Gandhi’s Letters to Hitler

ghandi-letterBy the late 1930s, Gandhi’s method of peaceful non-cooperation had already won significant concessions from the British Raj, including the founding of a national administration and local and national legislative assemblies, albeit still under British oversight.

Gandhi, himself, was internationally famous for his various acts of non-violent, civil disobedience, including his 241-mile Salt March, which, while protesting Britain’s monopoly on salt and its high tariff, also galvanized the Indian people against British rule altogether.

With his reputation for effective, nonviolent change well established, many implored Gandhi to write to Adolph Hitler, whose increasingly aggressive regime in Germany had them worried that a second world war was imminent.

For example, by February 1935, Hitler had ordered the establishment of a German air force, the Luftwaffe, and by March 1936, Hitler had sent troops into the Rhineland – both in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Also in 1936, Hitler had established pacts with Italy and Japan, and in March 1938, Germany invaded Austria.

At this time (1938), Hitler was named Man of the Year by Time magazine. They stated, “Lesser men of the year seemed small indeed beside the Führer.” That said, their reasoning for picking him was not to honor his actions up to that point, but to widely publicize his exploits. They noted, among other knocks against him, “Germany’s 700,000 Jews have been tortured physically, robbed of homes and properties, denied a chance to earn a living, chased off the streets. Now they are being held for ‘ransom,’ a gangster trick through the ages.” They ended their article on their decision to name Hitler the Man of the Year on the ominous note, “To those who watched the closing events of the year it seemed more than probable that the Man of 1938 may make 1939 a year to be remembered.”

Indeed, although Britain and France thought they had “appeased” Hitler’s ambition, and ensured “peace in our time,” with the Munich Pact (that handed only a portion of Czechoslovakia over to Germany) in September 1938, by March 1939, Hitler had breached that agreement by soon occupying the entire country. At this point, finally realizing that Hitler couldn’t be trusted, Britain pledged to defend Poland if Germany invaded the latter.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Gandhi sent a short, typewritten letter to Hitler on July 23, 1939, telling the dictator:

Dear friend,

Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth.

It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state. Must you pay the price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Any way I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.

I remain,
Your sincere friend

However, this letter never reached the German Chancellor, as it was, apparently, intercepted by the British government.

Shortly thereafter, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939 (which kept the USSR out of the war until 1941), and Britain signed the formal Anglo-Polish Common Defence Pact two days later. Germany then invaded Poland with its Blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) on September 1, 1939, and on September 3, 1939, World War II formally began when Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Despite facing two powerful enemies, Germany encountered little real resistance during those early months of the war. It tore through the European continent, and by May 1940, Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway were all occupied by Nazi forces. The Battle of Britain, which saw the British homeland pummeled by a months-long bombing campaign, began in July 1940. Over the coming months, nearly 30,000 bombs were dropped on London, during which more than 15,000 people were injured or killed.

Once again, on December 24, 1940, Gandhi sent a letter to Hitler, this one significantly longer. Again addressing him as “Dear Friend,” Gandhi explained that: “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.” But, taking a harder line this time, Gandhi chastised the Chancellor:

Your own writings and pronouncements . . . leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity. . . . Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark.

He also challenged Hitler, noting that although Nazi Germany had lifted the “science of destruction” to a level of “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.

Accepted that both men shared a common disdain of Britain, Gandhi continued:

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 of the world.

He ended with a final appeal:

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace . . . is it too much to ask you to make and effort for peace?

If this letter ever reached Hitler, it apparently was too much to ask.

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Bonus Fact:

  • Although Gandhi was a prodigious writer, and was known to use a typewriter, it created a cognitive dissonance in the great leader. Renowned for his disdain of technology, which he thought was de-humanizing, Gandhi summarized his love-hate relationship with the device: “I too detest the typewriter. I have a horror of it, but I survive it as I survive many things, which do no lasting harm. If someone dispossessed me of the typewriter, I should not shed a single tear, but, as it is there, I make use of it and even believe that some time is being saved for more useful work.”
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  • Raju Jadav

    Dear Sir,

    Mahatma Gandhiji’s letter to Hitler is a legacy of India.


  • Carolina

    Well, I admire Gandhi for trying! Very interesting article.

  • George Szaszvari

    All very interesting, except that both men did NOT share a common “disdain” of Britain. The author who editorialized the article is likely expressing his/her own disdain for Britain, but such a comment misrepresents and creates false impressions among those who don’t know, and betrays ignorance to those who do know.

    Gandhi’s view of the British was far more complicated than any sneering “disdain”. Gandhi made a special effort to see peoples and nations in general as children of God (the article itself emphasizing how Hitler was addressed as “friend” with concern for the legacy that would be left for the German people. Gandhi was a forthright person not given to flattery of subterfuge.) Indians joined Gandhi in his efforts to remove British rule, revolting against the well-known issue of high taxes, etc, but doing it in a way that avoided widespread bloodshed. There has always been a great deal of factionalism among Indians, primarily, but not only, between Hindus and Muslims, and Gandhi, a devout Hindu, was astute in avoiding the creation of conditions in which the British could exploit such divisions to play the various factions off against one another to suppress the independence movement. The legacy of 200 years of British rule in India remains hotly debated among scholars, so I won’t even try to go there right now, but an even more interesting aspect of the relationship is that it was not such a one sided civilizing influence as often contended, the legacy of Indian spiritual culture having used the British connection to influence western life in return in other much more profound ways.

    The case with Hitler is even better known. Hitler admired Anglo-Saxon Britain and dearly hoped that Britain would become an ally of his. Indeed, there were elements in Britain that were not averse to such an idea (an embarrassing matter that has been suppressed over the decades.) Several significant people recall personal exchanges with Hitler, one in particular being Adolf Galland, a general in the Luftwaffe, who said that in conversation with Hitler the latter clearly expressed his disinclination to invade Britain during the 1940 air battle between the RAF and Luftwaffe (known as the Battle of Britain,) however absurd that may sound from a strategic war time perspective. It was the correct strategy to invade and close a possible second front from the west before the planned attack on the Soviet Union, especially since another battle front was active in North Africa with the Axis attempting to reach the Suez Canal and the Middle East. Churchill’s “we shall never surrender” speech in 1940 was a tremendous piece of propaganda bluster that galvanized British morale, but Britons who lived thru those times told me that the Nazis could have literally waltzed into Britain with just one well equipped division any time during 1940, the importance of supposed air superiority being necessary for such an invasion somewhat exaggerated. The Germans had sufficient aerial control to effect an approach from the sea, and also from the air with supply aircraft, gliders, and paratroopers (which type of warfare the Germans pioneered) before the Soviets and Americans became official allies. The last hour of the Battle of Britain, when the Germans called it off, the RAF six operational fighter aircraft left to fight with. There was hardly even one rifle between one hundred men in the British Home Guard, who were laughably armed with antique weapons and pitchforks, all heavy weaponry having been discarded at the evacuation of Dunkirk.

  • Blighteous

    Actually Germany didn’t invade Austria. They annexed Austria after a national vote where 99% of the austrians voted for the annexation.,_1938

  • Jon

    As the above commentators pointed out, this article is erroneous. Hitler did not want to fight Britain, Hitler did not invade Austria, and Hitler was not the sole cause of the war. If Gandhi believed otherwise, he was surely misinformed by those who urged him to write these letters.

    When Gandhi writes that “the peoples of Europe yearn for peace”, he may be correct, but their leaders, such as British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, did not share their yearning. He rejected Hitler’s numerous appeals for peace, replaced numerous of his peers who were pro-peace, and was, personally, most interested in continuing the war.

  • George Szaszvari

    Umm, there is somewhat more to the story of the annexation of Austria than the so-called 99% vote.

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  • Mara Paglianni

    I don’t think this is a real letter at all. To be more personal, respectful and serious he would had written a letter in German or using his Hindu his own language (India has several languages depending the region) , and would had had a stamp or some other proof that it came from Gandhi.

    In 1932 Albert Eisntein wrote a letter to Gandhi and it was written in German which was Eisntein mother tongue. So why would Gandhi write a letter in English to the German führer in 1939?

    I would love to see the original envelope and stamps on it. And if the letter ever arrive at Hitler’s desk I am sure it would had been safe somewhere since NOBODY is as meticulously and precise and the Germans. So if this is a real deal where exactly came from? There were not photo copies back in ’39.

    In his lifetime Gandhi wrote very few letters and most were written by his sons and close friends.

    Also his signature is ALL wrong. Most letters that Gandhi wrote were done by using a pen instead of a typewriter. And he would combined the initials of his name, MKG, so it would be done in one motion with the M ending on the top of the K and the K continuing unto the G. Then at the bottom of his G, which was more like a lower case g (think of a q) the g would curl towards the right like a small tail. In the suppose letter to Hitler, the MK flow together but it obvious a totally different hand writing. Then the g is all alone and the lower part, or called a small tail, curls to the left instead of the right like all his other signatures on his hand written letters.

    Is easy for anybody to write a letter and make it viral on the net without any proof of its originality. Even Bush, in 2001, fooled the USA with his war crime invasion and attack of Iraq. All is possible.

    • Madhu Shanmughan

      Mara Paglianni, I think you should try to know a little bit more about Gandhi, before commenting on him.

      Gandhi wrote 1000s of letters. Some of them were handwritten… but most of them typewritten by his desiples and signed by him. Some letters (mostly to people in India) and some in English.

      All his speaches and letters area consolidated in “Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi”, which spans over 100 volmes (50,000 pages).


      • Marta Mara Paglianni

        If is a real letter then there should be proof in Germany where the letter was sent. The letter should have a stamp, and date outside the enveloped as well. Germans were very good at keeping all the records. Nobody from Germany have ever mentioned such a letter.

        Also you dont write a letter in English to the leader of all the Germans. It would had been an insult. I don’t believe is real. Gandhi was a very well known person then yet not trace of this letter at all. Also if he wrote it we don’t know if Hitler ever got it. And if he did there would be a translation of this letter in German. Show me any of those things and then I will believe it. Otherwise is FAKE!

    • Pallav Mishra

      Gandhi wrote mostly in may be surprising to a lot of continental Europeans who use their native languages. Educated Indians have mostly used English as their mode of communication (at least when writing letters). Gandhi was a prolific writer since he used to get jailed quite often.

      • Marta Mara Paglianni

        I agree, but that wasn’t the case in 1939s. Most Indians were not educated back then. “Literacy rates in accordance to British in India rose from 3.2 per cent in 1881 to 7.2 per cent in 1931 and 12.2 per cent in 1947.”

        Also tif it was true, this letter never got to Hitler so why write about it when it didn’t make a difference at all? I wrote a letter to the Pope when I was 16 years old but don’t know if he got it at all. Maybe I should write about it.

  • Tirthankar Sarkar

    I don’t support Hitler’s method of waging war against another nation but I would also squarely blame Winston Churchil’s policy of disobeying the urge for freedom by the people living in countries occupied by the and making British colony in those countries. So Germany declared war on Britain was not incorrect. Churchil was a shrewd man who liked to continue the war because he wanted to uphold his popularity as an iron man of Britain. The same thing we have seen in Margaret Thatcher who regarded herself as Iron lady and declared unethical war against Argentina in 1982 on Falkland Island issues. . So these types of iron person are real threat to world peace and prosperity. I shall not like to see that in future there is an emergence of Robot person in Britain, which means another devastating war in the world. I hate war either by Britain or America in the name of humanity.