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The spy who loved Hitler

Shrabani Basu

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She wore thin white cotton saris and lived in a shabby house in Delhi, surrounded by exotic birds and cats. Could this be the same person who went by the name of Savitri Devi and called Hitler her idol? And how does one explain her animal rights activism when she is supposed to have admired the Nazis who were sentenced during the Nuremberg Trials for the mass murder of Jews?

A recently released biography, Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo Nazism by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, reveals how the lady adopted India as her home. Till her death in 1982, she used this base to propagate a Neo-Nazi cult and keep the torch of Nazism burning in Europe and the USA. She was even hailed as 'Hitler's guru' by neo-Nazi publishers, Samisdat. In 1982, a tape recording of Savitri Devi's words from her house in India was released to galvanise the neo-Nazi movement in Europe and the world.

She was born Maximiani Portas, of English and Greek parents in Lyons in 1905. She became a Greek national in 1928 as she took to Hellenism, disillusioned with Christianity. It was the swastikasigns on the palace of Athens, built by 19th century German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, that stirred Maximiani's first feelings for the Aryan race. She left for India in 1932 to search for the roots of the Aryan civilisation. She regarded Hinduism as the only living Aryan heritage in the modern world and was convinced that only Hinduism could take on and oppose the Judaeo-Christian heritage. Soon, she adopted the name Savitri Devi which would make her famous in neo-Nazi circles.

India fascinated her -- she noted now even a street-side vendor would discuss the Mahabharat in the morning. She had great admiration for the Brahmins, who she saw as a pure race. Her championing of Aryan-Nazi causes and Hinduism led to her entering the political scenario in India in between the wars. By the late 1930s, she was involved with Hindu nationalist movements like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - then growing rapidly to counter Muslim ascendancy.

In early 1937, Savitri Devi met Srimat Swami Satyanand, president of the Hindu Mission in Calcutta, and offered her service to the mission. She told Swami Satyanand that India was the only country that honoured Aryan Gods and could stop the influence of the Jews. Satyanand, clearly impressed, told her that Hitler, of who Savitri was a devout follower, was an avatar of Vishnu -- a force that would preserve the cosmic order.

In 1939, she published A Warning to Hindus under the auspices of the Hindu Mission. In the book, she scorned the Congress for its secular policies and said there was no India but a Hindu one and warned the Hindus not to let the Muslims overwhelm them.

During the war, the Hindu Mahasabha adopted a strong pro-German position, drawing a link between the Aryan cult of Nazism and Hindu nationalism. In 1939 Savitri Devi met a Bengali Brahmin, Asit Krishna Mukherjee, a publisher with pro-German sympathies, who made a strong impression on her. He edited The New Mercury, a Nazi mouthpiece funded by the German consulate in Calcutta. In 1940 she married Mukherjee in a Hindu ceremony in Calcutta. The couple started living at 1 Wellesley St.

Both worked clandestinely for the Axis powers in Calcutta and though Mukherjee's publication was banned during the war, he started publishing another magazine called The Eastern Economist with Japanese help. Savitri Devi claimed Mukherjee knew Subhas Chandra Bose well and it was through their contacts in the Japanese legation that Bose got in touch with the Japanese authorities with whom he collaborated between 1943 and 1945.

Savitri Devi and her husband also played a small part in military espionage activities by entertaining British and American servicemen stationed in Calcutta and shrewdly gathering information that they let slip. The Mukherjees passed their information to four Indians who regularly crossed the Burmese frontier every fortnight to reach Japanese intelligence officials. The leads apparently resulted in several top Allied aerodromes in Burma being blown up and some Allied units being encircled.

The defeat of Germany in the Second World War came as a shattering blow to Savitri Devi who vowed to travel to Europe again and do what she could to uphold the Nazi morale. In November 1945 she left India to begin her career as a die-hard neo-Nazi. Savitri Devi travelled to Germany where she was arrested for distributing pro-Nazi pamphlets.

She had only admiration for the brutal Nazis she met in prison, saying they were just doing their chosen job. She wrote 'Heil Hitler' on the prison walls as an act of defiance. She is even supposed to have enjoyed her term in the women's prison in Westphalia where she was staying with hardened Nazi criminals -- the very people who took part in the euthanasia programme and had been wardens of concentration camps.

Savitri did not believe in the Holocaust and felt it was all Allied propaganda. Concentration camps, she said, were meant for thedetention of enemies of Nazism.

After her release she settled in France and then returned to Germany to make a pilgrimage of sites associated with Hitler. At each place she met old Nazi sympathisers and they all gave the Nazi salute together. She travelled extensively in France, Sweden and Germany, making contacts everywhere. Her travels reconfirmed her belief that Hitler was the Western incarnation of Lord Ram and Krishna and had come to save the world.

Gradually, Savitri Devi became active among neo-Nazis, meeting the British neo-Nazi Oswald Moseley and other European fascists. She also joined forces with the British fascist party, the National Socialists. She began to write theories denying the Holocaust and was patronised by Ernst Zundel, the German revisionist publisher.

In 1958, Savitri published her famous book dedicated to Aryan supremacy, The Lightning and The Sun. In 1960, she was travelling in Spain and France and working actively in the neo-Nazi International called World Union of National Socialists.

In 1971, she returned to India and was staying in the guest rooms of the Hindu Mahasabha office in Delhi. It is here that she completed her autobiography which has her final statement on Aryan racist religion. In 1977, after her husband's death, Savitri Devi continued to correspond with neo-Nazis in Europe and America. She died in 1982 in London, during a brief stopover before going on a lecture tour to some seven or eight cities in the USA. She was 77 years old.

Her ashes were taken to the US where they were placed in the Nazi hall of honour at Arlington. A picture of Savitri Devi was draped with a funeral sash said to have belonged to Adolf Hitler. It was the end of a life dedicated to the further and, perhaps, also of the belief that Hitler was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who had come to deliver the world.

Kind courtesy: Sunday magazine

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