Macintyre tells the story of New Germany, a colony of Germany racial-purity advocates which Elizabeth Nietzsche and her husband founded in the 1880’s. The first few chapters detail the harsh conditions in Paraguay. The heat, insects, and poverty there vexed both the original colonists and Macintyre himself on his journey to find their descendants a century later.
Macintyre then leaves the story of his own journey behind to concentrate on the complex history of Elizabeth Nietzsche and her husband, Bernhard Forster. To Friedrich’s utter disgust, both took up the cause of German racism and anti-Semitism. Fearing that Germany was already too infused with Jewish blood, Forster, Elizabeth, and a small group of peasants left to found New Germany. Elizabeth effectively ruled the colony for seven years, but she returned to Germany after the colony fell into disarray and her husband died. After her brother died in 1900, Elizabeth spent the remainder of her life promoting the ideas of Friedrich, but seriously distorting them so as to lend support to her own racist theories. In her old age she became a supporter of Hitler, and she was buried with full Nazi honors upon her death in 1935. Macintyre concludes the book by describing the inbred, isolated community descended from the original colonists which he at last found in 1991.
Macintyre somehow manages to weave this complicated story together well. With the exception of the description of Macintyre’s journey through Paraguay, there is little new here, but never, perhaps, has the story of Elizabeth’s odd relationship with her brother and the development of her repugnant racial theories been told with such style and conviction.