'Dear Friend': Gandhi's letters to Hitler

In 1939 and 1940, the Indian leader sent letters to Adolf Hitler, encouraging the Nazi dictator to seek peace with Great Britain. 

Matt Dunham/AP
People stand around a new statue of Mahatma Gandhi by British sculptor Philip Jackson after it was unveiled in Parliament Square in London, on March 14. The bronze sculpture stands 9ft-high (2.75m) and will provide a focal point for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of Gandhi's death in 2018. Gandhi had written two letters in 1939 and 1940 addressed to Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler, encouraging him to seek peace.

While he wasn't leading India's independence movement, Gandhi sought to be a peacemaker on the international stage. 

In 1939 and 1940, Gandhi, who was known as "Mahatma," or "Great Soul,"  sought to stave off World War II with two letters to Adolf Hitler. According to the Gandhi website MKGandhi.org, the first letter was written in late July 1939. It is a brief note where Gandhi conceded that Hitler was the one man in the world who could choose to avert war.

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 a savage state. Must you pay that 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,
M. K. Gandhi

A month later, Nazi Germany signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, on Aug. 23, 1939, which was followed by Germany's violation of the Munich Agreement by occupying Bohemia and Moravia. Within two weeks of signing the agreement with the Soviets, on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany, marking the beginning of World War II. 

Not deterred by the outbreak of war, Gandhi wrote to Hitler a second time. By December of 1940, the Nazis had stormed across Europe, occupying France, to Scandinavia and as far eastward as Poland. This time, Gandhi wrote a much longer letter where he warned Hitler, "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."

Gandhi once again refers to Hitler as "Friend," claiming that nonviolence leaves one without enemies. 

"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," Gandhi wrote.

He continued, "I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity. Hence we cannot possibly wish success to your arms." 

There is no evidence to suggest Hitler ever responded to either of Gandhi's letters.

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