Jul 012014

German Missions in British India Nationalism: Case and Crisis in Missions

Paul von Tucher 


© 1980 Selbstverlag Paul H. von Tucher


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„AHMEDNAGAR! . . . What is the significance of the title? The older missions friends know it; Ahmednagar is the prisoner of war camp in which the German missionaries were interned in India during the World War (I). It lies exactly east of Bombay some 200 km. distance from this large harbour city. To this place … now again ten of our missionaries have been brought. …“ Dr. Carl Ihmels, Leipzig Mission Director (Leipzig: ELMB, Dec. 1939 


The vast Indian Empire, as a sub-continent with its millions of people from varied origins and history, as well as the hundreds of languages and dialects of India, Burma and Ceylon, was an integral part of the great British Empire encircling the globe. As war was declared the Government of India, and in a lesser role the Congress Party under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, brought British India into the second European conflict of the century. In truth, „the day the Second World War started, England took India into the war by proclamation without consulting any Indians. India resented this additional proof of foreign control.“1 In the face of a summons and a mandatory visit to the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow at Simla, Gandhi came away from the consultations with a pro-British position and on September 16th expressed his thinking in his own paper, the Harijan

Rightly or wrongly, and irrespective of what the other powers have done before under similar circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that Herr Hitler is responsible for the war.2 

Gandhi’s critics in India feared that the Swaraj leader was in fact siding with the real oppressor of the Indian people. Gandhi felt compelled to vindicate his controversial decision, in that his „sympathy for England and France is not the result of momentary emotion or, in cruder language, of hysteria;“ rather he was of the belief that a grave injustice had been committed against others, in particular the invasion of the Polish people.3 

British India, with its citizens only British subjects, was at war with Nazi Germany. As a colonial land it had not been given the sacred suffrage as to whether it would participate. Again the shadows of a European war stretched as far as India. The public press and the Indian Civil Servants quickened the war mood and their voices found an easy target in the aggressive schemes of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. And yet, „different from other parts of the British imperium, … the special relationship of India to England“4 had its consequences for the Indian people.