Subhaschandra and Germany

Shibabrata Ray

In the spring of 1941 Subhas Chandra Bose set out from Tora Bora in Afghanistan on his way to Russia with a young German mechanic who was working for the Afghan Government as his guide. Bose’s purpose in going there was to convince and motivate the Russian Government towards the cause of Indian freedom movement and hasten the process of Indian independence with their help. It was not possible for the Russians to provide shelter to Bose for long as they were bound by a treaty of alliance with the British. After 15 days of discussions and negotiations the Russian Government turned down Bose’s proposal. Curiously, the Russians did not disclose the news of Bose’s presence in Russia to the British. On the contrary they actually helped him to arrange a meeting with the German Ambassador VonSchulẽnberg in Moscow. Niether there are any records of what transpired in the 3-day talks between Bose and Schulẽnberg nor did anyone from the Russian Foreign office participate in the talks. It is safe to presume that it was Bose who wanted this secrecy to which the Russians did not object.

Schulẽnberg arranged for Bose to travel to Italy and try to set up a meeting with Mussolini. Unfortunately the then Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano scuttled the proposed meeting between the two leaders keeping Mussolini completely in the dark. In spite of this Quaroni, a member of the Italian ministry lent a helping hand to Bose at the behest of Schulẽnberg and sent a letter of credentials on his behalf to Berlin. Quaroni was the Italian envoy to Afghanistan during Bose’s stay there. He had come across Bose in Kabul where he had discussed at length about the Indian freedom movement with Bose and had been charmed by his personality. Bose had no inkling then that circumstances would compel him to go to Germany. He therefore did not request for any help for travelling to Germany. Quaroni had later visited independent India at Nehru’s invitation. Schulẽnberg arranged for Bose’s journey to Germany with the help of the German Ambassador in Germany. Bose reached the German capital Berlin on the 3rd April 1943.

The German Government (Reichsregierung) on receiving Bose’s credential notes from Schulẽnberg and Quaroni arranged for Ernst Von Weizsacker, a prominent German minister of state to liase with and help Bose. Interestingly though, Weizsacker was neither a Nazi party member nor did he believe in their ideology. His son Richard Weizsacker was elected President of the German Democratic Republic on two consecutive terms in the eighties. Another son of his Karl Frederick became an internationally acclaimed nuclear scientist. Along with Otto Hahnn and Max Born he was working for the German nuclear bomb under Hitler’s orders and Goebbels’s supervision. However, despite unrelenting pressure from Goebbels to speed up the project these scientists dragged their feet on the programme and ultimately did not produce the nuclear bomb at the risk of their lives. The Gestapo put them under house arrest before Berlin fell, awaiting orders about their fate from Berlin. Fate intervened in their favour as Berlin fell shortly afterwards.

Weizsacker chose a handpicked team of German Officials to help Bose in his efforts to muster support for India’s freedom struggle. Remarkably none of them were Nazis and all of them were Indophiles.

Notable among them were:

Wilhelm Keppler:

He became the Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Government of the German Democratic Republic. A student of Indian Philosophy and a non Nazi, he visited India several times at the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru.

General Trot Zu Soltz: Director of Operations and a constant companion of Bose. As a student he was a socialist a member of the Kreisan Gruppe. He served as an interpreter when Bose met Hitler. Though Bose was well versed in German, Weizsacker arranged for Gen. Trot to serve as interpreter to be able to assess the nuances of whatever Hitler said in German. He was executed on the 20th July 1944 on charges of conspiring against Hitler.

Others in the team:

Franz Frutwaengler: He knew about Gandhi’s Satyagraha. Along with armed uprising, he also believed in the efficacy of Satyagraha. Involved in the workers’ movement in Germany, he was staunchly anti-Nazi and a closet socialist. Arrested in the 20th July crackdown, he miraculously escaped execution.

A.F. Richter: Nothing could be found out about him. He was killed when the Russians overran Berlin.

H.T.Leitpold: He was an Indophile and an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore. He was a highly placed official in the post war Adenaeur government of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Von Zitzewitz: He was from the Prussian nobility. Some of his brothers were strong supporters of Hitler. Many from the Prussian nobility aligned themselves with Nazism but towards the later stages of the second world war as Germany’s defeat became imminent they silently prayed for the fall of Hitler.

Outside of this core group Weizsacker set up an advisory group.

They were:

Professor Ludwig Alsdorf: A well known Indologist, he taught at Hamburg University. He was an expert on derivative words. I was personally acquainted with Alsdorf having met him in September 1954. He introduced me to the sagacious old man Professor Schubring who was sitting in the room next to his. Wearing a white kurta and pyjama like Hindu gurus he blessed me applying a red tilak (mark) on my forehead. Alsdorf asked me to touch Schubring’s feet. Schubring was a Shakta scholar. Alsdorf passed away in 1970.

Professor Thieme:He was a famous Indologist. He used to teach at the famous and old university of Tuebingen. He was an expert in the Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism of Nepal. He used to supplement his knowledge by studying Shakta philosophy. He passed away three years ago. I knew him personally. He was an admirer of Tagore.

Professor Hoffman: An Indologist and a master of Vaishnav literature. He taught at Essen University. He passed away four years ago after being afflicted by Parkinsonism.
Alexander Von Werth: He was the principal advisor of Subhas. He worked with Chancellor Adenauer after the war and helped in the reconstruction of the newborn German Democratic Republic. He is the author of the famous book “The Springing Tiger” which is a glowing account of the idealism of Bose’s and his uncompromising struggle against British imperialism. He has visited India more than once.

The German Foreign ministry tried to assist Subhas through a team of advisors consisting of the above-mentioned civilians. There were others, about whose work we want to elaborate later on. In our subsequent issue we shall discuss the formation of Bose’s “Indian Legion” in detail. There is a lot to be told about the people who were the military advisors to Bose and the way in which they helped him.

Every political party has its own ideology. The fountainhead of Nazi ideology was Mathilde Ludendorf and Karl Rosenberg. Mathilde was the daughter of General Ludendorf. Presenting their writings and ideas is beyond the scope of this article. I learnt from Alexander Von Werth that Bose declined to accept the Nazi ideology in spite of the pressure created by some Nazi-indoctrinated officials from the German Foreign Office. I have talked to Clarita, wife of Trot Schultz in Berlin in 1956-57, who told me that the then German foreign Minister Ribbentrop once proposed the suspension of all support to Bose one evening at a meeting as Bose had ultimately refused to embrace Nazism. It was the strong support and advocacy for Bose by Weizsacker which carried the day for Bose. Thereafter acceptance of Nazi ideology by Bose ceased to be a precondition to German assistance.

In my article I have tried to highlight the fact that it was the primary objective of Bose was to set up an arrangement with the Russian Government for the Indian Independence struggle. He went to Germany because this failed. All his advisors were non Nazi Indophiles who were reasonably knowledgeable about India. Von Schulẽnberg was shot on the 10th November 1944 after being accused of conspiracy against Hitler.

I have tried a number of times to talk to Alsdorf and Thieme but they did not open up fearing that if they discussed about these matters openly the Nehru Government would bar them from visiting India in future something that would be singularly unfortunate for them as Indologists.

About the author: President, Indo-German society, Hamburg, whose forerunner was the Indo-German friendship society led by Subhas Chandra Bose. An engineer by profession, he had been a member of “Shrisangha” as a student, belonging to the Forward Bloc group. He was imprisoned during the 1942 movement. He subsequently spent more than half a century in Germany. He is also adept in songs of Rajanikanta, Rabindrasangeet, Dwijendrageeti and Atulprasad.

(Translated from the original in Bangla, published in Jayasree English Bulletin first issue September 2014)