An Inhospitable Home for Aryan Conquest ; History Had Other Plans for German Colony in 19th-Century Paraguay

Article excerpt

In what would be a shock to its German founders, the town of Nueva Germania, Paraguay, has skewed sharply from its mission of elevating the white race with Aryan pioneers.

The year was 1887 when two of the best-known German anti-Semites of the time, Bernhard Forster, and his wife, Elisabeth, the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, put down stakes here in Paraguay's remote jungle with 14 German families screened for their racial purity.

Their dream: nothing less than the establishment of a colony from which an advance contingent of Aryans could forge a claim to the entire South American continent.

But the continent had other plans for this new Fatherland.

"Some were able to survive," said Lidia Fischer, 38, a blonde- haired descendant of a family that was among Nueva Germania's first settlers. From the moment they arrived, those forebears struggled with disease, failed crops, infighting and the megalomania of the Forsters, who lorded over the colony from an elegant mansion called the Forsterhof.

"Some returned to Germany," Ms. Fischer said in an interview on her farm, where she lives with her husband and their five children. "Some committed suicide."

Today the Forsterhof -- where a motto in German, "Over all obstacles, stand your ground," once hung on the wall -- lies in ruins. The forest grows over its charred remains. Not long after founding the outpost and envisioning its mission as the "purification and rebirth of the human race," Bernhard Forster grew despondent over Nueva Germania's progress. He swallowed a mixture of morphine and strychnine, killing himself in 1889.

Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche left Paraguay in 1893 for Germany. While Friedrich Nietzsche derided anti-Semitism and expressed disdain in correspondence with his sister over the anti-Semitic character of Nueva Germania, she went on to reinvent his legacy after his death in 1900, transforming the philosopher into a kind of prophet for the Nazi propaganda machine.

Somehow the remote settlement the Forsters left behind survived, drawing meager income from the cultivation of the yerba mate tree, the leaves of which are used to make terere, the infused drink consumed across Paraguay. In what would be a shock to its founders, today's Nueva Germania has skewed sharply from its mission of elevating the white race with Aryan pioneers.

After generations of intermarriage, many of the town's 4,300 residents boast German surnames but look indiscernible from other Paraguayans. Nueva Germania's dominant language is Guarani, the indigenous tongue widely spoken in Paraguay; even those families who still hew to old ways by speaking German at home mix it with high- pitched, nasal Guarani, and some Spanish.

The poverty that persists in Nueva Germania also makes it stand in contrast to some other agricultural colonies in Paraguay founded by European immigrants, like prosperous Mennonite towns where new pickup trucks barrel down country roads. Some descendants of the first German colonists here scrape by as subsistence farmers, transporting crops like cassava, an important dietary staple, on horse-drawn carts.

In hindsight, it might seem absurd for ideologues from across the seas to have hinged their dreams on an impoverished country like Paraguay. But this landlocked nation has long figured as a lure for utopian settlements.

In 1893, a teetotaling faction of Australia's labor movement created Nueva Australia, which survives to this day. Finnish vegetarians started Colonia Villa Alborada in the 1920s. More recently, Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, bought 600,000 hectares, or 1.5 million acres, of Paraguayan land before his death last year and sent an advance group of followers to set up a "Victorious Holy Place."

Few projects had the ambitions, however, of Nueva Germania. …


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