In 1887, Therese Elisabeth Alexandra Förster-Nietzsche, the younger sister of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, left Germany and moved to South America. Her aim was to create a utopian society consisted of only the Aryan race in the San Pedro region of Paraguay. The initial idea was that of her husband, Bernhard Förster, who was one of the leading figures in the anti-Semitic faction of a right-wing political party in Germany. The couple established the district Nueva Germania in Paraguay, where today some German descendants still live.
The connection between the Nietzsche siblings is one of intense scrutiny since some of the ideas within his philosophy were taken up by the Nazi party in the 20th century. But were those purely his ideas?
Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche was born in 1846. As children, Elisabeth and Friedrich lived in the village of Röcken bei Lützen, where their father worked as a Lutheran pastor. They were close during their childhood and into adulthood until 1885, when Elizabeth married Förster, a former high-school teacher who was an anti-Semite and a prominent German nationalist.
Elizabeth endorsed her husband’s anti-Semitic ideas and became a prominent nationalist as well. Together they planned the creation of a utopian “pure Ayan settlement” somewhere in the New World, and found the area in Paraguay that fit their requirements. The Försters persuaded 14 families from Germany to join them in establishing the new colony, which was to be called Nueva Germania. They all left for Paraguay in August 1887.
Bernhard Förster (2nd left) among other German anti-Semitic writers, ca. 1880
But the colony didn’t succeed. Their German methods of farming weren’t suitable for the land, the people weren’t prepared for illnesses common in the area, and the transportation to their settlement was too slow and difficult. Instead of a utopian society, Förster faced mounting debts that led him to despair.
He committing suicide by poisoned himself with a combination of morphine and strychnine in June 1889. His wife, Förster-Nietzsche, remained in Nueva Germania for another four years until she finally gave up and left the colony forever.
Location of Nueva Germania
Upon her arrival in Germany in 1893, Förster-Nietzsche found her brother an invalid, cared for by their mother. After a lifetime of health problems, Nietzsche had had a nervous breakdown in 1889. His work had already been published and, although he was a recluse, Nietzsche was becoming a famous philosopher throughout Europe. So she became her brother’s caretaker, promoting his writing and creating the Nietzsche Archive in 1894. She published a collection of Nietzsche’s notes in the posthumous book The Will to Power.
However, she assumed the role of editing Nietzsche’s manuscripts and in so doing, reworked them to fit her nationalist ideology, which was quite often opposite the stated opinions of her brother. Years before, when told of his sister and brother-in-law’s plans to create a German colony, he had reportedly responded with mocking laughter. Nietzsche spoke out against anti-Semitism before his breakdown and his friendship to Richard Wagner was strained because of the composer’s views.
By editing his work, Förster-Nietzsche promoted her brother as a German nationalist and his name became associated with National Socialism and German militarism. His sister was definitely one of the leading figures of anti-Semitic movements. She supported the National Socialist Party, and after 1933 when Hitler came to power, the Nietzsche Archive was supported financially as well as receiving publicity from the government.
Förster-Nietzsche used her brother’s name to publish his manuscripts containing ideas that contradicted his views and adhered to her own. She died at the age of 89 in 1935, exactly 35 years after the death of her brother. Her funeral was attended by several high-ranking German officials, including Hitler himself.
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As for the German settlement in Paraguay, their descendants live in the district of San Pedro Department, a quiet community dedicated to agriculture that specializes in the cultivation of yerba mate. Some fragments of German culture remain. Until 2013, the community kept itself close, and marriages were settled only between its members. However, as of 2013, there have been intermarriages with Paraguayans.