Nietzsche’s thinking seems destined to be mangled and misunderstood

For Mussolini’s 60th birthday, Hitler gave him a de luxe edition of Friedrich Nietzsche’s complete works, bound in blue pigskin. After the war, writers vied to revile the philosopher. Then, in the 1960s, he suddenly became philosophy’s darling. How come? Enter two erotically entangled Italians: Georgio Colli, a philosophy teacher at Lucca from 1942, and his pupil Mazzino Montinari, who in 1943-4 was beaten, interrogated and imprisoned for anti-fascist activism. Both found Nietzsche’s philosophy irreconcilable with fascism. Rumours had been swirling that the Nazifying of Nietzsche emerged from the Nachlass, a mysterious hoard of Nietzsche’s manuscripts suspected to contain forgeries that were the work of his sister Elisabeth and her

Has Germany finally shaken off its dark past?

In 1982, a board game appeared in West Germany. If you landed on square B9 you were sent to a refugee camp in Hesse where you became ill from loneliness, unfamiliar food and not being allowed to work. Worse still, you had to miss a go and spend the free time thinking about ‘how you would feel in such a situation’. Even if, like me, your childhood was spent crying over lost games of Monopoly, nothing could quite prepare you for the cheerless experience of playing ‘Flight and Expulsion Across the World’. It’s unlikely an updated version has been commissioned for our home secretary, with players assigned counters representing the

Is Israelophobia the latest form of anti-Semitism?

Israelophobia addresses an anti-Semitic mutation ‘evolving out of reach’: the demonisation of the Jewish state. Its author, Jake Wallis Simons, is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. His antennae are primed for anti-Semitism and he finds plenty of it. In France, 60 per cent of religious abuse is directed at Jews and in Germany anti-Semitic incidents have doubled in a decade. In his telling, Israelophobia – Leon Pinsker’s Judeophobia transformed – is the descendant of the deicide myth, the blood libel and the Shoah. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a fanatical admirer of Hitler You can hear it in the quality and narrowness of the discourse,

Why did the Weimar Republic descend so rapidly into chaos?

‘Thirteen wasted years’ bellowed Adolf Hitler at receptive audiences in the spring of 1932. He was talking about the first full German democracy, the Weimar Republic. Proclaimed in November 1918, it was born out of a desire to do things better after the horrors of the first world war and was an ambitious attempt to establish one of the most progressive states in history. ‘Democratic chaos,’ sneered Hitler, ‘unmitigated political and economic chaos.’ Much of the electorate agreed. Less than a year later, Hitler became chancellor and immediately set about fulfilling his electoral promise to destroy democracy. The short and tumultuous story of the Weimar Republic continues to fascinate. The

The unimaginable horrors confronting the Allies in 1945

No one had prepared the Allied soldiers, as they began their invasion of the Reich early in 1945, for what they would find. The discovery by the Soviets of the extermination camp of Majdanek in July 1944, and Auschwitz in January 1945, had not really registered, not least because they had been partly emptied and demolished by the retreating Germans. In any case, no one – not the International Committee of the Red Cross, nor the Vatican, nor the British and American governments – had been able, or wanted, to believe what they had been told. The scenes of slaughter and horror that awaited the British, Canadian and American troops

The opera that wouldn’t die

When Erich Wolfgang Korngold completed his third opera, Die tote Stadt, in August 1920, he’d barely turned 23. Yet such was his reputation that what followed was practically a Europe-wide bidding war for rights to the première. The young composer had his pick of companies and conductors (the Vienna State Opera tried and failed). In the end – almost unprecedentedly – Die tote Stadt was launched on the same night in two cities simultaneously. Audiences in Hamburg and Cologne both erupted into applause, but Korngold, who could be in only one place, had chosen Hamburg – where he was so dazed by the response that Richard Strauss, who was present

Nobody paints the sea like Emil Nolde

In April, ten years after opening its gallery on the beach in Hastings, the Jerwood Foundation gifted the building to the local borough council. Thrown in at the deep end without a permanent collection, Hastings Contemporary, as it is now known, has to sink or swim on the strength of its exhibition programme. How to please local audiences while attracting outsiders? For a seaside gallery, nautical themes are an obvious answer: this summer’s offering is Seafaring, a dip into two centuries of maritime art from Théodore Géricault to Cecily Brown. What’s the worst that can happen? Shipwreck. The show opens with three recent canvases by Brown inspired by romantic paintings

The history of Nazism in small objects

‘I can’t cook,’ writes the historian Karina Urbach, ‘which is probably why it took me so long to realise that we had two cookbooks on our shelf at home with the same title’ – a 1938 edition by her grandmother Alice and one from the following year attributed to Rudolf Rösch. When she did notice, however, it provided a key to unlocking some fascinating family history and a little known strand of Nazi persecution. In 1920 Alice Urbach was living in her native Vienna, ‘a 34-year-old widow with no money’. Her husband had proved a feckless gambler and her father, disappointed by her lack of ambition, had virtually cut her

Fresh air and fascism in the Bavarian Alps

The village of Oberstdorf lies in the Bavarian Alps, geographically remote but, as this gripping book demonstrates, deeply etched by the politics and violence of the Third Reich. Julia Boyd and Angelika Patel have used diaries, letters, newspaper reports and the official papers of Oberstdorfers as a lens through which to look at the rise of Nazism in Germany. The result is a fascinating and often surprisingly discordant cacophony of experiences. Oberstdorf was a small village but it had a wide range. By the early 1920s it was a favoured tourist spot: its population of 4,000 was swelled to 9,000 by visitors who came for health cures and winter sports.

Can the German military celebrate its history?

Picture German troops marching in front of the Reichstag in Berlin. Their polished black boots hit the ground in rhythm with the drums. Night has fallen and the soldiers are carrying burning torches that cast an eerie glow over the spectacle. But these aren’t Nazis. This ceremony was held last Wednesday in honour of Germany’s Afghan campaign. The inevitable furore has overshadowed the purpose of the event — to remember the 59 German fallen — exposing the dilemma of the German armed forces: can they have a sense of history and tradition despite their unforgivable role in Nazi crimes? German politicians have been busy debating the purpose of the Afghan

The Prince of Prussia’s Nazi problem

Perched on a mountain top overlooking the Swabian Alps, Hohenzollern Castle, with its picturesque towers, seems like something out of a fairytale. It is a relic from a bygone era. When the proud owner is at home, his flag waves defiantly in the wind, but it bears the colours of a kingdom that no longer exists: the black-and-white of Prussia. Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia, is the current head of the House of Hohenzollern. It is strange to look at the smiling businessman in the tailored suits and think of him as a Kaiser. But the 45-year-old father of four would be exactly that had the German monarchy not fallen. His

Churchill did admire Mussolini

In his ruthless demolition of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s new Churchill biography in last week’s Spectator, the historian Andrew Roberts pours scorn on the ‘insinuation that Churchill had fascist leanings in the 1920s’ as it is not supported by ‘any actual evidence (for there is none)’. Well, however justified his hatchet job of Wheatcroft’s book is in general, Roberts is deeply mistaken about Churchill and fascism. Like so many in the 1920s and well into the 1930s, from all sides of the political divide, Churchill was a fervent admirer of the former revolutionary socialist Benito Mussolini and the fascist movement which he founded in 1919. Fascism was a nationalist rather than internationalist

Waiting for Gödel is over: the reclusive genius emerges from the shadows

The 20th-century Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel did his level best to live in the world as his philosophical hero Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz imagined it: a place of pre-established harmony, whose patterns are accessible to reason. It’s an optimistic world, and a theological one: a universe presided over by a God who does not play dice. It’s most decidedly not a 20th-century world, but ‘in any case’, as Gödel himself once commented, ‘there is no reason to trust blindly in the spirit of the time’. His fellow mathematician Paul Erdös was appalled: ‘You became a mathematician so that people should study you,’ he complained, ‘not that you should study Leibnitz.’ But

Apostle of modernism: Clive Bell’s reputation repaired

Clive Bell is the perennial supporting character in the biographies of the Bloomsbury group. The husband of Vanessa Bell, brother-in-law of Virginia Woolf and friend of Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey, he is often depicted as a witness to historical events rather than a participant in them, a sort of modernist Forrest Gump. At best he is a dilettante with good taste who didn’t quite belong with the intellectuals of Bloomsbury; at worst he is a womaniser with Nazi sympathies who took advantage of Virginia Woolf. In this useful book Mark Hussey lets him take centre stage and delivers a far more nuanced portrait. Bell liked to play up to

An unsuitable attachment to Nazism: Barbara Pym in the 1930s

Novelists’ careers take different paths, and sometimes don’t look much like careers at all. It’s true that some start publishing between 25 and 35, and write a novel respectably every two or three years until they die, like Kingsley Amis. Others don’t start until they are 60, like Penelope Fitzgerald, or stop abruptly without warning, like Henry Green, or write one novel and no more, like Harper Lee. Inspiration, or interest, comes and goes, and both the audience and the industry will have their wilful way with creativity. The ultimate aim of a novel, to be read with pleasure decades after its creator’s death, is reached in tortuous ways. Who

The fall of Golden Dawn

Next week, the biggest Nazi-related trial since Nuremberg will come to a close. Following the murder of Greek musician Pavlos Fyssas by a member of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn seven years ago, the entire leadership and dozens of members were charged under counter-terrorism legislation with running an organised crime syndicate. The case file, which runs at more than 3,000 pages, includes charges of murder, arson, possession of guns and explosives, and even trafficking. A combination of the famously sclerotic Greek justice system and circumstance held up the trial for years. The pandemic and the lockdown that followed it pushed the verdict back even further. But now, at last, it’s

Hitler’s admiration has severely damaged Wagner’s reputation

In the early 1920s a French businessman, Leon Bel, was looking for a name for his new brand of processed cheese. He remembered seeing a meat wagon on the first world war battlefields with the sardonic name ‘La Wachkyrie’. Like the Valkyries in Wagner, it brought solace to fallen soldiers in the field. Bel thought it would do very well, and gave his cheese the same name in a more orthodox spelling. La Vache Qui Rit (the Laughing Cow) is still very popular today. Reading this completely unsuspected story of a trademark in Alex Ross’s book, I wondered with some astonishment at this world. A businessman looking for a striking

A true story that never feels true: Resistance reviewed

Resistance stars Jesse Eisenberg and tells the true story of how mime artist Marcel Marceau helped orphaned Jewish children to safety in the second world war. I had no idea. I had only ever thought of Marceau as ‘Bip’, who will live on for ever in my nightmares. (God, mime.) But while the story is remarkable, the film is considerably less so, veering between overtelling and undertelling, wavering in tone and never properly coming to any kind of life. If I had to do this review in mime I’d probably be miming nodding off on the sofa but, then again, I’m pretty sure I did that for real. Written and

An eye in the storm

Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, aged 102, is now better known for his persona than his work. A deeply confusing and controversial figure who loathed democracy and glorified German militarism, yet despised the Nazis, he not only bore witness to the industrial flesh-mangles of two world wars, but almost the entirety of the 20th century. His writings and insights have long earned him sage status in Germany. This, the first publication in English of his diaries from 1941–45, heightens his complexity but also makes him a more rounded figure. This will come as a surprise to those who know him as the ruthless young warrior of the infamous Great

Theatre of war

There was a time when you read French literary novels in order to cultivate a certain kind of sophisticated suspicion. Post-modern writers like Robbe-Grillet, Ricardou and Perec were hyper-aware of the political and philosophical problems underlying traditional realist narratives. They produced novels that were as much critiques of novel writing as they were actual stories with actual characters. Nowadays, however, one might go to the French section of a bookshop looking for something more Balzacian. One might read Houellebecq for his excoriating critiques of our political culture, or Édouard Louis for an exposé of the prejudices fostered by French working-class life. These are very different writers, but they have in