The post immediately before this one generated over 140 comments. I’m most grateful to everyone who contributed thoughts and I would now like to share some additional information with you, which might be overlooked if it were to be added as a comment to the previous post. So here is a new post on the same topic, which I’m calling Part 2, while the previous post is now Part 1.
As you may recall, this blog first addressed the question of Rudolf Steiner’s last illness in a posting on February 26th 2016, in which I discussed the rumour that Steiner had been poisoned at a tea party on New Year’s Day 1924. This rumour had been inadvertently started by Steiner himself, who was struck down by some kind of health emergency at the tea party and had told a young eurythmist, Ilona Schubert, who had found him alone in a corridor in a state of distress and pain, that he had been poisoned.
I had nevertheless formed the view that the causes of Steiner’s illness were not to do with a poison attack but were instead a result of three main factors: i) the arson attack which had burnt down the first Goetheanum, and which had shattered his etheric body; ii) a grave weakness in his digestion, which had been developing at least since 1923, and which meant that he found it extremely difficult to take in nourishment; and iii) according to Ita Wegman, Steiner’s “delicate physical body was left behind too much and for too long by the soul-spiritual which was working in its very own homeland. The physical body was left to its own weight and physical laws, so that it became weaker and the digestion failed.”
In my response to a comment by Tom Mellett, I cited statements not only by Dr Ita Wegman (Steiner’s main physician, colleague on the Vorstand and pupil), but also by Guenther Wachsmuth (Steiner’s secretary and Vorstand member) and Steiner himself, which contradicted this rumour.
It must also be acknowledged that people close to Steiner, such as his wife, Marie Steiner, and the eurythmist Ilona Schubert believed to the end of their days that he had indeed been poisoned. Marie Steiner’s poem in the ‘Afterword’ to Rudolf Steiner’s autobiography contains the line “They laid waste with poison and flame” and confirms that this was indeed her belief. Modern anthroposophical authors such as Sergei Prokofieff and Thomas Meyer are also convinced that this was the case. My own conclusion, however, was that this was unlikely and that the causes listed in the third paragraph above were the real reasons for Steiner’s illness.
That remained my position until I saw the account of a talk given at Dornach by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, in which he had spoken of a meeting with an occultist in the USA who claimed to have been the person who had instigated the poison attack. Full details of this are in the previous post to this one. Further information from Thomas Meyer in his book Milestones then led me to conclude “that the balance of probability is that Steiner was indeed poisoned, and that this would have worsened his already shaky health and hastened the end of his life, though it was not the direct cause of his death.”
I have now come across a very interesting conversation between Wolfgang Weirauch and Emanuel Zeylmans (author of the four-volume work, Who Was Ita Wegman?). It occurs in the book, Ita Wegman and Anthroposophy published by SteinerBooks in the USA (ISBN 978-1-62148-012-9).
“WW: The rumour that Ita Wegman poisoned Rudolf Steiner keeps circulating. What is the truth of this, and where does this rumour come from?
Emanuel Zeylmans: This rumour surfaced while Steiner was still alive. I have encountered it in completely distorted forms, and the fact that it keeps surfacing is due to a psychopath who proclaims it loudly, and has also been circulating it in written form for years. The only helpful response is laughter. As you know, I grew up in a clinic where, as my father was a psychiatrist, there were many people suffering from mental illness. They, too, wrote sick fantasies like this psychopath does. One shouldn’t let oneself be taken in – just use one’s common sense instead.
WW: Was Steiner poisoned at all, or is the whole thing a fabrication?
Emanuel Zeylmans: It is pure rumour, though in fact caused by something Steiner himself said.
WW: This rumour is tenacious and seems to be circulated intentionally. A friend of mine said that a woman told him she was the young eurythmist whom Steiner had staggered up to saying he had been poisoned. (Presumably this was Ilona Schubert)
Emanuel Zeylmans: Yes, there are a whole lot of reports about this scene. While researching the Wegman book I had to investigate this carefully, and I published my research in the addendum to volume two. Ita Wegman was Rudolf Steiner’s personal doctor, of course, so I had to find out what she herself said about this. It all fell into place.
One shouldn’t forget that the possibility of a criminal attempt to poison Steiner has a colossal, sensational impact, which, once uttered, is impossible to eradicate from history again. Marie Steiner was also quite convinced that poison had played a part. Shortly before her death she said this to an Italian woman, begging her to keep absolutely silent about it, of course. This woman (…) naturally had to go and publish the news immediately. That’s how things work. It’s pure sensationalism.
I regard the whole affair as a manoeuvre aimed to distract from the real circumstances. In fact the corrupt soul substance of members poisoned Steiner. He could no longer breathe, and it became time for him to leave the earth. This is a form of poisoning which we should examine, but of course very few people want to admit such a thing. That is why they distract attention from themselves and transpose an occurrence to a lower level, speaking of physical instead of soul poisoning.”
Hmmm. Despite Zeylmans’ certainty that Steiner was not poisoned and his strange suggestion of soul poisoning, there are still some questions to which it would be very good to have answers, eg:
Why did Steiner never refute the rumour that he had been poisoned? In the three reports he wrote for the bulletin and Newsletter, he did not deal directly with the question of whether he had been poisoned (he must have been aware that this was what was being rumoured), but instead referred to his poor state of health and said that this had been caused by the unreasonable demands of the members.
It has been suggested that Steiner did not wish to let the instigator of the poison attack know that he had succeeded, and therefore gave instructions that no-one should mention it in connection with his health problems and this is why his doctors did not give it as a reason for his illness. If this is true, why did Marie Steiner not feel constrained by this prohibition?
Why was there no autopsy after Steiner’s death? Perhaps this was not a requirement in Swiss law in 1925. There was some kind of post-mortem medical examination by Drs. Wegman, Noll and Walter, at which Guenther Wachsmuth also claimed to have been present. But presumably they did not cut Steiner open to examine his internal organs.
What are we to make of the stories put about by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Walter Johannes Stein about the poisoner and an American connection? Were these two men fantasists? And did Guenther Wachsmuth really say that the poison “affects the ether body, and causes a crisis every Wednesday”, when in his public statements he denies that there was any poison attack?
These contradictions are both puzzling and unsatisfactory. And there, regrettably, we have to leave it, unless further evidence comes along, which seems unlikely nearly a century after Steiner’s death.