Was ik maar weer in Bommel: I wish I was back in Bommel (Marx)

Karl Marx ‘was half Dutch [half Nederlands was]’, wrote his daughter Eleanor in 1893. Why? The first hint begins with her recipient, who was none other than Franc van der Goes, a family member. But the full story is that Marx’s mother was Henriette Pressburg, and her sister Sophie was married to Lion Philips. The Philips family – which provided the basis of Philips electronics – lived in Zaltbommel. Even more, Marx’s father, Heinrich (Herschel) was connected with a number of Dutch Jewish families.

So the genealogical link was close, but so was the personal. More than fifty letters survive of the correspondence between Marx and his Dutch relatives, letters that are very open in discussing politics, philosophy, culture, personal matters and so on. Lion’s brother, Auguste, also assisted Marx with the publication of the French translation of Capital. With all these connections, it is not surprising that Marx visited the family in Holland on a regular basis, and that Lion helped him out with money when he was short (a frequent occurrence for a man who was hopeless in personal finances). Indeed, Lion’s son Eduard, remembered that Marx wrote part of Capital while he was there. He would walk back and forth furiously, smoking away, until an idea came to him. Then he would leap on the chair and write away. Of course, there is also the intriguing ‘closeness’ with his cousin, Nanette Philips, leading come to speculate on a possible affair. Probably not, but they did enjoy each other’s company.

All this and more can be found in J. Gielkens (red.), ‘Was ik maar weer in Bommel’, Karl Marx en zijn Nederlandse verwanten, Een familiegeschiedenis, bezorgd en ingeleid door Jan Gielkens, uitg. Stichting beheer IISG, Amsterdam 1997. You can also find a summary by Jasper Schaaf.