A Dutch friend writes:
“You will perhaps be able to remember me having made a drawing of you at Romain Rolland’s in 1931... I am a Dutchman and lived for many years in Germany, where I had built up a living as an artist. Nazism, which gained hold in Germany seven years ago, caused me many conscientious doubts...
“It is just one year ago since I left my house in Munich to spend some time in Holland... On 10th May, by the use of every possible subtle trick, Holland was overpowered. After four days of the most ruthless bombing we fled to England and are now on our way to Java, the country of my birth, where I hope to find work...
“Hitler aims at nothing less than the destruction of all moral values, and in the bulk of German youth he has already attained that end.
“Your article in Harijan about the Jewish problem in Germany particularly interested me since I had many Jewish friends there. You say in it that, if ever a war were justified, it is this one against Germany. In the same article, however, you write that, if you were a Jew, you would attempt to soften the hearts of the Nazis by non-violence. Recently you also advised Britain and the British people to surrender their beautiful island to the German invader, without resistance by force, and to conquer him afterwards by non-violence. There is probably no man in the whole history who has a better knowledge of the practice of non-violence than yourself. Your views have awakened veneration and love for you in millions of hearts not only in India but in the outside world as well...
“Through Nazism, the German youth has lost all individuality of thought and feeling. The great mass of young people has lost its heart and is degraded to the level of a machine. The German conduct of the war is absolutely mechanical; machines are driven by robot men who have no qualms of conscience about crushing under their tanks the bodies of women and children, bombing open towns, killing hundreds of thousands of women and children, and on occasion using them as a screen for their advance, or distributing poisoned food. These are all facts, the truth of which I can vouch for. I have spoken with many of your followers about the possibility of applying non-violence against Germany. A friend of mine, whose work it is to cross-examine German prisoners of war in England, was deeply shocked by the spiritual narrowness and heartlessness of these young men, and agreed with me that non-violence could not be applied with any success against such robots...”
The friend has sent his name and address. But I withhold both for fear of harm coming to him through unnecessary publicity. The letter must be valued on its own intrinsic merits.
What, however, concerns me is not to so much his characterisation of Nazism as his belief that non-violent action may have no effect on Hitler or the Germans whom he has turned into so many robots. Non-violent action, if it is adequate, must influence Hitler and easily the duped Germans. No man can be turned into a permanent machine. Immediately the dead weight of authority is lifted from his head, he begins to function normally. To lay down any such general proposition as my friend has, betrays ignorance of the working of non-violence. The British Government can take no risks, can make no experiments in which they have not even a workable faith. But if ever an opportunity could be given to me, in spite of my physical limitations, I should not hesitate to try what would appear to be impossible. For in ahimsa it is not the votary who acts in his own strength. Strength comes from God. If, therefore, the way is opened for me to go, he will give me the physical endurance and clothe my word with the needed power. Anyway all through my life I have acted in that faith. Never have I attributed any independent strength to myself. This may be considered by men who do not believe in a higher power than themselves as a drawback and a helpless state. I must admit that limitation of ahimsa, if it be accounted as such.
Sevagram, August 6, 1940
Sources: GandhiServe Foundation - Mahatma Gandhi Research and Media Service (reprinted with permission)