Sir Ben Kingsley Reads a Letter Written by Gandhi to Hitler (in the Voice of Mahatma Gandhi)

Sev­er­al years before Indi­an inde­pen­dence as World War loomed, Mahat­ma Gand­hi found he had lit­tle sway in inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics even as he built his move­ment at home. The phi­los­o­phy of satya­gra­ha did not sound noble to the British in 1939, for exam­ple, when the Indi­an leader wrote a let­ter exhort­ing them to let the Ger­mans take their coun­try, their homes, and even their lives rather than fight back. That same year, he wrote to Hitler, address­ing him as “Dear Friend” and writ­ing, “It is quite clear that you are today the one per­son in the world who can pre­vent a war which may reduce human­i­ty to a sav­age state.”

Gand­hi’s first 1939 let­ter to Hitler implies that the Führer was the only world leader who want­ed such a war. The Indi­an leader ful­ly under­stood the stakes. “My sym­pa­thies are all with the Jews,” he’d writ­ten in a 1938 arti­cle. “If there ever could be a jus­ti­fi­able war, in the name of and for human­i­ty, war against Ger­many to pre­vent the wan­ton per­se­cu­tion of a whole race would be com­plete­ly jus­ti­fied.” Still, he con­clud­ed, “I do not believe in any war.” He stuck to his prin­ci­ples even after Ger­many’s inva­sion of Poland in 1939.

“Not deterred by the out­break of war,” Alexan­der LaCasse writes at the Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor, “Gand­hi wrote to Hitler a sec­ond time.” Just above, you can see Sir Ben Kings­ley read that let­ter, in char­ac­ter as Gand­hi and per­haps sound­ing much like Gand­hi did when read­ing his let­ters aloud. Gand­hi “took cor­re­spon­dence very seri­ous­ly,” Nick Owen writes, and he “wrote — and was writ­ten to by — almost any­one.” In this much longer let­ter from 1940, Gand­hi extols the prac­ti­cal virtues of non-vio­lence and attempts some moral rea­son­ing:

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 a cru­el deed, how­ev­er skill­ful­ly planned. I, there­fore, appeal to you in the name of human­i­ty to stop the war.

“There is no evi­dence to sug­gest Hitler ever respond­ed to,” or even read, “either of Gand­hi’s let­ters,” writes LaCasse. And maybe lit­tle evi­dence that Gand­hi expect­ed a response. “I am aware that your view of life regards such spo­li­a­tions as vir­tu­ous acts,” he writes. “But we have been taught from child­hood to regard them as acts degrad­ing human­i­ty.” He con­tin­ues to pro­fess Hitler a friend, writ­ing “I own no foes. My busi­ness in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friend­ship of the whole of human­i­ty.”

Before his death in 1948, Gand­hi called the Holo­caust “the great­est crime of our time.” Accord­ing to a biog­ra­ph­er, he also added, “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.” Had he sug­gest­ed this in a let­ter to Europe’s Jews, it is unlike­ly they would have been per­suad­ed.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Jung Psy­cho­an­a­lyzes Hitler: “He’s the Uncon­scious of 78 Mil­lion Ger­mans.” “With­out the Ger­man Peo­ple He’d Be Noth­ing” (1938)

When Mahat­ma Gand­hi Met Char­lie Chap­lin (1931)

Mahat­ma Gandhi’s List of the 7 Social Sins; or Tips on How to Avoid Liv­ing the Bad Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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