My grandfather Peter Wust(1884 - 1940)
My grandfather in
his study at home
Reading different Philosopher's web pages, gave me the idea to write about my grandfather, whose Philosophy and impressive personality are worth remembering. Peter Wust, a famous Existential Philosopher, belongs to the category of Heidegger, Hebbels, Kant, Max Scheler, and Eduard Spranger. He was born in the village of Rissenthal, Germany, in the Western part of the Saarland, close to the French border. Peter Wust's family lived in poverty. The pastor of the village Rissenthal finally suggested to send son Peter to a high school in Trier/Mosel, Germany. His parents hoped he would become a Catholic priest, instead, after his high school years, he chose to study German, English, and Philosophy. Peter Wust finished with an examination at Strassbourg/Elsass. At the University of Bonn, Germany, he received his doctorate degree, and wrote his dissertation on John Stuart Mill.
In his private life Peter Wust was married; he and his wife Katharina had three children: son Benno and the two daughters Else and Lotti. My mother was his oldest daughter Else, and she died in 1996. Years in Berlin, Trier, and Cologne followed, while Peter Wust established contact with Max Scheler and Edmund Husserl. When Peter Wust worked as a high school teacher in Cologne, Max Scheler became a special friend, who shared in philosophical ideas. In 1930 Peter Wust became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Münster, Germany. He created his existential philosophy nearly at the same time as Heidegger did, but Peter Wust's Philosophy had Christian basics. Wust planned a cultural offensive of the German Catholicism and his Philosophy argued for the cultural unity of Europe. During the Weimarer Republic, Peter Wust's students grew in number as more became interested in his ideas; although in the eyes of his generation and for his friends, he seemed to be a "confessor" first and than a Professor. When Adolf Hitler came to power, Wust was one of few people, who read Hitler's book: "Mein Kampf". Peter Wust foresaw the ruin of the German country, which caused people to call him a pessimist. His lectures at the University of Münster became popular, because Wust spoke without fear about the Nazi (National Socialist) regime. His popularity saved him from getting arrested. At this time Peter Wust's philosophical ideas had also reached France. There people like Jaques Maritain, Jean de Pange, Paul Claudel, Gabriel Marcel, Charles Du Bos and others were respectful of his work. Peter Wust died April 3, 1940 due to cancer of the jaw. Days before his death, he wrote a last letter (Ein Abschiedswort) to his students, who received this letter at the front line in Russia during World War II.
I am the youngest of Peter Wust's four grandchildren and live currently in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. My mother was grandpa's oldest daughter, Else. I was born long after my grandfather's death. My grandmother told me so much about grandpa, his work, his life, and all the people he had met. I liked to listen to her stories, especially as a child, and will not forget. As a child I once asked my grandmother: "Would you get married to grandpa again today, if you could?" She answered: "Yes, Jutta, of course I would marry him again." For me it was an amazing answer!
My grandfather liked art, animals, walking, nature, and cared a lot about people who had less than he. He always invited students with less money for dinner, and tried to find a reason for the invitations, so they would not feel uncomfortable. His students really liked him, many told later, it was always very interesting to listen to Peter Wust's lectures. On the other hand my grandfather had no talent at all to repair things, and because his mind was often creating another book, he often forgot his umbrella or hat. Peter Wust liked to visit Florence, Italy, and always came home with gifts for my grandmother. During the summer he always had a deep, dark tan. As a Professor at work, and writing books at home, my grandfather's spare time was very limited. When he was at home sitting at his writing desk, his children knew they had to be quiet. Only my aunt Lotti, the youngest of Peter Wust's children, bothered him sometimes. She would jump on the writing desk, would give him a loud kiss on his cheek, and would chat with her dad.
My grandfather had a strong personality. He was never afraid to tell what he thought, and that always worried my grandmother when Hitler came into power. When my grandfather had jaw cancer, my grandmother cooked at home for him, lived in the hospital, and at the end, fed grandfather with a teaspoon. In the hospital it seemed that all philosophical ideas had become minor for him. He could not speak anymore and wrote on a piece of paper only: "Hunger", many times.
Today I am using the media computer to keep my grandfather's ideas alive, for people who knew him, for Philosophy students, and simply for everybody who is interested in the German Philosopher Peter Wust.
By Jutta Peine
Jutta with her portrait in Las Vegas / USA