Did he or didn’t he?

By Ambeth Ocampo
VIENNA, Austria—While there is not much funding available to support high-profile cultural projects, here the Philippine Embassy under Ambassador Linglingay Lacanlale has initiated contact with the Austrian National Library and Austrian National Museum of Ethnology. The National Library has a small but significant collection of rare Filipiniana, from 18th-century imprints like Jesuit reports to the first edition of the Tagalog vocabulario of Fathers Noceda and Sanlucar printed in Manila in 1754 by Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay. There are also a handful of rare manuscripts on the Philippines preserved by the library. On the other hand, the museum preserves many artifacts that are of an ethnographic and archeological value, some of them collected as early as the 19th century. These institutions are keen on sharing their collections with Filipinos, and it is hoped that they can be included in the larger project of finding the Philippine past in European museums.

Over a century ago, in between the writing and publication of “Noli me tangere” (Berlin) and “El Filibusterismo’‘ (Ghent), Jose Rizal spent a great deal of time in the British Library in London reading all the rare Filipiniana available. Because there was no photocopying machine or digital camera then, he copied by hand the entire “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas” by Antonio de Morga so that he could annotate it. If only present-day resources were available to Rizal, he would probably have spent more time in Vienna, and perhaps written more about it in his letters and diaries.

So far the only memorial to commemorate Rizal’s visit to Vienna is a historical marker installed in the Leopold Hof Building (Franz Josefs Kai 31-33, corner Morzinplatz 4), the site of the now extinct Metropole Hotel where Rizal and his friend Maximo Viola stayed for four days from May 20 to 24, 1887. This building is quite close to the Philippine Embassy and is the site for floral offerings by the Filipino community and visiting Filipino dignitaries.

It is quite odd that Rizal who usually jotted down detailed travel impressions was sparing regarding his trip to this part of the world. Much of the material on the trip to Vienna comes from the memoirs of Maximo Viola titled, “My travels with Dr. Rizal.” This is the primary source of one of the most enduring urban legends in the Philippines: that Rizal was the father of Adolf Hitler. Viola says he lost his diaries and notes during the Philippine Revolution and wrote these impressions from memory decades after Rizal’s death. The pertinent part of the short entry is worth re-reading:

“In one of our tours [in this city], he encountered the figure of a temptress in the form of a Viennese woman, of the family of the Camellias or Margarite, of extraordinary beauty and irresistible attraction, who seemingly had been expressly invited to offer for a moment the cup of mundane pleasure to the apostle of Philippine freedom who until then had enjoyed among his intimates the fame worthy of his glorious namesake St. Joseph.”

We must remember that when Viola was writing this, his friend had since become national hero. Instead of editing out this part of Rizal’s life to keep it spotless, Viola first refers to it and vainly explains it away. For example, in the beginning of his narrative, Viola says he met Rizal in 1886 in Barcelona. Rizal was en route to Paris and camped in Viola’s apartment to scrimp on hotel accommodation. Viola claims he was busy in the day reviewing for his exams in medicine but, “At night I accompanied him sometimes to the Café Pelayo, gathering place of the Filipino colony, and sometimes to other amusement centers, including ‘houses of low-flying doves’ whose ways, luxury or poverty, and other customs in the refinement of vice were unknown to him in Madrid.”

(Every Filipino knows what is meant by the euphemism “palomas de bajo vuelo“ or “kalapating mababa ang lipad.” It would have been simpler to be silent on this matter rather than justify these visits in the guise of social science or literary research.)

“Inasmuch as he was eager to know everything, because the day when, as a writer, he would have to combat such a vice in its diverse manifestations for being unnatural and anti-physiological, according to him he would be informed of its cause the better to correct it. It must be noted that in these excursions, rather of a character more inquisitorial then voluptuous, he always hinted to me that he had never been in favor of obeying blindly the whims of nature when their call was not duly justified by a natural and spontaneous impulse.”

This is very convoluted prose indeed. Reading the above made me imagine Viola being grilled by the Senate blue ribbon committee today; no doubt he would be better off invoking executive privilege. Historians and the curious only have Viola as reference for Rizal’s private life and are left to their imagination. Did he or didn’t he? Well, some people believe he did and the result of this indiscretion in Vienna was the little monster known to history as Adolf Hitler.

But that is definitely not something you will find engraved in bronze on a historical marker.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.






One response to “Did he or didn’t he?”

  1. andy manzana Avatar
    andy manzana

    I enjoyed your article about our national hero, Jose Rizal. I have been reading his letters to family and friends and the more i read the more I become interested. I was wondering, of the 2000 original Noli books published in Berlin, do you think , there is a chance of owning one or at least one of his original letters. I would appreciate if you can give me some information in buying one of his letters?

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