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Home > News > Columnists > Arvind Lavakare

Hitler, Vatican and Gandhi

March 15, 2003

Even Hitler has supporters.' That was part of an angry response to last week's commentary on this page contrasting the status given by the nation to Mother Teresa with the venom recently poured on Veer Savarkar by a political class. Another reader thought the column was 'deifying Hitler and demonising Christ.'

It is queer that Hitler should thus be invoked apropos nothing at all excepting a passing reference to the Vatican's creation of saints.

Perhaps there's a guilty conscience lurking somewhere because there is indeed a controversy over the link between the Catholic Church and Nazism -- the ideology that came to power in Germany in 1933 and ultimately led to one of the most frightening chapters in the history of mankind.

It all appears to have begun when Hitler's forces marched into Austria on March 12, 1938. Le Monde Diplomatique, 1998 (http://mondediplo.com/1998/05/04vatican) recorded that --

  • Cardinal Theodore Innitzer, Archbishop of Vienna, not only sought an audience with Hitler immediately thereupon, but, three days later, instructed the Catholic clergy and their congregations in the Archdiocese of Vienna and Burgenland to 'rally unconditionally to the Fuhrer and the great German state.'
  • Two weeks later, the Austrian episcopate issued a statement supporting Austria's entry into the German Reich, saying, 'We joyfully acknowledge the eminent work which the National Socialist movement has done...'
  • After the Austrians had voted 99.73 per cent in favour of their incorporation into the Reich, Cardinal Innitzer sent a message, on April 1, 1938, to Cardinal Bertram, chairperson of the Fulda Episcopal conference, expressing the hope that the German bishops would endorse the Austrian episcopate's statement on the plebiscite. His signature at the end of the message was preceded by the words 'Und Heil Hitler' written in his own hand.
  • The next day a Vatican newspaper wrote that the declaration of the Austrian bishops did not have the Vatican's approval.

However, according to a report by Dimitri Cavalli in the Montreal Gazette of February 17, 2002, 'the Vatican did sign concordats with Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany.' (www.pius12.com/archives/00000029.html) (Available on Google Search for 'Vatican + Nazism')

However, an article attributed to The New York Times, March 17, 1998, featuring on www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/vatican1.htm reported the release by the Vatican of a 14-page statement, 11 years under preparation, which it described as 'an act of repentance' for the failure of the Roman Catholics to deter the killing of Europe's Jews during World War II. It skirted the painful issue of the Vatican's silence during the Nazi's reign of terror.

The subject has led to the book Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell becoming a best seller. The reference is to Pope Pius XII who was a Vatican diplomat in Germany from 1922 till 1939 when he became pope and served in that position till death in 1958. He was riled by some historians as one who failed to use his power to speak out against the Holocaust. In his defence, Reverend Peter Gumpel, the German investigator promoting Pope Pius XII's case for sainthood, said in an article for a British publication that Pius couldn't speak out more publicly because he knew it would enrage Adolf Hitler and result in more Jews being killed.

Rev Gumpel may well be right. And one ardently hopes the Vatican will get a clean chit when its archives are thrown open soon.

Meanwhile, if Pope Pius XII's silence and Cardinal Innitzer's genuflection to the Reich -- for whatever reasons -- are to be construed as 'support' to Hitler, then a little known document said to be issued by an Indian ought also to be deemed as 'support' to Heil Hitler. That document was reportedly published in 1940 when Great Britain braced herself to face a German invasion. It urged 'cessation of hostilities' through an 'open letter' to 'every Briton' and said, in part, as follows:

  • '... I want you to fight Nazism without arms. I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them... I am telling His Excellency the Viceroy that my services are at the disposal of His Majesty's Government, should they consider them of any practical use in advancing the object of my appeal.' (Stanley Wolpert's Jinnah of Pakistan, pp. 187-188 as cited on page 144 of Chapter I of Constitutional Law of India, Supplement to Third Edition, 1988, written and published by H M Seervai, a giant in the field of constitutional history.)

The author of the above 'open letter' was, not Veer Savarkar, but Mahatma Gandhi. It was a demonstration of his belief in the creed of ahimsa, non-violence. That is why, when Lord Linlithgow [Viceroy of India, 1936-1943] announced that India was at war, Gandhi refused to support the war on the ground that it involved violence and that he would not support violence even to secure the independence of India. (Seervai, page 143)

However, Seervai believes that 'Gandhi used non-violence as a political weapon, and was prepared to support, or connive at it, to secure political goals.' One example he cites is an interview that Gandhi gave to News Chronicle of London in 1944 after his release from prison when the war tide began to flow in favour of the Allies. The gist of that interview was that India could be used as a base for military operations against Germany, Japan and their allies provided that a national government was formed immediately with the viceroy as its constitutional head. (ibid, page 144).

During the First World War, too, in the middle of 1918, at a war conference presided over by the viceroy, Gandhi had forsaken the non-violence creed when he seconded the main resolution in support of recruiting Indians to the army to fight on the side of Britain and her allies. (ibid, page 143).

Again, on August 27, 1946, when Partition had become a Hobson's choice, Gandhi told Lord Wavell, the then viceroy, that 'If India wants a blood-bath, she shall have it.' (ibid, page 145). In other words, there was to be no fast unto death by the apostle of non-violence to prevent Partition and the rivers of blood that were certain to flow from it.

But, ah, who was responsible for the Partition? Was it Veer Savarkar, the one damned by today's secularists for his two-nation statement? Read on.

Britain's Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946 provided for transfer of power to a united India but with effective safeguards for the Muslims. This was done through allowing the provinces to form their constitutions, the grouping of these provinces being designated as Section A (where Hindus had an overwhelming majority after the 1945-46 elections under the Government of India Act, 1935), Section B (where Muslims had a majority of 62 to 38) and Section C (where Muslims had a majority of 52 to 48).

Gandhi's reaction to the Plan was '...parity between six majority Hindu provinces and five Muslim majority Provinces is insurmountable. The Muslim majority provinces represent over 9 crores (90 million) of the population as against 19 crores (190 million) of the Hindu majority provinces. This is really worse than Pakistan. What is suggested in its place is that the Central Legislature should be formed on the population basis. And so too the Executive.' (ibid, page 34).

The Congress -- and the Hindu Mahasabha of Savarkar -- rejected the plan as 'undemocratic,' violative of the principle of 'one man, one vote.' Jinnah accepted it because it allayed Muslim fears of being dominated by a 'Hindu Raj.' It continued to be discussed till, failing to resolve the deadlock, Viceroy Mountbatten pronounced it dead on April 9, 1947. And once the Clement Atlee government overcame its reluctance to transfer power to India, British power came to an end on August 15, 1947. Partition had happened.

Savarkar's so-called 'two-nation' theory based on Hindu fanaticism had nothing to do with it. In fact, in his speech in Pune on August 2, 1942, he declared that the Hindu Mahasabha would support the Congress' Quit India agitation provided that the Congress solemnly guaranteed that it would irrevocably stand by the unity and integrity of India. (Page 322, Veer Savarkar by Dhananjay Keer, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1988).

As a matter of fact, it was neither Jinnah nor Savarkar who introduced religion into all-India politics. Rather, it was Mahatma Gandhi.

It happened with his support to the agitation led by two brothers, Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali, against the abolition of the Khalifate in Turkey after the First World War, for the Khalif was the spiritual head of the Muslims. The agitation was essentially religious and Gandhi believed that by supporting it he would cement Hindu-Muslim unity.

On page 22 of his Pilgrimage to Freedom, K M Munshi, a highly respected Congress leader of that period, says Jinnah warned Gandhi not to encourage fanaticism of Muslim religious leaders and their followers. So did other Congressmen. Munshi himself feared the Khilafat movement would lead the country to disaster.

His fears proved prophetic. As V Shankar, ICS, wrote, 'Some eminent leaders of the Congress and the Khilafat subsequently turned into leaders of a spirit of communalism...' (My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel, Macmillan, 1974, Volume I, page 173)

That the Khilafat movement was religious is clear from Gandhi's own statement in Young India of October 20, 1921. He wrote, 'I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact, with Maulana Muhammad Ali because it is his religion, with me because, in laying down my life for the Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion.' (Seervai, page 8, quoting from page 64 of History of the Freedom Movement, Vol III, by R C Majumdar).

Note that while Gandhi considered the cow as his religion for which he would die, Savarkar believed 'it was no religion to raise the cow to the pedestal of god' just as 'it was no religion to sacrifice the cow in the name of god.' (Keer, page 294.). He was agnostic enough to ask, 'Why does God make the wicked so powerful?' (ibid, page 204). He always debunked superstition and hailed science as when he wrote in an article, 'Astrology cannot save what science has doomed and where safety is assured by science, astrology cannot endanger it.' (ibid, page 205). He even appealed to the Hindus to test all their ancient holy works on the touchstone of science. (ibid, page 206). Need more be said?

Arvind Lavakare

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