Gandhi’s letters to Hitler

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Mohandas Gandhi, frequently known by the honorific Mahatma (meaning “great soul”), was famous for advocating civil disobedience and nonviolence to achieve his goals.

Starting in 1921, Gandhi led the Indian independence movement through such methods, finally achieving freedom from the British empire in 1947, just six months before his death.

Less known is Gandhi’s efforts through a series of letters in 1939 and 1940 to keep German dictator Adolf Hitler from starting a war in Europe.

 

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The British saw to it that the 1939 letter was never delivered. It seems they did not realise its propaganda value, considering how much Gandhi is revered today. But it did show that the Indian leader was a shrewd reader of international affairs – even a month before the Nazi-Soviet Pact made World War II inevitable, Gandhi had fully realised that the only way to avert war was for the German leader to adopt peaceful means to achieve his goals.

The second letter he send on Christmas eve 1940, it is not known if Hitler ever received it. Below is the full text of that letter.

 

“Dear friend,

That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed.

I hope you will have the time and desire to know how a good portion of humanity who have view living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your action. We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness. Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity. Hence we cannot possibly wish success to your arms.

But ours is a unique position. We resist British Imperialism no less than Nazism. If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny. Our resistance to it does not mean harm to the British people. We seek to convert them, not to defeat them on the battle-field. Ours is an unarmed revolt against the British rule. But whether we convert them or not, we are determined to make their rule impossible by non-violent non-co-operation. It is a method in its nature indefensible. It is based on the knowledge that no spoliator can compass his end without a certain degree of co-operation, willing or compulsory, of the victim. Our rulers may have our land and bodies but not our souls. They can have the former only by complete destruction of every Indian—man, woman and child. That all may not rise to that degree of heroism and that a fair amount of frightfulness can bend the back of revolt is true but the argument would be beside the point. For, if a fair number of men and women be found in India who would be prepared without any ill will against the spoliators to lay down their lives rather than bend the knee to them, they would have shown the way to freedom from the tyranny of violence. I ask you to believe me when I say that you will find an unexpected number of such men and women in India. They have been having that training for the past 20 years.

We have been trying for the past half a century to throw off the British rule. The movement of independence has been never so strong as now. The most powerful political organization, I mean the Indian National Congress, is trying to achieve this end. We have attained a very fair measure of success through non-violent effort. We were groping for the right means to combat the most organized violence in the world which the British power represents. You have challenged it. It remains to be seen which is the better organized, the German or the British. We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid. We have found in non-violence a force which, if organized, can without doubt match itself against a combination of all the most violent forces in the world. In non-violent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting. It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection. It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud. They cannot take pride in a recital of cruel deed, however skilfully planned. I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice. If you attain success in the war, it will not prove that you were in the right. It will only prove that your power of destruction was greater. Whereas an award by an impartial tribunal will show as far as it is humanly possible which party was in the right.

You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance. I did it because the British know me as a friend though a rebel. I am a stranger to you and your people. I have not the courage to make you the appeal I made to every Briton. Not that it would not apply to you with the same force as to the British. But my present proposal is much simple because much more practical and familiar.

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? I had intended to address a joint appeal to you and Signor Mussolini, whom I had the privilege of meeting when I was in Rome during my visit to England as a delegate to the Round Table Conference. I hope that he will take this as addressed to him also with the necessary changes.”

gandhihitler

 

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Free Arabian Legion and the Free Indian Legion.

It is a well known fact that it wasn’t only Germans that fought for the Wehrmacht, but it is a lesser know fact that there were Muslim and Indian units fighting for Hitler.

Free Arabian Legion was a military unit formed from Arab volunteers from the Middle East and North Africa during World War II.

It was created by Amin al-Husseini and Rashid Ali when they suggested the formation of an army of Arab volunteers, which was adopted by Adolf Hitler in 1941.

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The Free Arabian Legion provided an opportunity for German blacks who wanted to fight for the Reich. (It could be argued that the Wehrmacht was an equal opportunity employer)

Griechenland, Soldaten der "Legion Freies Arabien"

The unit was based on a smaller force, commanded by Hellmuth Felmy, mainly to assist the Pro-Nazi revolt in Iraq which was suppressed by the British. The unit was first settled in Syria and included several Iraqi expatriates, and Syrian Arabs. After the conquest of Syria by the British and Free-French forces, the unit was moved to Sounion in Greece. There it received more Arab and Muslim troops who were on the soil of Europe at the time, as prisoners of war, or as volunteers.

The Nazis planned to use the legion in conquering the Caucasus, rising an Iraq government-in-exile there, and then use the region as a force station and base for a way of conquering Iraq (an end that was never taken).

In Operation Torch the Allies took Tunisia, which had been governed by Vichy France. During the fighting the German command called on Tunisian Arabs to join the Legion.

After the death of its commander, the Legion was taken out from the Front, and in the November 1943 the Legion served in Peloponnese as part of the forces involved in the Axis occupation of Greece (as part of the 41st Infantry Division) and participated in the suppression of the Greek anti-fascist insurrection.

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The Free Indian Legion

The Free Indian Legion was recruited from Indian troops of the British forces captured in North Africa and also some Indian students who had been studying in Germany during WWII.

By the end of 1942 it numbered approx. 2000 men, and was officially formed as Indisches Inf. Regt. 950 of the German Army. It served as part of the Atlantic Wall garrison near Bordeaux, but was withdrawn to Germany after D-Day. Originally recruited as part of the Wehrmacht, it was placed under the control of the Waffen-SS as of 8 August 1944. and was eventually disbanded.

occupation-lacanau-atlantic-wall

The Indian Legion  and later the Indian Volunteer Legion of the Waffen-SS was a military unit raised during World War II in Nazi Germany. Intended to serve as a liberation force for British-ruled India, it was made up of Indian prisoners of war and expatriates in Europe. Because of its origins in the Indian independence movement, it was known also as the “Tiger Legion”, and the “Azad Hind Fauj”. Initially raised as part of the German Army, it was part of the Waffen-SS from August 1944. Indian independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose initiated the legion’s formation, as part of his efforts to win India’s independence by waging war against Britain, when he came to Berlin in 1941 seeking German aid.

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The initial recruits in 1941 were volunteers from the Indian students resident in Germany at the time, and a handful of the Indian prisoners of war who had been captured during the North Africa Campaign. It would later draw a larger number of Indian prisoners of war as volunteers.

Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which, when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used to invade British India.

He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel in North Africa.

Rommel mit Soldaten der Legion "Freies Indien"

 

IT is doubtful that Subhas Chandra Bose envisaged the Free India Legion would ever be an army sufficient or strong enough to conduct an effective campaign across Persia into India on its own. Instead, the IR 950 was to become a pathfinder, preceding a larger Indo-German force in a Caucasian campaign into the western frontiers of British India, that would encourage public resentment of the Raj and incite the British Indian Army into revolt.

Following German defeat in Europe at Stalingrad and in North Africa at El Alamein, it became clear that an Axis assault through Persia or even the Soviet Union was unlikely. Meanwhile, Bose had travelled to the Far East, where the Indian National Army was able to engage the Allies alongside the Japanese Army in Burma, and ultimately in northeastern India. The German Naval High Command at this time made the decision to transfer much of the leadership and a segment of the Free India Legion to South Asia and on 21 January, they were formally made a part of the Indian National Army. Most troops of the Indian Legion, however, remained in Europe through the war and were never utilised in their originally planned role.

Operation Bajadere

Soldaten der Legion "Freies Indien"

To the end of serving as a pathfinder, Operation Bajadere was launched in January 1942 when a detachment of the Freies Indien were paradropped into Eastern Persia tasked to infiltrate into Baluchistan Province. They numbered about one hundred and had trained with the German Brandenburgers (the special forces of the Wehrmacht). They were tasked to commence sabotage operations in preparation for the anticipated national revolt. Information passed on to Abwehr headquarters in Berlin from their office in Kabul indicate that they were successful in carrying out sabotage operations, but that they had no significant effect on military activity in their area.

The legion was transferred to Zeeland in the Netherlands in April 1943 as part of the Atlantic Wall and later to France in September 1943, attached to the 344th Infantry Division, and later the 159th Infantry Division of the Wehrmacht. From Beverloo in Belgium, the 1st Battalion was reassigned to Zandvoort in May 1943 where they stayed until relieved by the Georgian Legion in August. In September 1943, the battalion was deployed on the Atlantic coast of Bordeaux on the Bay of Biscay.

Atlantikwall, Soldaten der Legion "Freies Indien"

The 2nd Battalion moved from Beverloo to the island of Texel in May 1943 and stayed there until relieved in September of that year. From here, it was deployed to Les Sables-d’Olonne in France.The 3rd Battalion remained at Oldebroek as Corps Reserve until the end of September 1943,where they gained a “wild and loathsome”reputation amongst the locals.

The legion was stationed in the Lacanau (near Bordeaux) at the time of the Normandy landings, and remained there for up to two months after D-Day. On 8 August 1944 Himmler authorised its control to be transferred to the Waffen-SS, as was that of every other foreign volunteer unit of the German Army.The unit was renamed the Indische Freiwilligen Legion der Waffen-SS. Command of the legion was very shortly transferred from Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Krapp to Oberführer Heinz Bertling.

The Indian personnel noticed a change of command was at hand and started to complain. Noting he wasn’t “wanted” Bertling soon agreed to be relieved of command. On 15 August, the unit pulled out of Lacanau to make its way back to Germany. It was in the second leg of this journey, from Poitiers to Châteauroux that it suffered its first combat casualty (Lieutenant Ali Khan) while engaging French regular forces in the town of Dun. The unit also engaged with allied armour at Nuits-Saint-Georges while retreating across the Loire to Dijon. It was regularly harassed by the French Resistance, suffering two more casualties (Lieutenant Kalu Ram and Captain Mela Ram). The unit moved from Remiremont through Alsace to Camp Heuberg in Germany in the winter of 1944, where it stayed until March 1945.

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Finally, instead of driving the British from India, the Free India Legion were themselves driven from France and then Germany.

Their German military translator at the time was Private Rudolf Hartog, who is now 80.

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“The last day we were together an armoured tank appeared. I thought, my goodness, what can I do? I’m finished,” he said.

“But he only wanted to collect the Indians. We embraced each other and cried. You see that was the end.”

Subhas Chandra Bose never saw the the independence of India, he died on August 18 1945 from third-degree burns after his overloaded Japanese plane crashed in Japanese-ruled Formosa (now Taiwan).