By Tania Bhattacharya
The legacy of anti-colonial freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s activities in Berlin, with Heinrich Himmler by his side, resonated deeply with Indian nationalists back home; especially the ones, who were interested in an armed resistance, much unlike Mahatma Gandhi’s pacifist non-violent struggle. After India achieved independence in 1947, and with the subsequent strange disappearance of Netaji in a supposed aircraft disaster (denied by the government of Taiwan, later), the interest of Indians in the Nazi ideology and mode of functioning, should have died a natural death. Instead, as time has passed, India’s fascination with wartime Germany has irrepressibly bloomed into mirth, freely expressed by obsequious Right Wing Sanghis, and armchair anti-intellectuals, alike. “Only a dictator like Hitler can save the day!” “Iron rule, Nazi style, is what the country needs!” are not uncommonly dished out opinions. This starry-eyed reverence of ours, with a foreign administration that nearly destroyed half of the world, needs a deeper examination.
It is not ungodly to love those, that love us back. Perhaps Indian Hindus’ fixation with Germany, has arisen out of this symbiotic relationship. There are no dearth of German natives, who show an unusual interest in the ancient history and ethos of India. Many emigrate or take great pains in touring this country, ending up in one or the other camp of some Himalayan guru, holed up in India’s northern mountains, deliberating over yoga lessons, and interpretation of India’s sacred Hindu texts. But how can a seemingly innocent interest in India by the people holding a certain citizenship, harmonize with ideas of crude nationalism, that go so far as deifying one of the most hated figures of the last century? In the town of Nagpur, centrally located on the map of India, there stands a building with the brazen name of: Hitler’s Den. It has swastika graffiti all over the walls, and is festooned with symbols of Nazi glory. An Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, made the pertinent observation in 2017. The image is incongruous with this nation’s erstwhile role, as the leader of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), which had straddled the Cold War, and established peaceful co-existence as one of its founding principles.
An indigenous movement, praising Germany’s classical past, and exhorting her people to assemble around the Volkisch, folk elements of her pre-Christian history, had taken root in the 19th century. Magazines like Ostara, had become wildly popular, calibrating a rising sentiment of nationalism, with notions of blood, land, identity, athleticism, and hygiene. None of this would have been odd, had it not drawn the attention of a young man, who was in the process of becoming a disgruntled, failed businessman of water colours and oil paintings. From his adolescent years, Hitler visited Volk festivals, and read more than a few copies of the Ostara. The harmless ideas, would fuel his later injunctions of insular patriotism. Disturbingly enough, that insular patriotism would superimpose pseudo scientific social Darwinism, over Germanic folklore and the tradition of magic. Nazi academic Alfred Rosenberg in his rambling account of history titled ‘The Myths Of The 20th Century’ (Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts) detailed much of Nazi beliefs.
Himmler and former German Air Force pilot Hermann Goering, were practicing anti-Christian mystics, who placed their faith in astrology, numerology, and the teachings of eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. On certain days of the week, Himmler refrained from eating meat, so he could honour the Hindu tradition of Ahimsa, or non-violence. It is interesting, that meat eating was prevalent in Hinduism, until the rise of Buddhism. Once the latter began to steal the flock of the Hindu order in the name of non-violence towards all living creatures, alarmed Brahmins invented the idea of a meat-free Hinduism, hoping to win back converts. Since then, the Sanaatan tradition of India’s ancient identity, has preserved the (borrowed) habit of preferring vegetarianism over omnivorism.
Himmler’s fascination with ancient India and Hinduism; in concurrence with Hitler’s decades old interest in Pagan German occultism; made for a macabre order; where racialist ideas were embellished over legitimate polytheistic beliefs, to create an odd medley, that would satisfy the Nazi party’s need for a new religion. It was to be a religion that instead of worshipping a Palestinian deity, Christ; would instead focus on the rooted divinities of Germanic peoples.
As an artist of postcards, the young Adolf would wander the back alleys of Vienna, spending the money he had earned from his paintings, eating cream pastries – a favourite of his – visiting the occasional brothel (from where he contracted lifelong syphilis), and practicing yoga in his spare time. As Peter Watson points out in ‘An Intellectual History Of The 20th Century’. For years afterwards, the budding dictator would take great pains in explaining to his audience, how he drew spiritual inspiration from the Indo-Aryan sages of Hindu India, along with the classical philosophers of the Greco-Roman Age.
Hitler’s tithe paying Catholicism was a political gimmick, just as Constantine the Great’s had been. He dreamed of dismantling Christianity as soon as the Nazis had Europe in the palm of their hands. He was hoping to replace Christianity, with his party’s pastiche of pro-pagan beliefs.
But Hitler’s relationship with India was far more complex as we shall soon see. It was ultimately, a victim of his own racial policies.
MADNESS IN THE METHOD
Germanic-Scandinavian Polytheism is a vibrant system of beliefs, that unlike its fellow European counterparts, never fully made a departure. The rural populations of Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, along with those in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, have essentially maintained intact, large portions of their pre-Christian rituals. Donar’s Oak, the sacred tree which influenced Christianity’s Christmas Tree; and which was ultimately mutilated and destroyed by the Christian fundamentalist monk Boniface; the Poetic Edda, religious ceremonies known as ‘Blots’ (pronounced as BLOW+T); and the mysterious Runic script which remains one of the most fascinating patterns of writing known to archaeologists, have always been close to the souls of the simple masses of western and northern Europe.
It were these benign symbols of ancestral faith that the Third Reich sought to exploit, manifold. Modern Germanic-Scandinavian Heathenism goes by the name of ‘Asatru’, but no right-thinking (pun unintended) practitioner, would want to conflate it with the twisted thought process of the Third Reich.
Hitler and his inner circle were not only consumed and infatuated with the Indo-Aryan roots of Hinduism, they looked upon the two holiest fixtures of Norse and Icelandic Paganism, the Sacred ‘Yggdrasil’ tree and the Runic script, as items with magical powers. Insane efforts were made to wring out the same using dark occultist practices, which were then harvested for gains to the Third Reich. In his well-researched book ‘Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove The Third Reich’, author Richard Weikart exposes the Nazi Party for what it really was constituted of; Superstitious itinerants, with a penchant for the irrational. In their hands, Norse-Germanic Heathenism was turned into a mockery of itself, and Hinduism’s Swastika, came to be forever intertwined with the spectre of dehumanization and injustice. This is certainly not what the ancients would have foreseen.
For many modern Hindus, irrespective of ideology, Fascism has come to rest as a desirable method of administration. The love story between Germany’s esoteric existentialists like Frederick Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Arthur Schopenhauer, and the German-American J. Robert Oppenheimer among many others, and Classical Hinduism, which was essentially an Indo-Aryan way of life, is always worth retelling. But such a convenient relationship, cannot be without its riders.
It is a little known fact, that Hitler had a personal meeting with the Palestinian Muslim leader Amin Al-Husseini, who had pledged the support of the Islamic world, to ‘The Final Solution’ which was scripted to force millions of Jews to meet their death. Under the watchful eyes of SS leaders like Heinrich Himmler, Bosnian Muslims had been inducted into the German Fascist Army and indoctrinated for the subsequent pogroms on Jews, East Europeans, Homosexuals, and the Roma (Gypsies).
Gypsies are of North and North-West Indian descent. Around the tenth century, they had made their way across the caravan routes of West Asia, to Eastern Europe. Through the centuries due to inter-marriage with local Europeans, the South Asian DNA may have been diluted, but it is present nevertheless. How do Nazi loving Indians hope to circumnavigate the difficult topic of their revered figures, putting to death thousands of Roma in gas chambers, remains to be seen. If these Indians happen to be those that bear an unreasonable hatred of our minority Muslims, how will they explain Hitler’s fond association with Amin Al-Husseini? What do they have to say about the admiration of Indo-Aryan liturgy, by a group of people, who have come to embody the evils of genocide?
It should come as no surprise, that Germany’s Fascists, were drug addicts. Be it Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels, or Rosenberg. Methamphetamine was keeping the minds of the Third Reich awake for days on end, decades before the leading men of Breaking Bad had even been conceived. A high Hitler, is not good publicity for our homegrown fascists.
Nazi ideology was unfavourable toward people of darker skin tones. Hinduism on the other hand, has received massive inputs from Dravidians, a race of dark-skinned people who inhabit Southern India, are aboriginal to South Asia, and who are inseparable from the schools of philosophy espoused by Sanaatan Dharm. Should this not unsettle Hitler’s fans in the nation?
Perhaps the most ironic, has been our cultivated friendship, with modern Israel. The latter was a suitor for many decades, trying to woo beloved India, repeatedly, till the early 90s, when the latter finally conceded, and paved the way for a strategic partnership. Nazi-worshipping Hindus who simultaneously support Israel all over social media and within diplomatic corridors, may find themselves in a spot, someday.
The Third Reich despite its reprehensible acts, made a stamp upon history in other ways. The Swastika has been banned in Germany and many European nations, when it is only a mystical symbol that precedes the rise of Fascism by thousands of years. Nazi Metrosexuality, with its clean-shaven, photogenic scoundrels, dressed to the nines in epaulets, and neat uniforms, influenced the fashion trends of 70s and 80s punk culture, in unusual ways, as depicted by Charlotte Rampling in the film ‘The Night Porter’, where she can be found bare-torso, flaunting her Nazi military cap, in an effort at BDSM (Bondage Domination Submission Masochism).
GIVE TO CAESER, WHAT IS CAESAR’S
To be fair to Hitler and Co. they did have redeeming qualities. This is important within the context of Historical Objectivity. Historical Objectivity’s perseveres to prevent polemics from turning into mere trolling. The twentieth century had its share of ‘madmen’. There was Stalin, an equal of Hitler, and there were the Pol Pots, Idi Amins and Saddams. In the developed world, there were leaders like Winston Churchill (a darling of Hollywood), Harry S. Truman, and later Henry Kissinger, who ought to be held responsible for mass murdering South Asians, West Asians, and East Asians. However, when we speak of any of them, we are more inclined to be non-partisan; weighing in on the good that these men did. Why then, should Hitler not receive the same fair treatment?
Before his killing spree commenced, he lifted Germany’s economy and did a pretty commendable job. The Nazis are also responsible for introducing the relay pattern of the Olympic torch. None of us remember that the Holy Roman Empire of a newly Christianized Europe had banned the Olympics. Yet, we don’t place credit on the people who invented the idea of relaying the sacred flames of the world’s oldest sporting event! Personally, the Nazi Party leader was a remarkably well-read person. Peter Watson describes how the Fuhrer avoided smoking and had once detailed the debilitating effects tobacco had on the lungs. Despite being a high school drop-out, Adolf was a promising painter, a dutiful son, and remarkably, very just, tender, and kind to his mother’s physician, a Jew by the name of Eduard Bloch, sending Bloch’s family, personally signed new year cards. Bloch would ultimately be offered safe passage to the United States by the same man who murdered millions. To the latter, the doctor was one, in his list of ‘Noble Jews’.
Another incident stands out. Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post has noted, that Hitler refused to use Sarin on his enemies during the Second World War. As a corporal with the Imperial German Army during the Great War, the would-be dictator was attacked with mustard gas. In ‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler has recounted the experience as excruciatingly painful. In a rare example of empathy, he may have spared his enemies the consequences of the nerve gas Sarin, even though many German factories had been producing it, and his top generals had pleaded with him to allow its use. The Fuhrer’s counterpart though, Churchill, had no qualms in delivering the same to his opponents on the battlefront. “I cannot understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.” Churchill had stated in a note written around 1919.
Polytheism’s western fans have been plentiful in the modern age. When we speak of Hinduism, personalities like those of Romain Rolland, Christopher Isherwood, Oswald Spengler, Arnold J. Toynbee, Maximiani Portas, Margaret Elizabeth Noble, Mirra Alfassa, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, or Demetrios Galanos, should be invoked. Not Himmler, Rosenberg, Goebbels, Goering, or their boss.
The fact, that Himmler and Nazi Professor Walter Wust visualized Hitler as a Chakravarti Samrat, and themselves as Arjuns to his Lord Krishna, should make ordinary Hindus sick to the stomach. Heinrich Himmler could lecture his SS troops on the ideals of the Kshatriya Hindu warrior class one minute, and play with his daughter the next, after having spent the day, supervising the burning alive of innocent Jews. There is nothing to be proud of here. It is in reality, a facepalm moment for self-respecting Indians.
To those Hindus who care enough for the legacy of Hinduism, making one of history’s most notorious regimes coterminous with an ancient belief system that continues to inspire positivity in millions, would be a sore mistake.
It suffices to say…May wisdom, prevail!