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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and factual- but misleadingly titled., 15 Feb 2010
This review is from: Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism (Paperback)
This is a well balanced and factual account of a very brilliant young woman who took the humiliation of the Greeks by Attaturk very much to heart. Bizarrely, she then comes to India- where, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, millions of Hindus had made common cause with the Muslims demanding restoration of the Caliphate (foolishly, because, it turned out the Turks wanted no part of it, while the Arabs had never accepted the notion of a non-Arab Caliph in the first place!) Surely, this was a strange decision? Or was it perhaps the case that the nonsense of 'Aryan' Hinduism as a bulwark against 'Semitic' Islam (I say nonsense because there is no racial basis for religious differences in India)was already being trumpeted by those within the fold of the esoteric Theosophical Society? If so, a double game was being played.
Again, it seems amazing that this lady- a promising mathematician- read the opposite of what Andre Weil found in the Gita- viz. non-violence and mutual dependence. Did India play a role in this? She was angry with the allies because they let down the Greeks. The Bengalis too were angry with the British for good reason. But, it would be a mistake to see her Hitler worship as being the product of her interaction with India.
Bengal has produced thinkers and organizations that might be termed 'Rightist' but, they are anti-caste and socially progressive. Yes, they question the corruption of party politics and advocate (like the Communists) a cadre based mass movement- but they can scarcely be considered to be champions of existing elites or pawns of big Business. Indeed, the only thing that makes them seem 'right-wing' is because the condemn the notion of 'class conflict' and 'extermination of the exploiting class'. Scarcely the stuff a Hitler worshiper could be weaned on!
One mistake the British made during the Second World War was not publicizing the crimes of the Nazis. The result was India had a blind spot about this aspect of modern History. True, this was because their propaganda machine had lost credibility during the First World War. However they remained very effective at depicting the Indians as mindless, sex mad, savages- a glaring affront to the Bengali psyche.
Still, this lady's intellectual odyssey reads like grand tragedy. Perhaps one should look at her 'pilgrimage' to war shattered post War Germany as a textbook case of the working of Cognitive Dissonance.
In India, angry with the allies, she apparently converted to some sort of Hinduism- the author tells us she was paraded around as a token white to impress the tribals- and married (to secure her residency) a Bengali Nationalist who was seeking to revive the German alliance of the great Bengali hero, 'Tiger Jatin'- who was promised arms by the German Crown Prince- a plot that went awry when the Czechs found out the secret and informed the British. Thus, the 'Indian Nazi party' was just a Nationalist outfit- with no interest in Hitlerism, apart from the guns they could provide to fight the British. However, during the course of the 30's it became clear that the high caste Hindus would be marginalized in any case in an independent Bengal. Thus arose the hope that the religious question could be avoided by a cult of heroism- this was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's tragic gamble- where a person's religion would be considered irrelevant and only their courage and willingness to sacrifice for the country held significant.
Some of this lady's writings- impassioned as they are- appear worthy of a better cause. But, the truth is, all such writing is equally worthless. Causes demand more than passion from their votaries. They require compassion to be, in any worthwhile manner, advanced. It is noteworthy that this lady did not devote herself to looking after the Smyrna refugees, or at least found a home for stray cats- nor, indeed, did she play a prominent role in Red Cross activities to help the post war Germans- or, since they got back on their own feet quickly enough, those more unfortunate yet behind the Iron Curtain.
Of such a life- what can one say?
Well, the one thing I can say- knowing something of the Indian portion of her story- is that there was no nexus between 'the Hindu Aryan myth' and neo Nazism. Nor- to be clear- is that the author's contention. He casts doubt on her 'Hindu' belief and gives no ammunition to those who hold Hitlerism as somehow connected to 'pagan' Hinduism. The author is to be complimented on his fair-mindedness on this point.

Still, the existence of an Indian Nazi Party needs explaining. At the time of 'the popular front' and later, after Hitler attacked Stalin, the only source of arms to fight the Brits was the Axis powers. One might, with greater probability of being believed, point to Husseini's antics and Guenon's Egyptian retirement and speak of a 'Sufi-Nazi' axis.
Still, books have to sell and having a good title is important for that. So, one should not cavil too much at this workmanlike volume on one of History's minor farces- which nevertheless is as tragic- if the self destruction of a soul can be considered tragic- as some of the gorier episodes that, to some, still halo Hitler in ever lasting glory.
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