Friday, 18 June 2010

Hitler and the Indians

Slowly but steadily, a decade-old business around the dead and universally despised dictator Adolf Hitler is emerging as a small-scale industry in India.

Books and memorabilia on the German leader's life have found a steady market in some sections of Indian society where he is idolised and admired, mostly by the young.

The numbers are small but seem to be growing.

Latest reports say Bollywood is now planning to cash in. A film - Dear Friend Hitler - is due to be released by the end of the year, focusing on the dictator's relationship with his mistress Eva Braun.

It's hard to narrow down what makes the dictator popular in India, but some young people say they are attracted by his "discipline and patriotism".

Most of them are, however, quick to add that they do not approve of his racial prejudices and the Holocaust in which millions of Jews were killed.

But the truth is that books, T-shirts, bags and key-rings with his photo or name on do sell in India. And his autobiography, Mein Kampf, sells the most.


Jaico, the largest publisher and distributor of Mein Kampf in India, has sold more than a 100,000 copies in the last 10 years.

Crossword, an India-wide chain of book stores, has sold more than 25,000 copies since 2000 and marketing head Sivaram Balakrishnan says: "It's been a consistent bestseller for us."
The dictator is admired by some for his 'discipline and patriotism'

And demand seems to be growing. Jaico's chief editor RH Sharma says: "There has been a steady rise of 10% to 15% in the book's sale."

Until two years ago, a typical Mumbai (Bombay) bookstore sold 40-50 copies of Mein Kampf a year. Now the figure is more like several hundred copies annually.

The more well-heeled the area, the higher the sales. For example, the Crossword outlet in Mumbai's affluent Bandra district sells, on average, three copies a day.

The book has several editions and is available in vernacular Indian languages too. Mannyes Booksellers in the western city of Pune keeps at least four editions. There are at least seven publishers now competing with Jaico.

Global sales figures for Mein Kampf are hard to come by, but the book sells well in other parts of the world too.

In the US, it sold 26,000 copies last year 2009. In 2005 it sold 100,000 copies in Turkey in just a few months. The Arabic imprint is popular in the Palestinian territories.

Mein Kampf is published by Random House in the UK but the company would not give sales figures to the BBC.

'Positive and negative'

Nearly all the booksellers and publishers contacted in India say it is mainly young people who read Mein Kampf.

[Hitler] mesmerised the whole nation with his leadership and iron discipline - India needs his discipline
Student Prayag Thakkar

It's not just the autobiography - books on the Nazi leader, T-shirts, bags, bandanas and key-rings are also in demand.

A shop in Pune, called Teens, says it sells nearly 100 T-shirts a month with Hitler's image on them.

Prayag Thakkar, a 19-year-old student in Gujarat state, is one of them: "I have idolised Hitler ever since I have had a sense of history. I admire his leadership qualities and his discipline."

The Holocaust was bad, he says, but that is not his concern. "He mesmerised the whole nation with his leadership and iron discipline. India needs his discipline."

Dimple Kumari, a research associate in Pune, has not read Mein Kampf but she would wear the Hitler T-shirt out of admiration for him. She calls him "a legend" and tries to put her admiration for him in perspective: "The killing of Jews was not good, but everybody has a positive and negative side."

Young people have no sense of history - [Mein Kampf] is not easy to understand unless you know the history of Germany
Academic Govind Kulkarni

Shilpi Guha says she started reading the book but could not finish it and she wouldn't like to dwell on the dictator's negative side.

In the past, a couple of right-wing Hindu leaders have also expressed their admiration for Hitler.

But young Indians' fascination for him has been explained succinctly by academic Govind Kulkarni: "The youth look for a hero, a patriot, and Hitler was a committed patriot. He is seen as someone who can solve problems. The young people here are faced with a lot of problems."

Mr Kulkarni says he believes the young are gullible and fail to see the sinister side of Hitler.

"Young people have no sense of history. The book is thick and not easy to understand unless you know the history of Germany," he says.

Amit Tripathi, a Mumbai-based scholar, read the book a long time ago but just out of curiosity.

"I didn't find the book inspiring at all. It was interesting to read how he coped with his days of struggle, but his ideology of racial purity smacked of racism."

Hitler's secret Indian army
By Mike Thomson
BBC News

In the closing stages of World War II, as Allied and French resistance forces were driving Hitler's now demoralised forces from France, three senior German officers defected.

Members of the Free India Legion
Legionnaires were recruited from German POW camps
The information they gave British intelligence was considered so sensitive that in 1945 it was locked away, not due to be released until the year 2021.

Now, 17 years early, the BBC's Document programme has been given special access to this secret file.

It reveals how thousands of Indian soldiers who had joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British king for others to Adolf Hitler - an astonishing tale of loyalty, despair and betrayal that threatened to rock British rule in India, known as the Raj.

The story the German officers told their interrogators began in Berlin on 3 April 1941. This was the date that the left-wing Indian revolutionary leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, arrived in the German capital.

Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British in India, had fled the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler's help in pushing the British out of India.

He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered
Lieutenant Barwant Singh
Six months later, with the help of the German foreign ministry, he had set up what he called "The Free India Centre", from where he published leaflets, wrote speeches and organised broadcasts in support of his cause.

By the end of 1941, Hitler's regime officially recognised his provisional "Free India Government" in exile, and even agreed to help Chandra Bose raise an army to fight for his cause. It was to be called "The Free India Legion".

Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which, when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used to invade British India.

He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel in North Africa.


Finally, by August 1942, Bose's recruitment drive got fully into swing. Mass ceremonies were held in which dozens of Indian POWs joined in mass oaths of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

Chandra Bose is garlanded by members of the Free India Legion
Chandra Bose did not live to see Indian independence
These are the words that were used by men that had formally sworn an oath to the British king: "I swear by God this holy oath that I will obey the leader of the German race and state, Adolf Hitler, as the commander of the German armed forces in the fight for India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra Bose."

I managed to track down one of Bose's former recruits, Lieutenant Barwant Singh, who can still remember the Indian revolutionary arriving at his prisoner of war camp.

"He was introduced to us as a leader from our country who wanted to talk to us," he said.

"He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered."


In all 3,000 Indian prisoners of war signed up for the Free India Legion.

But instead of being delighted, Bose was worried. A left-wing admirer of Russia, he was devastated when Hitler's tanks rolled across the Soviet border.

Matters were made even worse by the fact that after Stalingrad it became clear that the now-retreating German army would be in no position to offer Bose help in driving the British from faraway India.

When the Indian revolutionary met Hitler in May 1942 his suspicions were confirmed, and he came to believe that the Nazi leader was more interested in using his men to win propaganda victories than military ones.

So, in February 1943, Bose turned his back on his legionnaires and slipped secretly away aboard a submarine bound for Japan.

Rudolf Hartog, former translator for the Free India Legion
Rudolf Hartog remembers parting with his Indian friends
There, with Japanese help, he was to raise a force of 60,000 men to march on India.

Back in Germany the men he had recruited were left leaderless and demoralised. After much dissent and even a mutiny, the German High Command despatched them first to Holland and then south-west France, where they were told to help fortify the coast for an expected allied landing.

After D-Day, the Free India Legion, which had now been drafted into Himmler's Waffen SS, were in headlong retreat through France, along with regular German units.

It was during this time that they gained a wild and loathsome reputation amongst the civilian population.

The former French Resistance fighter, Henri Gendreaux, remembers the Legion passing through his home town of Ruffec: "I do remember several cases of rape. A lady and her two daughters were raped and in another case they even shot dead a little two-year-old girl."

Finally, instead of driving the British from India, the Free India Legion were themselves driven from France and then Germany.

Their German military translator at the time was Private Rudolf Hartog, who is now 80.

"The last day we were together an armoured tank appeared. I thought, my goodness, what can I do? I'm finished," he said.

"But he only wanted to collect the Indians. We embraced each other and cried. You see that was the end."


A year later the Indian legionnaires were sent back to India, where all were released after short jail sentences.

But when the British put three of their senior officers on trial near Delhi there were mutinies in the army and protests on the streets.

With the British now aware that the Indian army could no longer be relied upon by the Raj to do its bidding, independence followed soon after.

Not that Subhas Chandra Bose was to see the day he had fought so hard for. He died in 1945.

Since then little has been heard of Lieutenant Barwant Singh and his fellow legionnaires.

At the end of the war the BBC was forbidden from broadcasting their story and this remarkable saga was locked away in the archives, until now. Not that Lieutenant Singh has ever forgotten those dramatic days.

"In front of my eyes I can see how we all looked, how we would all sing and how we all talked about what eventually would happen to us all," he said.

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Adrian Peirson said...

A Soldier Speaks

Anonymous said...

The Indians still have freedom of thought and speech unlike we in western Europe and America. Weknow the narrative here, evil Hitler , 6 million jews, brave Americans etc etc.
The greatest impetus to Indian independence was axis support in WW2. Have a look at this video of Bose in Berlin in 1943 declaring Indian independence with the Indian community in Berlin. You will not see this video on the BBC or the history channel as it doesnt fit the narrative but then real history doesnt often. If you cant understand German the commentator refers to the Indian community in Berlin giving their support....yes the Indian community in WW2 Berlin...just doesnt fit the narrative.

Anonymous said...

In Germany or the Uk one cant mention him in a disinterested light let alone issue T-Shirts for teenagers , thats left to the 'liberal Marxist fascist hero worship of the murderer the Che T - Shits

Bred in the bone said...

Hitler the preserver of Dharma, the Hindu RSS is huge and does a great job of presrving their culture.

But digging even deeper, what of the connections between ancient vedic technology and the Thule Vril Society.

Talk about how deep the rabbit hole could go Lee!