vienna.

This and subsequent posts will be about the changes in the family's fortunes after Austria was annexed by Germany.

On 11 March, 1938, the day before the German army rolled into Austria, Paul Wittgenstein was arrested—it is very probable that the Nazi agents were aware of his secret funding of Heimwehr—, cautioned and released without charges. He was ordered to fly a huge swastika flag from the Wittgenstein Palais. 

                                       (Paul Wittgenstein as a young man)

On the same day Paul was sacked from his position as a professor of music from the Vienna Consevatoire. The punishment was because of his political, anti-Nazi, beliefs; the Nazis had not yet ‘discovered’ that the family was Jewish. That happened within two weeks of Anschluss. One morning in late March, Hermine, the eldest of the Wittgenstein children, was sitting in one of the rooms, when Paul entered, shaking and his face white with horror. He said to her: ‘Wir gelten als Juden!’ (We count as Jews!) 

With the exception of their maternal grandmother (Maria Kalmus), all the grandparents of the Wittgenstein children were by blood and upbringing Jewish, and had converted to Christianity in their adult lives. Therefore, according to the 1935 Nuremberg legislation, the family counted as Voll-Juden (full Jews). Later, in her memoir, Hermine was to write:

 ‘Our most intimate family had never considered itself Jewish.’ 

This was undoubtedly true, as their ancestors had converted, and all the Wittgenstein children were raised as Roman Catholics. At the same time it is inconceivable that the family was not aware of its Jewish ancestry. Indeed, some time before his father’s death in 1913, Paul Wittgenstein had taken a keen interest in family genealogy and had produced a family tree that showed that the family had descended from several distinguished Viennese Jewry, linking them to the famous banker Samuel Oppenheimer (1635-1703). 

At one stroke the family found itself subjected to all the draconian anti-Semitic restrictions. Paul’s position would become even more precarious when the Nazis found out that he had hidden away an Aryan mistress and their two children in a flat. The children would be proof that Paul was guilty of Rassenschande (race defilement) under section 2 of the Nuremberg Law for the ‘Protection of German Blood and German Honour’. 

Bizarrely, Paul was also found to have fallen foul of yet another decree of Hitler: Reichsflaggengestz (Reich Flag Law), which forbade the Jews from flying the Swastika flag. This was ironical, as it was the Gestapo who had forced Paul to fly the flag in the first place; but that was before they discovered that he was Jewish. Now he was ordered under threat of arrest to down the flag on the basis that the occupants, now considered Jewish, had no right to fly it. 

Of the Wittgenstein children, only two were safe: Ludwig, who was living in Cambridge, UK; and one of the sisters, Gretl, who had become an American citizen when she married her husband all those years ago. For Paul and his two sisters—Hermine and Helene—there was no escape. 

In Cambridge, Ludwig Wittgenstein had worked out that ‘by annexation of Austria to Germany’, he had become a ‘German citizen and by the German laws, a German Jew’. With regard to his family in Vienna, Ludwig Wittgenstein resolutely attempted to look on the brighter side and convinced himself that since ‘they are almost all retiring and very respected people who have always felt and behaved patriotically it is, on the whole, unlikely that they are at present in any danger.’ 

Gretl, who arrived in Vienna from Switzerland, had no such illusions, and it was she who came up with the plan that the family should bypass the ‘pettifogging power-maniacs’ in Vienna, and appeal directly to the far more important people in the higher echelons of the Nazi party, in Berlin. The family decided to present the Nazis with a dossier of the family’s worthy and patriotic achievements over several decades. Hermine wrote to Ludwig in England, requesting him to add his weight to the family’s application. Ludwig Wittgenstein, who, much against his wishes, was in the process of applying for a British citizenship (he claimed to have been caught between two displeasing alternatives of becoming a German citizen—Austria having been ceased to exist—which was ‘appalling’ to him, and applying for a British passport , ‘something I have always rejected on the grounds that I do not wish to become a sham-Englishman’) agreed, but was anxious not to jeopardise his own application for British citizenship, and asked Hermine that the dossier ‘must not’ lead to the ‘misunderstanding’ that he was involved in their application. 

Armed with the dossier, Paul and Gretl arrived in Berlin and wangled a meeting with Kurt Mayer, the head of the Agency for Genealogical Research. Mayer treated the pair of brother and sister with courtesy, and told them that the past glories of the family had nothing to do with their case and they must accept the official classification of ‘Volljuden’. Their only hope was to discover that at least one of the three Jewish grandparents was an illegitimate child of an Aryan, in which case they might be eligible for the status of ‘Mischling’—half-breed, a status, which, while unpleasant, would exempt them from the more oppressive anti-Semitic laws.

 ‘A second Aryan grandparent is essential,’ Mayer told Paul and Gretl. 

There then followed an increasingly desperate quest by the Wittgenstein children to prove that their paternal grandfather, Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (after whom Hermine was named), was a bastard son of a German aristocrat, Prince Georg Heinrich-Ludwig. 

To be fair to the Wittgenstein children, this was not a complete fiction. For a long time rumours had circulated in the family that Hermann indeed was born on the wrong side of the tracks; that Prince Ludwig, the reprobate scion of the princely house of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, had impregnated a pretty Jewish maid by the name of Breindel Brendel, and, to cover up the scandal, the maid was forced to marry the prince’s land agent and factotum Moses Mayer. The couple then had moved to another Wittgenstein estate where Herman Christian Wittgenstein was born; except that he wasn’t called that at birth; he was probably called Hirsch Moses Mayer. Following the Napoleonic decree of the 1808 by which all Jews were ordered to adopt fixed surnames, the family took the name Wittgenstein. In 1839, at the age of 37, Hirsch converted to Christianity and adopted the name Hermann Christian Wittgenstein. So the family folk-lore went. 

Neither Paul nor Gretl was greatly taken by this idea, but it seemed to be the family’s only chance, and they eventually hired a professional genealogist. This search however proved futile as the family was unable to obtain any conclusive documentary evidence that their grandfather was a bastard son of a German aristocrat. 

The family nevertheless was still stupendously rich and the Nazis were aware of it.

(to be continued)

Friday, 22 April 2011

Wittgenstein Family

(In the above photograph, Paul Wittgenstein, who looks like a girl, is sitting at the bottom.)

In this series of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's siblings, I have posted about his three brothers who killed themselves: Hans, Rudi, and Konrad. In this and subsequent posts, I shall write about the fourth brother, Paul, and the falling out amongst the Wittgenstein siblings.

While some of the information is obtained from Internet, in the main I have relied extensively on Alexander Waugh's excellent biography of the family, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Paul Wittgenstein

Paul Wittgenstein, the fourth Wittgenstein brother, was the only son who pursued a professional career as a musician. A pupil of the blind music composer Joseph Labor, Paul made his debut in Vienna in 1913, the year his father died. The promising musical career was cut short with the outbreak of the First World War. 

The First World War

Believing that it was his moral and civic duty to defend the honour of the Hapsburg dynasty, Paul joined the army, although right from the beginning he nursed a pessimistic view of the prospects of the monarchy and by association his country. He was dispatched to the Galician front where he was wounded in an encounter within a few months. A bullet shattered the elbow of his right—his dominant—arm, which was amputated in the field hospital. By the time Paul regained consciousness, the Russians had taken the town. Paul was captured and he spent the next year as the Russian prisoner of war in Siberia, in unspeakably inclement conditions, before he returned to Vienna following an exchange of war-prisoners. It was in the early days of his captivity that Paul decided to continue his career as a concert pianist despite the loss of an arm. While his mother and sisters were agitating in Vienna that the loss might bring to surface suicidal tendencies, the loss, if anything, made Paul more determined to return to Vienna and resume his career. This is what he proceeded to do.

(Paul and Ludwig Wittgenstein as children. Paul is on the left.)


Paul, like his siblings, had become rich beyond belief when the vast estate of his father was divided amongst the children upon his death. To this was added Kurt’s share when he died, issuless, in 1918.  

In 1919, Ludwig Wittgenstein, inexplicably, gave up his entire fortune and his share of the estate. A proportion of Ludwig Wittgenstein's fortune was donated to charities. The rest was divided equally amongst his siblings. 

The children’s uncle flew into a rage when he came to know what was happening. He accused the Wittgenstein siblings of not having Ludwig’s interests at their hearts. The uncle was convinced that Ludwig had lost his mental balance, and he would come to his senses in due course and realise the mistake he had made. The uncle therefore wanted Ludwig’s siblings to dissuade him from what he was doing; he was not persuaded by Hermine’s explanation that they did, but Ludwig would not listen. The uncle suggested that at the very least, the siblings should leave aside a secret fund for Ludwig if he needed it later; however,  they chose not to. As it happened, Ludwig Wittgenstein did not repent the decision to give away his vast fortune, and did not ask for it to be returned in the remainder of his life.

Although the family lost a lot of its fortune because of the hyper-inflation that raged in Austria following the First World War, it was still stupendously rich due to the wise foreign investments of Karl Wittgenstein. Paul Wittgenstein owned, in the 1920s, an immense block of shops, offices and apartments in the fashionable first and second districts of Vienna. (This fortune would save the lives of the sisters when the Nazis came to power but would also create an irrevocable rift between Paul and the rest of his siblings.) 

Career as an Acclaimed Pianist

After returning to Vienna, Paul cautiously embarked on his career as a one armed concert pianist. In addition to his long term mentor Joseph Labor, Paul approached four composers in Vienna, three of them very prominent, to write concertos for piano and orchestra (left hand), their remuneration being paid in the highly coveted currency of US dollars. Since the purpose of the compositions was to advance Paul’s career, the composers were chosen carefully; and the music they composed was Paul’s favourite—early Romantic and late Classical (he detested modern music). At a later stage, Paul also invited contribution from Richard Strauss, which, according to the gossip columns of the time, cost him a fortune. 

The outcome of all of this was exactly as Paul had planned. In 1916, Paul made his one-handed début as a concert pianist. Within five years he was being acclaimed as a major artist on the international concert scene. He began appearing on concert platforms with some of the most famous composers in the field, all over Europe, and towards the end of the 1920s he made a successful début in America. 

Apparently Paul had a very commanding presence on stage, and the speed at which he moved his fingers across the keyboard was breathtaking. 

While there is no doubt that Paul’s considerable fortune paved his way to success—not many could have afforded to pay the exorbitant sums of money, and in foreign currency too, to the famous names whom he got to compose especially for him—without the skills, dedication, and artistry he would not have been able to enjoy lasting success.

Personal Life

Paul was the only Wittgenstein brother who married and had children. He was rumoured to have had many affairs and mistresses. In the 1930s one of Paul's mistresses was an attractive, dark-haired piano student, named Hilde Schania, who was almost thirty years younger than him. She also was almost half-blind after an attack of measles and diphtheria in childhood left her with a damaged optic nerve. Her mother separated from her father in the 1930s and committed suicide. The father, Franz Schnia, who had made the transition in the 1930s, with regard to his political affiliations, from Socialism to Hitler’s National Socialism, disliked Paul intensely. He was three years younger than Paul, and never forgave him for impregnating his daughter and not marrying her. (In the late 1930s Schnia would illegally a vast apartment formerly owned by a rich Jewish family and would carry on there until his death.) The Wittgenstein family considered Franz ‘nicht standesgemass’ (not of the right class), and Paul avoided all contacts with Hilde’s family. When Paul discovered that Hilde was pregnant, he moved her into a luxury flat (which was registered in her father’s name, but Paul paid the rent) with a maid. In 1935, their first child, a daughter whom they named Elizabeth (apparently after the late empress ‘Sissy', the wife of Franz Joseph, who was stabbed to death in 1898 by an Anarchist as she boarded a steamship in Lake Geneva), was born. The secret of Paul’s mistress and daughter was so well guarded that for a considerable period only a few of the very trusted servants in the family knew about it. Less than two years later, in 1937, Hilde gave birth to their second daughter, Johanna.

Throughout the 1930s, the political tensions and the anti-Semitism were on the rise. In the neighbouring Germany Hitler had risen to power and had unleashed a series of laws, enshrined under the infamous Nuremberg legislation, segregating and in effect reducing the Jews to the second class citizens. In Vienna, Paul and the rest of the Wittgenstein clan had reasons to believe that this would not affect them because of their position and also because, by that time, the family had practised Christianity for almost hundred years. 

Politically Paul—in contrast to his younger, philosopher brother, who was staunchly socialistic—, leaned to the far right, and financially supported the Austro-Fascist Heimwehr, the army of a young swashbuckling aristocrat Prince Starhemberg. The brown-shirt Nazi fascists were also on the rise, and their aim was to unite Austria with Germany. 

In the spring of 1938 Hitler annexed Austria; Herman Goring declared that the Greater German Reich had risen and the seventy-five million Germans were united under the banner of the Swastika; and the nightmare of the Wittgenstein family began.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Wittgenstein Family

(In the photograph Kurt Wittgenstein is standing to the extreme right, wearing a bow-tie)

Konrad (Kurt) Wittgenstein

Konrad, or Kurt, became, by default, the eldest of the Wittgenstein sons after the disappearance of Hans. He lived to the age of 40 before he, too, killed himself. However, the circumstances of Kurt’s death could not have been more different from those surrounding the deaths of Hans and Rudolph.

 Like his other siblings, Kurt had a flair for music and could play piano and cello with accomplishment. At 5’6” he was not very tall and his handsome, if slightly babyish, face was somewhat disfigured by a prominent scar on his left cheek. He would appear to have been different in temperament from his other siblings, and certainly from his father: he was humourous, almost flippant, and jocular. His personality lacked the gravitas in view of his family members, who considered him to be a Kindskopf—an overgrown child. In a letter to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hermine wrote thus of Kurt:

 ‘. . . there is no depth to his character, but since you don’t expect to find any, you don’t miss it either.’ 

Even though dismissed as an intellectual lightweight by the family, Kurt went to university in Hanover from which he qualified as an engineer. He was the only one of the Wittgenstein children who followed his father’s footsteps and became a businessman. 

Kurt also had entrepreneurial ambitions. After his university degree Kurt volunteered in the army as a conscript, but did not excel at soldiering; his final military report concluded that he was not fit for active service. After a year as a conscript, much to his father’s delight, Kurt went straight into the steel business where he learned the ropes of the trade. In 1906, with his father’s backing, he set up his own company with a partner. (This company, more than hundred years after Kurt Wittgenstein founded it, is still in business). 

Kurt was never married, but was a most probably heterosexual—he apparently had had a couple of failed courtships. He was noticeably ill at ease in adult company and much preferred the company of children. To strangers he could strike as abrupt and rude. His interests, in addition to piano-playing, included hunting and driving fast motor-cars. 

In April 1914 Kurt Wittgenstein arrived in America, with the aim of exploring investment opportunities to expand his steel business in America and Canada. He quickly made acquaintances in the New York high society, bought expensive cars, and booked himself holidays in luxurious spas—in other words took to the New World lifestyle like a duck to water. 

Little did Kurt know that the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which he was a subject, would be assassinated in Sarajevo in June 1914 and Europe would be plunged into the Great War. Kurt wanted to sail back to Austria immediately, but the American authorities would not let him. Which meant that while his two brothers—Paul and Ludwig—were fighting the war for the Empire, ‘poor, sidelined Kurt’, as his mother referred to him, was twiddling his thumbs in America. Kurt, however, was not exactly idle. When he realised that he could not go back to Europe, he presented himself to the Austrian consulate in Manhattan and was placed in the propaganda department of the consulate whose task it was to make the American public, Press, and administration more sympathetic towards the Empire’s cause in the war. He wrote letters to his family telling them that he was doing everything he could to return to Austria. He was probably telling the truth: America’s official policy at the time towards the conflict in Europe was of neutrality, and those living in the US were forbidden to take part in the war irrespective of their nationalities. Since Kurt’s stated intention was to join the Austrian army, he was prohibited from leaving America. In his letters home Kurt Wittgenstein gave his family no idea of what he was up to in America and sought to give them the impression that his American life was unbearably dull and he fervently wished he were fighting the war, like his two brothers. 

The Wittgenstein family was staunchly patriotic. Paul Wittgenstein was a Monarchist and willingly joined the army. Ludwig Wittgenstein volunteered to join the army for probably different reasons. When the war broke out, he was in Cambridge, UK, and had declared himself to be ‘spiritually exhausted’. This was probably due to the fact that he had fallen out with almost everyone in Cambridge, including his mentor Bertrand Russell and his ‘close companion’, the mathematician David Pinsent (with whom Ludwig probably had a homosexual relationship, and who would be killed in the war), and was seriously contemplating suicide (this was not the first time, and would not be the last time, that Ludwig seriously contemplated killing himself—time and again in his life he seriously thought of suicide, but never acted on these thoughts). His decision to join the Austrian army was perhaps less driven by the desire to defend the Fatherland, as surmised by his sister Hermine, and more by the desire to seek liberation from the ‘exhausting’ situation in Cambridge’ by taking on a difficult task and to do something other than purely intellectual work. Be that as it may, the Wittgenstein women, all of whom had fierce loyalty towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were very proud of Paul and Ludwig, and, by the same token, somewhat ashamed of Kurt, who, they could not help thinking, was having an easy time in America. The women wished that he too joined the army even if that meant death. Hermine, who would appear to have felt this dishonour more acutely than others, wrote to Ludwig:

 ‘How terrible it is that he [Kurt] is not experiencing these times as we are; you can hardly call what he is doing in America really living. . . He will have a bad time if everyone else has played their part and suffered, except for him!’ 

What the women did not know was that Kurt Wittgenstein had got involved in a clandestine racket—with the full knowledge of Austrian Embassy—of procuring false Austrian passports to repatriate Austrian US residents who, like him, were, for all practical purposes, detained in America. He also gave statements to newspapers, gave piano concerts and tried to mobilise the opinions in support of the Central powers, but with little effect. In one interview he declared: ‘The British have been manufacturing sentiments over here in diverse ways.’ Kurt retained his ‘job’ in the Austrian embassy for three years. During this period, despite their efforts, the American opinion continued to swing heavily in favour of the Entente allies. Linked to it, there was a perceptible rise in the anti-German feelings. This was not helped by revelations of what most Americans saw as underhand methods used by the Germans and Austrians for war propaganda. The public pressure began to build up for all the Austrian diplomats to be expelled from America. That happened in the spring of 1917: America joined the war supporting the allies; the diplomatic relations with Austria and Germany were severed; and Kurt Wittgenstein, along with 205 consulate employees, was expelled from the United States. He could now join the war, as his sister and mother so fervently wished him to. 

(The above photograph of some members of the Wittgenstein family was taken sometime in 1917. On left are sitting Kurt and Paul Wittgenstein. Ludwig Wittgenstein is at the extreme right. Next to him, with her arm round his shoulders, is his sister, Helen. Next to Helen is sitting the matriarch, Leopoldine. The last man sitting is Helen's husband. The woman standing in the picture is the family maid. This photograph has something fin de siecle about it.)

Hermine wrote to her sister, Gretl, who, now that she was an American citizen (her husband Gerome was an American), had rushed to Switzerland after America joined the war and thereby missed her brother’s return: ‘Kurt is back . . . the same big child he was three years ago . . . He dashes around with children . . . Let’s hope things always go smoothly for him!’ (They didn’t. In a year’s time as the Great War finally neared its coda, Kurt was dead.) 

As the time for Kurt’s departure neared, Leopoldine, to whom Kurt would appear to have been especially dear, was torn. On the one hand she wanted her son to do his duty for the Fatherland; on the other hand she was indescribably sad to see him go. Kurt enjoyed playing duets on piano with his mother; and that’s what he did on the eve of his joining the battle. He and his mother practised for hours a Schubert quartet.

The exact date of Kurt Wittgenstein’s death is not known. He killed himself sometime between September and November of 1918. The news of his death does not appear to have reached the family until December 1918. Kurt was fighting the war on the Italian front (along with his brother, Ludwig, although the two were not stationed together) where, as the war neared its endgame, the Austrian troupes were being routed by the Italians. The Austrians had lost almost 100,000 men trying to force their way into Northern Italy. The Germans were struggling on the Western front and were unable send reinforcement. As small mutinies broke out amongst the dejected and defeatist Austrian ranks, the Austrian High Command ordered a general retreat on 28 October. Within a week the armistice was signed. 

The letters written by Kurt’s mother and sister (Hermine) give three different dates of what they chose to describe as his ‘fall’: ‘end of October’, ’27 November’, and ’27 September’. 27 November seems a clearly wrong date, as the war was over by then. The most probable date was end of October, when mutinies broke out in the Austrian ranks. And it is the mutinies that would appear to be linked to Kurt’s suicide.

 In her memoir Hermine wrote: 

‘My brother Kurt shot himself without visible reason on a retreat from Italy in the last days of the First World War.’ 

This bland statement gives no idea of the frantic efforts the family made to seek the explanation for Kurt’s suicide. 

Over the years various versions explaining Kurt’s suicide filtered down different branches of the family. 

Paul Wittgenstein’s version, as told to his friend, Marga Denke, was as follows: an army order commanded Kurt to expose his battalion to what he saw as complete annihilation before a battery of enemy guns. Knowing that no conceivable military advantage was to be gained, Kurt disobeyed the order. Then a fear of court martial preyed upon his mind. It became too much for him and he killed himself. This was on the eve of surrender in 1918. In the confusion of those days there would have been no inquiries. 

Paul’s version differs from that of John (Ji) Stonborough, Gretl’s son and Kurt’s nephew. According to Ji, Kurt shot himself, like many other Austrian officers, in the 24 hour period after the surrender was signed, because he refused to be taken as a prisoner by the Italians. Another version, recorded by Paul Wittgenstein’s daughter, Johanna (after she interviewed family members in Austria in the 1980s), is broadly similar to Paul’s version, with a few more details added. According to this version, Kurt was ordered to lead his men across the river Piave. There followed a heated exchange between Kurt and his commanding officer in which Kurt shouted, ‘I am not offering my men in vain. The war is already lost.’ At this point he drew his pistol from his holster and threatened the officer that if he did not remove himself immediately from his sight he would be shot. The astonished commander withdrew, threatening a court martial. Kurt then summoned all his men, instructed them all to go home, and minutes later shot himself. 

Finally, there is a fourth version, according to which the men and not Kurt who rebelled. This version claims that Kurt ordered his men to action and they refused to obey by deserting him on the field. Standing alone with a revolver in his hand and facing the heavy Italian bombardment, Kurt had three choices: to desert with his men; to fight alone and risk being captured by the enemy; to put a bullet through his head. He chose the last option.

The truth behind Kurt Wittgenstein’s death will never be known. Like many of the eight and a half million soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War, his body was never found.

The suicide of the third Wittgenstein brother, on the one hand could be described as an honourable death; on the other hand, as Paul Wittgenstein said to his friend, it was a waste of a young life. Kurt could have easily ‘seen out’ the war in the safety of America; however, a sense of patriotism which was wholeheartedly abetted by the Wittgenstein women saw him return to the madness of the Great War, only to die a day before the armistice was signed and the defeat was a certainty. 

Kurt’s suicide seems to have broken the spirit of his mother Leopoldine, probably because she secretly blamed herself having actively encouraged him to return to Austria to fight to save the honour of an empire that did not even exist at the end of the War. From the time she received the news of Kurt’s death, Leopoldine’s health and spirits declined inexorably. In addition to the accumulating physical health problems, she lost all interest in life and she died a few years later. 

It would appear that the two surviving brothers, Paul and Ludwig, continued to believe in the heroism of their brother, but Hermine, the principal instigator of Kurt’s return to Europe from America, began to have her doubts. In her memoir Hermine writes affectionately and effusively of her many worthy uncles and aunts; she devotes a whole chapter to Ludwig, ‘the most interesting and worthwhile of my brothers’; she leaves a very fond and puzzled description of Hans in his youth; but writes next to nothing about Paul and Rudolph. (The omission of Paul can perhaps be attributed to the fact that by the time Hermine started writing her memoir, Paul had fallen out with his siblings.) She despatches Kurt off in one paragraph: he is portrayed as a ‘relaxed’ person, a ‘typical young bachelor without serious duties’, with ‘a harmless, cheerful disposition’, and ‘a natural and delightful masculinity’, who despite all this carried ‘the germ of disgust for life within himself.’ There is no mention of any act of heroism; if anything Kurt’s suicide is faintly condemned as an act of weakness. Perhaps this is linked to the Catholic upbringing of the Wittgenstein children (their parents were raised as Protestant Christians, but gave a Catholic upbringing to the children), and adherence to the view that suicide could never be an act of courage. Therefore, Hans who went missing and whose fate was officially not known is mentioned; Rudolph who killed himself most probably over his sexuality—another Catholic taboo—is not mentioned at all; and Kurt who killed himself on the battleground is mentioned but glorifying his death was out of the question. 

Disapproving she might have been of the manner in which Kurt died, but Hermine had no objection to adding the account of Kurt’s bravery (sans suicide) to the dossier the family hastily sought to present to the Nazis twenty years later, when it discovered to its horror that it was, in the eyes of the Nazis, Jewish, racially speaking, and was desperately trying to convince them of its impeccable credential (it did not help).

(to be continued)