Hindus for Hitler

Anti-Hindu writers love to portray Hindu revivalism as a form of “fascism”. Given the Hindu movement’s record of service to democracy and abiding by democratic norms, they have a hard time sounding serious. Fortunately for them, they find perfect allies in the rare but vocal Hindus who do applaud Adolf Hitler.

Wendy Doniger

During the commotion around the publisher’s withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book Hinduism, an Alternative History, the author herself held a plea pro domo: her article “Banned in Bangalore”, NYT, 5 March 2014. In it, she mocked the ignorant Hindu objection by Dina Nath Batra in his official complaint “that the aforesaid book is written with Christian Missionary Zeal”. When an internet Hindu reproduced this allegation, she replied: “Hey, I’m Jewish.” So far, so good: it is fair and correct to notice that Hindu activists are too smug and too lazy to study their enemies, so that they make embarrassing mistakes about Wendy, including her religious denomination.

But then: “I was hit with a barrage of poisonous anti-Semitism. One correspondent wrote: ‘Hi. I recently came across your book on hindus where you try to humiliate us. I don’t know much about jews. Based on your work, I think jews are evil. So Hitler was probably correct in killing all jews in Germany. Bye.’”

This may be an invention: the New York Times readers would not know the ins and outs of Indian politics, but they can be counted on to hear the alarm go off at the mention of anti-Semitism. So Wendy may have invented this case of anti-Semitism so as not to have to bore her readers with categories on Indian public life which they don’t know nor care about. As Vishal Agarwal (The New Stereotypes of Hindus in Western Indology, Hinduworld Publ., Wilmington DE 2014) has documented, her contentious book contains hundreds of wrong statements, from innocent slips and incorrect data to willful and ideologically motivated misrepresentations. So, we should not deem her above inventing this outburst. On the other hand, there really are internet Hindus who are capable of utterances like this. They don’t write books or papers, but the inboxes of Hindu activist websites have dozens of examples.

If the above-quoted e-mail really exists, we can infer that it was written by a Hindu who had thus far been ignorant of Jews and anti-Semitism (most Hindus are ignorant about the “Jewish question” in Europe and the Middle East), and who became anti-Semitic on the spot, namely by extrapolating from Wendy to her community, which upon her own declaration is Jewish.

The generalization from an individual to her community is of course logically unsustainable, but very common among the kind of people who vent heated reader’s letters. But all these details will be lost on the average reader, who simply comes to associate “Hindu” with “anti-Semitism”. And that was the point of her whole exercise. But Hindu loudmouths don’t see through such tactical schemes and readily take the bait, freely providing their enemies with all the anti-Hindu ammunition they need.

Hindu pro-Semitism

Hindu activism has always been sympathetic to the Jewish people and Jewish state, at least since 1923 when Hindu leader V.D. Savarkar in his trail-blazing book Hindutva expressed his support for the Jewish project of a state of their own. He had nothing with the Jewish theology of the Promised Land, which he may even not have known, but he observed the nationalist logic that the Jews were a really existing nation and therefore were entitled to their own nation-state. That is also why the Hindu nationalist parties were the only ones in India who, until the advent of diplomatic recognition in 1991, advocated full relations with Israel.

Hindus in general have always admired the revival of Hebrew as mother tongue of Israel, where Hindus themselves are not even capable of pushing through a common second language to replace English. They also feel familiar with Judaic believers as a fellow target of the Christian missionaries, and feel an affinity with the Jewish quasi-Brahminical book-orientedness and the ritualism, food prescriptions and sheer ancientness of Judaism. For what it is worth: Aristotle thought the Jews descended from “the philosophers of India”.

Yet, Hindus also have a soft corner for conspiracy theories. In the past, they used to make up their own. But now with the internet, they have access to the minutely developed Western conspiracy theories, and the master theory among these is the Zionist World Conspiracy. The blogsite Vijayvaani, for instance, has published a few articles in this vein, e.g. that 9/11 was a inside job masterminded by the CIA together with the Mossad. Amazing how the Mossad managed even to fool Osama bin Laden, who genuinely believed that his Al-Qaeda men had done it; but anyway, that is what millions of conspiracy theorists believe, now including some Hindus.

Quite separate from this phenomenon, there is also a widespread sympathy for Adolf Hitler in India. Among Indian Muslims, this has the same motivation as among Palestinians, viz. Hitler’s anti-Semitism. This is ingrained in Islam and included in the Prophet’s precedent behaviour: he partly exiled and partly murdered the Jews of Arabia, where after the completion of his conquest no declared non-Muslim was left alive. But the same veneration for Hitler also exists among Hindus, though for very different reasons. Most Hindus only know of Hitler as the challenger to the British Empire and thus indirectly as a factor in India’s independence, while they denounce his enemy Churchill as a racist and as responsible for the millions of deaths in the Bengal famine of 1943. Usually they don’t know about Hitler’s anti-Semitism and have only a vague idea of the Jews’ place in European history.

A petition against Mein Kampf

In the spring of 2014, some members of the professional Indology list issued a petition to dissuade the leading publishing-house Motilal Banarsidass from republishing a translation of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. This book is very popular throughout the Muslim world, but also in India. Motilal replied graciously and withdrew the book from distribution. The petition’s author, Prof. Dominik Wujastyk (London/Vienna), related on the list that many Hindus he had spoken to, expressed admiration for Hitler, but once they were informed of his massacring the Jews in his domains, they recoiled in horror and embarrassment.

Hindus have a very mistaken view of Hitler. They don’t even realize that Hitler was only forced into war with Britain against his will; that he favoured British domination over India as the realization of his dream (white Aryans ruling over the “inferior races”) and the model for his planned domination of his “vital space” in Eastern Europe; that he opposed the Freedom Movement and advised the visiting British Foreign Minister to have the Congress leadership including Mahatma Gandhi shot. History moves in strange ways, and it is a fact that through WW2, Hitler bankrupted Britain and forced it to relinquish its prized Indian possessions; but he was no friend of the Hinduism or the Indians

Nazi Hinduism?

The blogsite Hindu Human Rights (www.hinduhumanrights.info) has received an e-mail making the following four points, rendered with corrected spelling. We will answer them one by one.

“1. The Myth of the Twentieth Century [by Alfred Rosenberg] is the book on social ideology of Nazism which CLEARLY states the state destruction of Christianity by proxies like Positive Christianity. And replacing it by HINDUISM and German paganism.”

The Nazi high command was inimical to Hinduism, which is briefly lambasted in both Mein Kampf and Hitler’s war-time Table-Talk, published by Henry Pickering. Rosenberg was frowned upon by Hitler and other high Nazis for bringing in pre-modern concepts such as this “myth”. But as the Nazi movement was not a monolith (fairly obvious yet news to most experts of the period) nor a religious movement, his ideological idiosyncrasies were tolerated. Yet, even he did not advocate Hinduism as the religion for Germany. Contrary to popular opinion, a return to Germanic Paganism was also not favoured by the Nazis, and emphatically denounced by Hitler in Mein Kampf.

The impression that the Nazis revived Germanic Paganism, eagerly fostered by the Christians who try to pass as having been anti-Nazi all along, is due to the 19th-century revival of Paganism-lite which had entered general German culture somewhat, principally the celebration of the Solstices and the use of a particular type of candle. These were incorporated in the rituals of the Hitler Youth and the SS, not because they were Pagan but because they were German.

Post-Christian society does not want to do away with the scientific worldview and admits at most of a very restricted rehabilitation of religion, divested of all its superstitions. This was what was meant by the “positive Christianity” enshrined in the Nazi charter, the party’s official religious commitment (as opposed to Germanic Paganism, which later on was even outlawed along with all other non-conventional religions or “cults”).  Though raised as a Catholic, later in life Hitler became a typical ex-Christian, retaining a soft corner for Jesus (whose alleged “work”, the struggle against Judaism, Hitler flattered himself as continuing, and whom he defined as blue-eyed and non-Jewish), but ridiculing belief and religiosity as such. Thus, he mocked his Spanish allies during Spain’s civil war, who should have relied on their prayers to the Virgin Mary rather than on the German air force to defeat their enemies.

While rank-and-file Nazis usually continued their Christian practices, the Nazi leadership consisted of hard-headed military men contemptuous of any religion. Yet they appreciated the organizational achievements of Christianity. Thus, the SS was partly inspired on the Teutonic Order of warrior-monks, and dimly also on the Jesuit Order. Hitler also lambasted systems of hereditary priesthood, which Hindus know well enough through the Brahmin caste, praising instead the Catholic system of celibate priests, necessarily drawn from the common people and thus in greater solidarity with the nation than can be expected of a priestly class locked in its separateness.

The Nazi attitude to Christianity is complex and is not helped by simplistic notions such as Pius XII being called “Hitler’s Pope”. The Nazis had Christian roots and largely Christian voters (in particular, their anti-Semitism had never existed in Germanic Paganism but was central to the Christian scheme), but in the event of victory in World War II, its top cadres planned a secularization and a replacement of Christianity by secular nationalism. A symbol of this planned reform was the replacement of the Christian greeting “Grüss Gott” (not by “Grüss Wotan” or “Grüss Krishna”, as this Hindu Nazi implies, but:) by “Heil Hitler”.

Maybe our Hitler-admiring correspondent is not a Hindu but a secularist. Hitler, at any rate, had no Hindu leanings but was very much a secularist.

“God-believing”

“2. 4% had converted to German Paganism and 1.5-2% to atheism. These pagans and atheists where the most dedicated Nazis. Source: State University of New York George C. Browder Professor of History College of Freedonia (16 September 1996), Hitler’s Enforcers : The Gestapo and the SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution: The Gestapo and the SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution, Oxford University Press. pp. 166–. ISBN 978-0-19-534451-6. Retrieved 14 March 2013.)”

The 1939 census listed more than 90% of the Germans as Christians, thus necessarily also a majority among those who had supported Hitler in coming to power. It is not fashionable in Christian circles to bring up this fact, as they prefer to highlight anti-Nazi Christians (such as the Weisse Rose student group) and falsely pretend that Christianity was as much a force against Nazism as against Bolshevism. Hindus who want to study any aspect of National-Socialism or World War II are very poorly equipped to see through this pro-Christian and anti-Pagan slant in many works on the subject. We have the impression that our correspondent has swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

In this Christian climate, the “atheist” category, good for some 2%, was frowned upon and identified with “godless Bolshevism”. That is why atheist-minded Nazis joined the other category, Gottgläubig, “believing in God”. This was a vague category of “unspecified religious”, including deism, German peri-Christian mysticism (Hildegard von Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Cusanus, Rudolf Steiner), pantheism, Germanic Paganism and other excentric religions. The reduction of this category to “Germanic Paganism” is ruthless Christian propaganda, then already used to mobilize the Anglo-Saxon populace against the Nazis, who were depicted as bizarre exotics and Satanists; and it has only spread since and is even being taken over by a Hindu who fancies himself anti-Christian.

The category included many pacifists and other groups temperamentally disinclined to strong-arm Nazism. But yes, it also included Nazis: a top Nazi who strongly identified with this category was Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS. He was creating a new religion out of the bits and pieces he found in many places: memory traces and ancient Germanic religion (the seeress Weleda), Germanic folklore, German-Christian mysticism, German-Christian nature lore, Christian organizational forms, witchcraft and excentric forms of modern science. The religion essentially died with him. It was an interesting attempt of what people will try when the post-Christian condition leaves them looking for something to fill the “God-shaped hole”. But with their own rich and unbroken lineage of spiritual masters, Hindus surely have no need for this syncretic attempt at all.

The Aryan Invasion Theory

Replying to an argument in an earlier discussion about the so-called Aryan invasion of India, but relevant here, he also reveals:

“3. I am an Out-of-India theorist. Which puts proto-Aryans’ light-brown [skin] with dark hair and eyes like North-Western Indians. On what basis [have] you claimed I consider blonde and blue ‘better’?”

Apparently, our correspondent has earlier been accused of considering one race better than another. We simply accept his protestation that he rejects any claims of racial superiority. But he should expect this kind of allegation if he perforce wants to speak out in favour of the Nazis, who did believe in racial superiority, and very firmly.

In the Nazi scheme of things, the Aryans had invaded India, tried to protect their genetic purity by imposing caste apartheid, but ended up mixing with the natives to some extent. (This scenario is still taught by most Indologists, secularists, Dravidianists and neo-Ambedkarites.) So, to a Nazi, any Indian is definitely inferior: either he is an inferior native if Dravidian or low-caste; or he is an upper-caste Indo-Aryan with some superior Aryan blood in his veins, but unfortunately mixed with some native blood.

That is why North-Western Indians are more European-looking, but not fully: their Aryan racial purity has been compromised by some admixture with the dark-skinned natives. So, to Hitler’s mind, they are better off being ruled by the superior pure Aryans from Britain. That is why during their only meeting, he told collaborator Subhas Chandra Bose to his face that Indians have the best possible deal as colonial underlings.

At any rate, the Aryan Invasion Theory was a cornerstone of the Nazi worldview, taught in every Nazi-controlled school. They had it in common with their arch-enemy Winston Churchill, who used the AIT to justify the presence of Britons in India, who had only taken over India the same way that their Vedic cousins once had.

Obviously, the superior Aryans had to have originated in Europe, and then proceeded from there to colonize India, as was their wont. Anything coming in from India was tainted with the inferior native race, witness the Gypsies. In order to racially purify Europe, the Gypsies along with the Jews had to be removed, first according to some yet to be worked out master-plan, then during the war by simple extermination.

If our correspondent really is an Out-of-India theorist, then on this point he is diametrically opposed to the Nazi position.

Bhagavad Gita

“4. The Nazis had often quoted the Bhagavad Gita to the SS, famously by Himmler. Goebbels had criticized the British take-over of India heavily in his news articles. In the time when the majority of Western countries heavily supported racism (see the reaction to the Japanse proposal of equality in the League of Nations), the CLEAR claim of Goebbels of India as great and ancient… and then the specific Nazi glorification of Hinduism in their literal scriptures speak for themselves.”

In the racial worldview of the Nazis, the biological inferiority of the Hindus was an overriding fact. That is why Hitler mocked their supposed otherworldliness, a trait typical of inferior people who fail in this world and hence have to withdraw in an imaginary world. This in contrast with the down-to-earth Germanic realism, which naturally had to result in competence, victory and conquest. (The exception were the marginal Germanic neo-Pagans, whom he also mocked because they lived in the past and dreamed of a pre-Christian utopia instead of embracing the post-Christian world of science and domination.) But the Gita, being ancient, could be stretched to have been written by the early Aryans who had freshly entered India and were not yet tainted by racial admixture.

At the same time, Orientalism had deeply penetrated German culture. While it could be denounced, it could not entirely be wished away. And so, yes, it had affected Himmler, who swallowed all he could lay his hands on in terms of the occult, secret societies and unconventional religion. He did not propagate the Gita, as some Hindus seem to believe, but he did read it and took some ideas from it – while very purposely leaving out others.

Nazism was still in its infancy and could have taken very different directions. The Army High Command, for instance, invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 thinking it was starting a brief local war, more or less completing the German claim on historically German lands (if, as nationalists often do, you only consider the time of your nation’s greatest expansion). It did not glorify war, which it saw as an extension of politics, meant to project power conditioned by a political plan.

There was no plan to conquer Germany’s Western and Northern neighbours, for instance, no ambition to rule these countries, and they only embarked on this invasion (May 1940) reluctantly, with Hitler himself masterminding a very daring strategy which wonderfully succeeded. The ensuing offensives likewise established the German reputation for invincibility, which made many in India go wild (including Mahatma Gandhi, whose Quit India movement of August 1942 was predicated on an Axis victory). But then Hitler’s strategic luck ran out, the generals tried to save the situation with more careful tactics, but their position continued to decline to inevitable defeat.

In this scenario, not that unusual in military history, the SS and its view on war stood out. Normally, war is sometimes considered a necessary evil, and then embarked upon in a spirit of embracing the inevitable. This is also the case in the Mahabharata, the larger work of which the Gita forms part: Krishna tries non-violent solutions to the enmity between two groups of cousins, and only when these fail, does he counsel a merciless war. This was the first point where Himmler went against Krishna’s example, upholding a modern interpretation of Charles Darwin’s evolution theory: war is a natural and good test to decide who shall survive and who is not worthy of survival.

He arrived at the view that war for war’s sake is a good thing. It is only a careless and superficial reading of the Gita (shared, incidentally, by Wendy Doniger) that can see it as a justification of “war for war’s sake”. But I agree that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that the Gita can be a dangerous book in the hands of an incompetent do-it-yourself amateur like Himmler (or a Sanskrit-knowing yet equally incompetent Indologist like Wendy Doniger).

A second point is the Gita’s doctrine of Nishkama Karma, “action without desire (for its benefits)”. We see traces of it in Himmler’s decision to organize the “final solution of the Jewish problem in Europe”. This expression already existed in the 1930 and meant a planned emigration of the Jews from Germany. A forced emigration is neither pleasant nor fair, but at least it is preferable to being slaughtered. Its relatively innocuous meaning changed drastically in 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union. At first, German Jews were being resettled in the conquered territories, but this proved impractical and external emigration was now ruled out by the war circumstances.

So something more sinister was being worked out: the secretive extermination of the Jews. People knew vaguely of a plan to deport the Jews to new settlements, so people were not overly upset when they saw the Jews around them being taken away. In some occupied countries, even Jewish committees themselves helped organize the deportation to what they thought were new labour sites in the East.

What did happen was that Himmler took it upon himself to do what race theorists thought best for the German people: eliminate the Jews. He accepted that his SS men would handle this tough task. He relieved even ordinary soldiers of this difficult task, for he had seen how killing, as with a neck shot, was difficult and often became unbearable for ordinary men. He saw this as a kind as ascetic dutifulness: take upon oneself a thankless task, not expecting any reward but doing what has to be done. This ascetic sense of duty could easily be sourced elsewhere, e.g. in Stoicism, widely known among the educated classes of Europe; but it is also present in the Gita, though nowhere applied to the task of extermination.

He could perhaps have used Krishna’s explanation that killing isn’t really killing, just as dying isn’t really dying, because death is only like taking off your clothes to put on fresh ones tomorrow, i.e. in a next incarnation. But he didn’t. Possibly he believed it himself, but as a Nazi, he did not want to propagate an airy-fairy pre-modern doctrine like reincarnation. The Nazi scheme nowhere envisions that the Jews were destined to come back to haunt their killers. The karmic implications taught by the Gita and by much of Hindu tradition did not figure in Himmler’s plans. Nor did the bulk of the Gita, dealing with the Sankhya philosophy’s worldview and its applications, with the need to become a yogi, with the worship of Krishna etc. So, maybe Himmler got a few half-digested ideas from the Gita which he could have gotten from elsewhere too, and most of the Gita’s 18 chapters simply have nothing to do with his project.

As for Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, I know only little of his very considerable output, and have never heard of his utterances in favour of India’s independence. If true, I would expect them to be plastered all over the place by the numerous intellectuals who have an interest in associating Hinduism with Nazism. At any rate, if true, it was never taken over by the Nazi movement of regime. Goebbels has a record of deviating from official Nazism, and not always in a good sense.

Thus, he was responsible for the Kristallnacht vandalism and murders, which heavily damaged Germany’s international standing, was resented by the common Germans because they had never voted for riots and disorder in their streets, and disapproved of by the other top Nazis. Not because these disapproved of ill-treatment of the Jews, but because they didn’t want disorder and unexpected private initiatives.

That National-Socialists praised Hinduism to the skies and fostered studies of Indian culture, is a fable spread by anti-Hindu authors such as Sheldon Pollock. At most, some Nazis could be found who praised the culture of the still-pure Aryans entering India. Really existing Hinduism, by contrast, was only looked down upon. If living in the Nazi era, our Hindu correspondent could expect to be treated like the Gypsies.

Conclusion   

Our correspondent ends his mail in the all too familiar scatological fashion: “If you are unable to give credible answers to these points and break them, based upon reliable references, you are the son of a bitch, a proud brown babu of the British barbarians. And all you can do is trolling like other idiots.”

It is easier to catch mosquitoes with honey than with vinegar, so you would expect internet warriors seeking to convince people to use agreeable language. Instead, many internet Hindus couldn’t care less about the impression they make on their public. After all, they are not into it because they are out to convince people and score an argumentative victory. No, they are into it just to vent their emotions. They foam at the mouth not because they somehow think this has a better chance of convincing anyone, but because they have so much anger and excitement in their hot heads that they simply have to let off steam.

As for the contents, this man surprises outsiders by not thinking strategically at all. He plays massively into the hands of the enemy. A general planning a battle should study the strength and the characteristics of the enemy, as well as the characteristics of the battlefield. This man, by contrast, seems oblivious of the massive anti-Nazi mood in most of the world, which only gets grimmer as time passes.

India has the advantage of having extracted more good than evil out of World War 2, of having terminated the war-generated animosities in 1945 itself, and of therefore being able to take a more distant view of the different parties in that war including National-Socialism. But this doesn’t mean that anything goes. Maybe the Holocaust and other war crimes did not affect you personally, but the facts themselves have to be taken into account.

For victory, you should not only know the enemy, you should first of all know yourself. In this case, a knowledge of Hinduism would at once reveal the fundamental differences with the Nazi worldview. Any contacts or similarities could never be more than accidental. Thus, in the much-maligned Hindu caste society, the Jewish community would simply have formed a caste (as indeed it did on the Malabar coast), just as it effectively did in Germany for many centuries; the Nazi desire to eliminate it, however, constituted a break with this arrangement.

Hitler may have been wrong on many things, but he was at least right in one respect: that as a Nazi, he could only hold Hinduism in contempt. Either you are a Nazi or you are a Hindu.

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Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After a few hippie years he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.