When Non-Violence is Vanity

Several letters that came in response to the previous post approved of Bishop Barron’s post-Paris insistence on a non-violent stance. They accepted that posture as the sole moral “formula for peace.” One quoted Gandhi as “a benediction” on a fallen world. Another refused to believe that Gandhi had recommended satyagraha to German Jews.

It would be good, then, to look at Gandhi’s own words in relation to the situation of Jews in Nazi German. On November 20, 1938, eleven days after Kristallnacht, the barbarous wave of pogroms organized by Goebbels across Germany, Gandhi addressed Zionism and the Jews. He wrote from Segaon in rural India where his mud hut was a pilgrimage destination for all who revered him as a revelation of true spirituality, an oracle of wisdom in service to justice.

German poster
Heinemann, Lothar. Deutschland (1938).


The letter begins:

Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.

My sympathies are all with the Jews. . . .

But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. . . . Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. . . . . Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.

The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred.

How is such a course to be achieved? Gandhi is unable to say. Instead, he admits that if ever there were justifiable reason for war, the persecution of the Jews provided it. Nonetheless:

But I do not believe in any war.

Instead, he recommends non-violent resistance and the saving joy of voluntary suffering.

Can the Jews resist this organised and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. . . .

If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can.

After instructing a doomed people “to offer satyagraha,” Gandhi concluded with a paragraph that begins:

Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth.

Viewed in retrospect, it is hard to say which is more appalling, the moral vanity on display or Gandhi’s ecstatic vision of the redemptive outcome for the Germans of Jewish assent to their own slaughter:

The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.


Man with skull
Anonymous. Man with Skull (1930). France. Adoc-Photo.


Some dark, analogous fantasy is at work in the high-minded but vacant “mercy offensive” offered Catholics by their bishops and the Vatican in response to Islamic terror.