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Post Hitler and Wittgenstein in Linz
Created by John Eipper on 04/21/13 3:15 AM

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Hitler and Wittgenstein in Linz (Robert Whealey, USA, 04/21/13 3:15 am)

In the realm of coincidence, the Sunday Times about 10 or 15 years ago published a class photo of Hitler in Linz. In that same photo of 300 students, on the other end was the philosopher Wittgenstein. Needless to say, there is no evidence they ever talked to each other.

JE comments: I found this photo on the Web; young Wittgenstein is only a couple of boys over from little Hitler.  According to Wikipedia, the two were born just six days apart, but they were separated by two years at the school:  W. was placed in the class one year ahead, while H. had to repeat a year.  I'd like to know the identity of the chubby-cheeked lad in the upper left.

Wittgenstein's birthday is coming up soon, on April 26th.

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  • Hitler and Wittgenstein in Linz; Cornish's *The Jew of Linz* (Nigel Jones, UK 04/22/13 1:35 AM)

    Following up Robert Whealey's post (21 April) and photo of Hitler and Wittgenstein in the same Realschule at Linz: in 1998 the Australian writer Kimberley Cornish published the book The Jew of Linz, exploring the connection and claiming that the brief encounter in the schoolroom had a profound effect on both men.

    For Hitler, Cornish claimed that hostility between the two boys was the real roots of Hitler's anti-Semitism and was therefore indirectly responsible for the Holocaust; for Wittgenstein, he alleged the philosopher became a secret Communist working for the Comintern at Cambridge, and in fact not only gave the secret of the breaking of the German Enigma codes to Moscow, but also recruited the famous five Soviet "Cambridge spies" (Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt and Cairncross) who betrayed the West's atomic and other secrets to Stalin.

    The book was heavily criticised by reviewers for the paucity of evidence in support of its thesis.

    Ten years later, in 2008, Alexander Waugh (grandson of the novelist Evelyn Waugh) published The House of Wittgenstein, a group biography of the remarkable Wittgenstein clan. Wittgenstein's own neuroses, eccentricity and propensity to violence are well known, but the book revealed that the entire family were classic kooky candidates for analysis by their Viennese Jewish contemporary Sigmund Freud: no fewer than three of Ludwig's brothers committed suicide, and his sisters were all hypochondriacs. They were all hugely gifted, but also hugely damaged and flawed.

    Ludwig's surviving brother Paul, a brilliant musician, lost an arm while fighting (like Ludwig himself) for Austria-Hungary in WWI, and thereafter composed piano pieces especially for one-armed pianists. (Interestingly, Paul was the only Wittgenstein brother who was not homosexual, and he despised Ludwig's philosophical theories.)

    Ludwig's eccentricities included personal austerity to the point of monkishness: he gave away his substantial share of the vast Wittgenstein family fortune, some to the Austrian poets Rilke and Trakl. (The latter used the loot to feed his own impressive consumption of drugs.) Like his contemporary T.E. Lawrence, Wittgenstein also had a desire, probably related to his homosexual sado-masochism, to abase himself. He took a job as a village schoolmaster in Austria, living off cold porridge (and abusing his pupils--knocking one boy unconscious, and cuffing a girl until her ears bled); at the height of his fame he left Cambridge to live alone in primitive cottages in Norway and Ireland; and during WWII he took a job as a hospital porter in a northern industrial city. Famously his rooms at Cambridge were furnished only with collapsible canvas deckchairs.

    Wittgenstein's propensity to violence continued to the end. In 1946, according to the book Wittgenstein's Poker (2001) he had a violent Cambridge confrontation with his fellow Austrian exiled Jew, Karl Popper (author of the great demolition of Marxism The Open Society and its Enemies), during which Wittgenstein waved a fire poker around in an alarmingly menacing manner. Challenged by Wittgenstein to give an example of a moral law (which Wittgenstein claimed did not exist), Popper replied: "Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers"--at which Wittgenstein dropped the poker and left the room.

    Wittgenstein's talents were not confined to philosophy. He also tried his hand at architecture: when I was in Vienna the sole building designed by him was being used as the Bulgarian cultural institute!

    Wittgenstein died in Cambridge of cancer in 1950. When I visited his grave in a small Cambridge cemetery, the tombstone was decorated, in the Jewish style, with pebbles--but also with pieces from a broken car wing mirror. I am still pondering the philosophical meaning of that!

    Clearly a great--perhaps pre-eminent--20th-century philosopher, but definitely not a nice man. But whoever said genius had to be nice?

    JE comments:  The Wikipedia entry on Cornish's book provides gives an extensive discussion of the controversies, not the least of which is whether the boy in the photo identified as Wittgenstein is actually the philosopher.  Since Hitler and Wittgenstein were two grades apart at the Linz school, it does seem strange that they would be placed so close together in the photo.  Also, even if the two boys knew each other, it is unlikely that Hitler would have identified Wittgenstein as Jewish--the Wittgenstein clan was secular, and the children were baptized as Catholics.

    One other interesting detail:  the Wittgensteins were the second-richest family in the Austro-Hungarian empire, trailing the wealth only of the Rothschilds.

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