An Indian Civilizational Perspective

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer

(This is an excerpt from Louis Fischer’s book)

The Nazi press assaulted Gandhi savagely for these words. It threatened reprisals against India. “I should rank myself a coward,” he replied, “if for fear of my country or myself or Indo-German relations being harmed, I hesitated to give what I felt in the innermost recesses of my heart to be one hundred percent sound advice.”

The missionaries questioned him closely on his statements about the Jews. “To be truly non-violent,” he said, “I must love [my adversary] and pray for him even when he hits me.” The Jews should pray for Hitler. “If even one Jew acted thus, he would save his self-respect and leave an example which, if it became infectious, would save the whole of Jewry and leave a rich heritage to mankind besides.”

Herman Kallenbach was living in Sevagram Ashram at the time. “He has an intellectual belief in non-violence,” Gandhi remarked, “but he says he cannot pray for Hitler… I do not quarrel with him over his anger. He wants to be non-violent, but the sufferings of his fellow Jews are too much for him to bear. What is true of him is true of thousands of Jews who have no thought even of ‘loving the enemy.’ With them, as with millions, ‘revenge is sweet, to forgive is divine.’” There were few divine Jews or Christians or Hindus. Only one little Hindu and very few of his friends were capable of divine forgiveness.

Jewish Frontier, a New York magazine, riddled Gandhi’s proposal in March, 1939, and sent him a copy. He quoted at length from the attack. “I did not entertain the hope… that the Jews would be at once converted to my view,” Gandhi replied. “I should have been satisfied if even one Jew had been fully convinced and converted… It is highly probable that, as the [Jewish Frontier] writer says, ‘A Jewish Gandhi in Germany, should one arise, could function for about five minutes and would be promptly taken to the guillotine.’ But that does not disprove my case or shake my belief in the efficacy of non-violence. I can conceive the necessity of the immolation of hundreds, if not thousands, to appease the hunger of dictators… Sufferers need not see the result in their lifetime… The method of violence gives no greater guarantee than that of non-violence…” Millions sacrifice themselves in war without any guarantee that the world will be better as a result or even that the enemy will be defeated. Yet who does not fiercely resent the suggestion that anybody die in deliberate non-violent sacrifice?

I mentioned the subject to Gandhi in 1946 when Hitler was dead. “Hitler,” Gandhi said, “killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.”

Presently, without any question from me, he spoke at length about violence. “First,” he said, “there is South Africa. A man has been killed there in connection with the recent disturbances. He was innocent. Also, they have tied Indians to trees and whipped them. This is lynch law. And now these riots in Ahmedabad between Hindus and Moslems. The trouble is that one side begins stabbing and killing and then the other does likewise. If one side did not avenge its deaths the thing would stop. It is the same in Palestine. The Jews have a good case. I told Sidney Silverman, the British M.P., that the Jews have a good case. If the Arabs have a claim to Palestine, the Jews have a prior claim because they were there first. Jesus was a Jew. He was the finest flower of Judaism. You can see that from the four stories of the four apostles. They had untutored minds. They told the truth about Jesus. Paul was not a Jew, he was a Greek, he had an oratorical mind, a dialectical mind, and he distorted Jesus. Jesus possessed a great force, the love force, but Christianity became disfigured when it went to the West. It became the religion of kings.”

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