Gandhi’s Letter to Hitler

Gandhi Blog Series #1

Gandhi wrote prolifically during his years. A multilingual, he was able to pen down his ideas in English, Hindi and his native language of Gujarati. He also tried and succeeded in learning south Indian languages of Tamil and Kannada. He was the editor of Indian Opinion while in South Africa, Young India, Harijan (in English, Hindi and Gujarati) and Navjeevan (Gujarati).

Gandhi also wrote letters to many world leaders, colleagues, and friends. He spent hours every day reading and replying to his mail. It is estimated that Gandhi wrote more than 72,000 letters in his lifetime!

Indian government compiled his works in the book The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in 1960. The volume of his writings was so huge so that the book had to be published in 100 volumes and comprised of almost 50,000 pages!

 Letter to Hitler

The very fact that Gandhi chose to write to someone engrossed in his hatred towards a race and evil act of genocide is commendable. The letters were an appeal “…for the sake of humanity.” It is notable that Gandhi’s words were not filled with sharp criticism for a foe but the soothing cuddle for a dear friend burning in rage.

Gandhi wrote two letters to Adolph Hitler when the second world war was at its peak. The first letter was a short one dated July 23, 1939. In it, Gandhi pleads against war as  “..some one who has deliberately shunned the method of war…”. He appeals to Hitler saying you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state.”

 A Plea for Peace

The second letter was written almost one and half years later, on December 24 ,1940. In this rather long letter, Gandhi extends his arm towards Hitler and gently cajoles him like a mother to her child. He says that he considers Hitler as a friend and does not believe him as “…the monster described by your opponents.” Nevertheless, he says he cannot support the acts of violence which are “..unbecoming of human dignity..”

Gandhi continues by explaining his philosophy of non-violence. Citing the Indian freedom struggle he explains the success he achieved in converting those who were steeped in villainy. He writes thus: “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.”

He urges Hitler to give up his war on humanity or “…. some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon”. Even if he wins, Gandhi continues, “..it will not prove that you were in the right. It will only prove that your power of destruction was greater.” Hence Gandhi pleads 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…”. Gandhi ends the letter stating that he is Hitler’s sincere friend.

There are some who argue that the letter was never read by Hitler, either because it failed to find him or because he chose not to read it. Nevertheless, the correspondence remains as a historical record for pacifists to draw inspiration. It may have even saved the life of Hitler and millions of innocent others if he had heeded the advice.

Relevance in Modern-day Politics

The letter is relevant after 79 years because of the bravery it took for such a plea and the optimism of its author. Gandhi’s attitude of brotherhood towards the dictator, despite his evil actions, shines brightly in his words.

There are very few documents which sharply portrays the Mahatma’s attitude towards Hitler. Gandhi’s message should be seen as a petition to the social conscience. It should be read and re-read by the dictators and the rebels alike.

The letter can be considered a holy text for those who try to resist the modern-day dictators. Instead of blaming, shaming and verbally abusing the neo-fascist, Gandhi teaches us to appeal to the goodness in them. Such a compassionate plea never fails to inspire virtue.

Thank you for reading. You can find the letter attached below. Please also post your valuable opinion in the comment box below.

As at Wardha,
December 24, 1940

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.

I am,
Your sincere friend,
M. K. GANDHI