The Jew of Linz

The Jew of Linz

"The Jew of Linz" (1998) is a controversial book by Australian writer Kimberley Cornish. It alleges that Ludwig Wittgenstein, later a renowned philosopher, as a schoolboy was acquainted with and had a profound impact on Adolf Hitler, later leader of Nazi Germany, and thereby on subsequent history, and that Wittgenstein later was involved in a pro-Soviet spy ring.

The book's major claims

#The occasion for Adolf Hitler becoming anti-Semitic was a schoolboy interaction in Linz, circa 1904, with Ludwig Wittgenstein
#In order to fight the growing power of the Nazis in the 1920s Wittgenstein joined the "Comintern"
#As a Trinity College don, Wittgenstein recruited the Trinity College spies Burgess, Philby and Blunt (and Maclean, from nearby Trinity Hall) for the Soviet Union
#Wittgenstein was responsible for the secret of decrypting the German "Enigma" code being passed to Stalin, which resulted ultimately in the Nazi defeats on the Eastern Front and liberation of the remnant Jews from the camps.
#Both Hitler's oratory and Wittgenstein's philosophy of language derive from the hermetic tradition, the key to which is Wittgenstein's "no-ownership" theory of mind, described by the late British Academician Sir P. F. Strawson in his book "Individuals". [Peter Strawson: "Individuals", Methuen, 1958.]

Cornish's argument

The point of departure for Cornish's argument is the fact that Wittgenstein and Hitler both attended the "Realschule" in Linz, a school of about 300 students and were simultaneously at the school when they were 15 years old in the school year 1903-4. [McGuinness, p.51 and Monk, p.15.] While Hitler was just six days older than Wittgenstein, they were two grades apart at the "Realschule" — Hitler was repeating a year and Wittgenstein had been advanced a year. Cornish's thesis is not only that Hitler did know the young Wittgenstein but that he hated Wittgenstein, and that Wittgenstein was specifically the "one Jewish boy" from his school days referred to in the section of "Mein Kampf" where Hitler traces out the origins of his anti-Semitism. He argues from this that Hitler's anti-Semitism is traceable to 1903/4 and that it involved a projection of the young Wittgenstein's traits onto the whole Jewish people.

Cornish also argues that Wittgenstein is the most likely suspect as recruiter of the "Cambridge Five" spy ring. If Wittgenstein were indeed responsible for British decryption technology for the German Enigma code reaching the Red Army, as the author argues, then he enabled the Red Army victories on the Eastern Front that liberated the camps and ultimately overthrew the Reich.

The first section of "The Jew of Linz" introduces these two ideas. Other sections of the book deal with Cornish's theories about what he claims are the common roots of Wittgenstein's and Hitler's philosophies in mysticism, magic, and the "no-ownership" theory of mind. Cornish sees this as Wittgenstein's generalisation of Schopenhauer's account of the Unicity of the Will, in which despite appearances, there is only a single Will acting through the bodies of all creatures. This doctrine, generalised to other mental faculties, such as thinking, is presented in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Essays". Emerson held that Plato's very thinking could occur in someone today. This is not the commonplace that the content of Plato's thought is accessible to everyone, but that Plato's very act of thinking "in eternity" can move various different human vehicles in physical time, just as a unitary thunderclap can break multiple windows across a city. This doctrine was also held by the Oxford philosopher R. G. Collingwood who was one of Wittgenstein's electors to his Cambridge chair. Cornish tries to tie this to Wittgenstein's arguments against the idea of "mental privacy" and in conclusion says "I have attempted to locate the source of the Holocaust in a perversion of early Aryan religious doctrines about the ultimate nature of man". Cornish also suggests that Hitler's oratorical powers in addressing the group mind of crowds and Wittgenstein's philosophy of language and denial of mental privacy, are the practical and theoretical consequences of this doctrine.


Cornish used a school photograph on his book cover, of which a partial blowup is shown opposite, as his first piece of evidence.

It is part of a contemporary school photograph, in which the author identifies Hitler and Wittgenstein only centimetres apart. However, while the authenticity of the picture and the identification of young Hitler is undisputed, the identification of the other boy as Wittgenstein has been challenged, but Cornish states that the Victoria Police photographic evidence unit examined the photograph and confirmed the presence of Wittgenstein in it as "highly probable".

Cornish's prime argument for Wittgenstein's having been the recruiter of the Cambridge spy ring is that the Soviet government offered Wittgenstein the chair in Philosophy at what had been Lenin's university (Kazan) at a time (during the Great Purge) when ideological conformity was at a premium amongst Soviet academics and enforced by the very harshest penalties. Wittgenstein was known to have left-wing sympathies and wanted to emigrate to Russia, first in the twenties (as he wrote in a letter to Paul Engelmann) and again in the thirties, either to work as a labourer or as a philosophy lecturer. Cornish argues that given the nature of the Soviet regime, the possibility that a non-Marxist philosopher (or even one over whom the government could exert no ideological control) would be offered such a post, is unlikely in the extreme.


Some of the reviewers of "The Jew of Linz" contend that:
# Cornish's evidence is thin (most of the arguments adduced in favour of the claim are based on circumstantial associations and speculation).
# There is little evidence that Hitler and Wittgenstein knew each other.
# There is no evidence at all for the more sensational claims that there was a personal antagonism between them, or that Hitler's personal hatred of Wittgenstein shaped the course of Nazi anti-Semitism.
# Despite the wealth of material which has emerged from the archives of the KGB since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no evidence that Wittgenstein was one of the most important Soviet agents in the UK, or a Stalinist agent at all.
# Cornish misrepresents Wittgenstein's thought and his philosophical context or simply does not understand him.

Andrew Harrison, writing in the "Richmond Review", asks: "Could it really be that six million Jewish victims and all those others were systematically murdered by the mass production methods of a significant part of a civilised society just because of an antagonism between two bewildered small boys? The horrifying thought belongs not to 'the detective work of history' (Cornish's description of his project) but to speculative drama. There is a powerful play to be written that presents it, but this book is not its vehicle." [Andrew Harrison, [ "Review: The Jew of Linz"] "Richmond Review", undated.]

Daniel Johnson viewed "The Jew of Linz" as a "revisionist tract masquerading as psycho-history". He wrote, cquote|Cornish correctly identifies "the twist of the investigation" as the thesis that "Nazi metaphysics, as discernible in Hitler's writings . . . is nothing but Wittgenstein's theory of the mind modified so as to exclude the race of its inventor". So the "Jew of Linz" was indirectly responsible, at least in part, for the Holocaust. Cornish tries to deflect the implications of his argument thus: "Whatever 'the Jews' may have done, nothing humanly justifies what was done to them." But he then offers "a thought that might occur to a Hasidic Jew, and that is more fittingly a matter for Jewish, as opposed to gentile, reflection: the very engine that drove Hitler's acquisition of the magical powers that made his ascent and the Holocaust possible was the Wittgenstein Covenant violation". At this point, the non-sensical shades into the downright sinister. [Daniel Johnson, [ "What didn't happen in Linz"] "Sunday Times Literary Supplement", 17 April 1998.]

Opting for hilarity over condemnation, Adam Shatz wrote, "If you read Cornish’s book for too long a sitting, you may find yourself seized by his delirium and asking all sorts of questions.How did ordinary Germans come to share Hitler’s hatred of the Wittgensteins? Was the fall of Stalinism a defeat for Wittgenstein’s thought? Do anti-Wittgensteinians in philosophy departments present an imminent genocidal threat? If so, should there be Wittgenstein-tolerance seminars? Is Steven Spielberg interested in getting involved?Such questions leave us speechless, which is, of course, exactly how Wittgenstein would have it." [Adam Shatz, [ "School Ties"] "Lingua Franca", October 1998.]

Sean French wrote, in "New Statesman": "There is something heroic about this argument and it would be a good subject for a novel about the dangers of creating theories out of nothing. Vladimir Nabokov should have written it. It is not just that there are weak links in the theory. There are no links in the theory. No evidence that Hitler, in his final unhappy year, even knew a boy two years above him. If they did know each other, there is no evidence that he was the boy Hitler distrusted, no evidence that Hitler's remarks on snitching related to specific incidents at the Linz Realschule, no evidence that Wittgenstein informed on his fellow pupils." [Sean French, "New Statesman", 3 March 1998.]

In the same journal, Roz Kaveney calls it "a stupid and dishonest book", and says " [Cornish's] intention is to claim Wittgenstein for his own brand of contemplative mysticism, which he defines as the great insight that IndoEuropeans (or, as he unregenerately terms them, Aryans) brought to Hinduism and Buddhism." [Roz Kaveney, "New Statesman", 5 June 1998.]

Paul Monk concentrates on the inconsistencies in Cornish's theory that Wittgenstein was the head of the Cambridge spy ring, asking why Cornish has apparently not bothered to verify any of his theories by checking the KGB archives. Ultimately, Monk says "As I read "The Jew of Linz", I found myself wondering how on earth Cornish had confected so strange a piece of work. I found it by turns puzzling, funny, challenging and outrageously nutty... Cornish calls his book 'pioneer detective work', but I think it is really pioneer detective fiction." [Paul Monk, [,+Hitler+and+Their+Secret+Battle+for+the...-a021172488 "The Jew of Linz: Wittgenstein, Hitler and Their Secret Battle for the Mind"] , originally in "Quadrant", Sept 1998 v42 n9.]

Sophia Hampshire writes, " [T] he author fuses both early and later work of Wittgenstein. He is I presume, trying to exemplify a linear progression of Wittgenstein's theory of mind that is to say, universal mind. Passages which are extracted from the Tractatus are mainly confined to 5.55 - 6, and it is apparent Cornish lacks critical reason. ... Moreover the emphasis on the so called no-ownership theory in the Tractatus is a gross oversimplification. Wittgenstein was mainly concerned with logical form between propositions and states of affairs, the division between what can be described in language and what must remain silent, how propositions as pictures of states of affairs acquire their semantic content, to name a few of his concerns." [Sophia Hampshire, [ "Book Review: The Jew of Linz"] "Leonardo Electronic Almanac", Volume 6, No. 12, December 1998.]

In a review that originally appeared in Philosophy Now, John Mann likewise focuses on the philosophical content of the book but draws very different conclusions from Hampshire's. In his opinion, the contentions that so riled up the book's many critics were simply a clever ruse by Cornish designed to attract more readers. Mann approvingly writes, cquote|"Cornish is clever enough to know if he wrote a book on his 'no ownership' theory of language it would not have a wide readership. If he says this 'no ownership' theory was taught by Wittgenstein, learned and twisted for his own ends by Hitler, and actually needs Cornish to explain it all in great detail for the rest of the book [,] he has the book reviewed in every paper and even serialised in the Sunday Times. ... If you’re looking for a book which offers history, politics, magic and philosophy, try "The Jew of Linz"." [John Mann, [ "The Jew of Linz by Kimberley Cornish"] "Fountain of Language", originally in "Philosophy Now", 19 June 1998.]

Alex Ross, writing for Slate, describes "The Jew of Linz" as a "silly book" and "an excellent case study in the Hitlerological mania" and, playing on the German word for "muck" and an English homonym, calls it "mist of one kind or another". [Alex Ross, [ "Regarding Hitler"] , "Slate", 1 July 1998.]

Carlos Widmann writes of the "renowned historian Brigitte Hamann, author of ", and her skeptical assessment of the photographic evidence: "She considers it entirely probable that Wittgenstein attracted the notice of boy Adolf -- but not as a 'Jew of Linz'. Instead, Wittgenstein was the rich, elegant, unapproachable little prince from Vienna who attended Catholic religious instruction. ... But aren't the two boys standing almost shoulder to shoulder in the yearbook picture? Hamann comments, 'The picture was not taken in 1903 and the child standing close to Hitler was not Wittgenstein'. Instead, as Hamann continues, 'The picture was taken at an earlier date when Ludwig ... was [still] being taught in Vienna'." [Carlos Widmann, [ "Der Indiana Jones von Linz", in DER SPIEGEL 28/1998] , 6 July 1998, p. 165. de icon]

Eva Reichmann, in a review for the Austrian website "", concludes: "The death of six million Jews, thousands upon thousands of soldiers of all nationalities, the murder of thousands in German concentration camps -- to reduce all this to an unprovable encounter between Hitler and Wittgenstein, to an unprovable mutual influence (which Cornish does not manage to prove!) heaps insult upon the wrongs done to all the victims and represents a travesty of the body of literature on the topic." [Eva Reichmann, [ "Der Jude aus Linz"] , "", 10 November 1998. de icon]

A review by Kathrin Chod in "Berliner Lesezeichen" reels off, with an increasingly weary air of stunned sarcasm, the conjectures put forward by Cornish. At the end, the reviewer refrains from delivering a "coup de grace" or even a conclusion, trusting the reader to supply one themselves in light of what has been shown. [Kathrin Chod, [ "Zwei pfiffen zusammen"] , "Berliner Lesezeichen" 4/99. de icon]

Jan Westerhoff, in a review for "" wrote: "Cornish's book is an interesting show piece of a nearly paranoid understanding of history which views the whole of 20th century history from a single vantage point (namely, the putative exchange between the pupils Wittgenstein and Hitler). In this way Cornish tries to obtain evidence for his hypothesis from within history itself. However, if someone cries 'Ludwig' and 'Adolf' into the forest, he should not be surprised if the answering cries are 'Wittgenstein' and 'Hitler'. This clearly shows the methodical inadequacy of amassing a large quantity of almost-evidence in support of a hypothesis for which no evidence exists." [Jan Westerhoff, [ "Gefährliche Beziehungen"] , "" No. 6 (June 1999). de icon]

Hermann Möcker, the former chair of the "Institut für Österreichkunde", published an article in "Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur" with the dismissive title "Was Wittgenstein Hitler's 'Jew of Linz', as claimed by antipodean writer Kimberley Cornish? Biographical corrections on the pupil Adolf and thoughts on a woolly-headed book". [ [ Fachportal Pädagogik] : "Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur", 44 (2000) 5-6, p. 281 . de icon]

German historian Michael Rissmann judges that Cornish's thesis "rests on all too bold a speculation" and adds, cquote|"Kimberley Cornish bases his thesis on both attending the same class at Linz secondary school and being personally acquainted with each other; as evidence he produces a photo, on which he wills himself to recognize Wittgenstein. Furthermore, he constructs parallels between Wittgenstein's philosophy and Hitler's world view. In doing so, he overestimates the dictator's intellectual capacities and uses the fraudulent talks Hermann Rauschning claims to have had with Hitler to prove Hitler's alleged occultist interest." [Michael Rissmann, "Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators", Pendo, Zürich/München 2001, p. 95 and footnote 456. de icon]

In contrast, Tom Appleton penned an enthusiastic review of the out-of-print German edition [ [] de icon] , which he called a "forgotten book". Though calling Cornish's book "a venturesome thesis", he concludes with attacks on the book's critics: "Already upon its original publication in English, the book had been met with scathing reviews throughout Germany. However, in my opinion the book is so interesting that the pact of silence imposed on it since the German edition came out is nothing short of unacceptable and grossly negligent: a defense of the blind spot, essentially a refusal to perceive one's history in a truly undistorted manner." [Tom Appleton, [ "Wittgenstein und Hitler?"] , "Telepolis", 22 March 2008. de icon]



* Kimberley Cornish: "The Jew of Linz", 1998. ISBN 0-7126-7935-9
* Brian McGuinness: "Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein's Life 1889-1921", 1988. ISBN 0-19-927994-2
* Ray Monk: "Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius", 1990. (Biography) ISBN 0-14-015995-9
* Michael Rissmann, "Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators", Zürich München: Pendo, 2001, ISBN 3-85842-421-8 de icon
* Peter Strawson: "Individuals", Methuen 1958.

External links

* [ Nearly the entire photo with 40 children & 1 man - possibly a few more children cut out]

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