Review: Martin Heidegger – Letters to his Wife 1915-1970

A selection of the letters written by Martin Heidegger made the cut for Getrud Heidegger, his granddaughter. In his will he left a wooden chest with over a thousand letters in it, with which she could do as she pleases. Her grandmother asked her to wait till the year 2000. Gertrude reminds her reader that she also had the possibility of burning the letters, but we are thankful she opt for publishing the letters. This publication is promised not to be the last, for the next publication is said to be an academic (full?) version. In the current version however, even the academic reader will not be disappointed. Namely because the book clearly hints at discussion between scholars: how much of a Nazi was Heidegger? It is an interesting question because it might be a determent factor in his philosophical writings.

So, to cut to the chase: since 1915, when Heidegger started writing his letters to his wife, there is a genuine disdain of Jewish people in everyday life. For instance when Heidegger writes on August 20th of 1920: “Next Sunday here it’s the harvest dance – Fritz will be right in the thick of things – the harvest has turned out well – but the price won’t be low – the farmers are gradually getting insolent up here too & everything’s swamped with Jews & black marketeers.” Or on the 18th of October, 1916: “The jewification of our culture & universities is certainly horrifying & I think the German race really should summon up the inner strength to find its feet a again. The question of capital though!” Weird enough is the apologetic tone of Gertrud Heidegger. Right after this last quote she mentions more than once that her grandmother ‘maintained an anti-Semitic outlook all her life, although this had no bearing on her friendships.’ As if she is implying that her grandfather is simply talking along with his wife, to sooth her ears. This is not very credible, because, as Gertrud herself mentions, in one of the letters in 1939 Heidegger asked his wife Elfride to burn a letter, with which Elfride complied. Getrude found further evidence that her grandmother went through all the letters, sorting them out by subject, so it isn’t hard to believe that other letters were burned as well. Especially since the letters from 1939 onward were scarce till 1947 and only one letter remains for the year 1933.

Heidegger doesn’t write often about Jews, but when he does he undeniably doesn’t favor them. It’s an overall sentiment that barely sticks out, where it not that Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazi’s makes for the prime reason to pick up this book. If only the world had known that Heidegger’s anti-Semitic views were not merely something  of the 1930’s…


Martin Heidegger – Letters to his Wife 1915-1970,
Selected, edited and annotated by Gertrud Heidegger,
Translated by R.D.V. Glasgow,
Polity Press, 2010.

Over Sharon Hagenbeek 36 Artikelen
Sharon Hagenbeek heeft Literatuurwetenschappen en Filosofie gestudeerd en schrijft over die onderwerpen voor diverse media. Daarnaast is ze momenteel bezig met het haar PhD-onderzoek naar Animality in het werk van Nietzsche en Foucault.

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