Koenraad Elst
A Nazi Out-of-India Theory?
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

While we were working on the argumentation against the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), an improper and utterly false argument against the presumed association of the rivaling Out-of-India Theory (OIT) with Nazi Germany was being prepared in high places. This becomes clear from a refutation of the latter in a paper published by the International Journal of Hindu Studies (no.16 = 2012, p.189-252), and written by the German scholar Reinhold Grünendahl (Göttingen): “History in the making: on Sheldon Pollock’s ‘NS Indology’ and Vishwa Adluri’s ‘Pride and prejudice'”.

The homeland debate

Ultimately, a question of ancient history, such as the location of the homeland of the Indo-European language family inside or outside of India, will not be decided by its real or putative association with political tendencies in the modern age. Thus, when Hindus are writing for the umpteenth time that the AIT stems from colonialism and racism, they may be wrong or they may be right, but at any rate they are wasting their breath. Historians know that even a theory generated History plays out in a time when other concerns were at stake than in the present by the wrong motives may prove to be right, and even a point of view stemming from noble political positions may be wrong. We all would like to domesticate history into political usefulness for today, but have to acknowledge that it doesn’t work that way.

All the same, the AIT school do occasionally try to blacken the Hindu nationalist movement’s newfound enthusiasm for the OIT with a wrong political association, viz. by fitting it into their well-established narrative that somehow this is a “fascist” movement. Thus, in a newspaper column, Robert Zydenbos (“An obscurantist argument”, Indian Express, 12-12-1993) tried to associate Navaratna Rajaram’s arguments for the OIT with Adolf Hitler’s National-Socialism. More crassly, Yoginder Sikand (“Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30-10-1993) likewise tried to link the OIT with Nazi Germany, playing on their common concern for (but diametrically opposite interpretation of) the term Arya.

Of course, nobody who follows the debate, closely or even from afar, can be taken in by this. Very obviously, the Nazis themselves never believed in the OIT but were more ardent than most in espousing the AIT. Practically all Westerners at the time, and many Indians as well (including the Hindu nationalist leader of Congress, Balagangadhara Tilak, and the ideologue of the Hindutva movement, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar), took the AIT for granted. The Nazis had an extra reason for putting their faith in it, viz. that the AIT served as the perfect illustration to the Nazi worldview. The Aryan immigrants had demonstrated their superiority, they had sought to protect it by instituting a colour-based (to the Nazis: race-based) caste system, and they had lost part of their European quality by succumbing to race-mixing nonetheless. So, if anyone should be likened to Hitler, it is the AIT advocates themselves, including Zydenbos and Sikand. The OIT school rarely misses a chance to highlight this political identification of the AIT: with British imperialism as well as with European racism epitomized by the Nazis.

We may assume that Zydenbos was a newcomer to this debate, that he objected to the OIT in good faith and that he hadn’t informed himself of the Nazi view on the homeland question. But two decades down the line, the AIT belief has definitely lost its innocence. And already back then, a specialist like Columbia professor Sheldon Pollock published a paper titled: “Deep Orientalism? Notes on Sanskrit and power beyond the Raj” (in Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds.: Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, UPenn Press 1993, p.76-133), which includes a chapter titled “Ex Oriente Nox: Indology in the Total State” (p.86-96). He and his acolytes have since kept on elaborating this thesis, viz. that Germany invested much in Indology and used it in its project of self-definition as “Aryans” contrasting with the “Semites”. A recent example of this polemic is Vishwa Adluri’s paper in Pollock’s defence, “Pride and prejudice: Orientalism and German Indology” (International Journal of Hindu Studies, 15 (=2011), p.253-294).

While we, both in the OIT and AIT camp, were concentrating on the scientific evidence pertaining to the homeland and to the direction of the Indo-European expansion, someone somewhere was working on a large-scale and truly daring attempt to finally link the OIT to the National-Socialist regime. Nonetheless, a Hindu industrialist recently donated Pollock a fabulous sum of money for his work on Sanskrit literature, trusting him more with this heritage than other Indologists including the native scholars, both traditional and university-trained, who are far better at home in Sanskrit and financially far cheaper than an American academic. So, this highly reputed Sanskrit specialist sharpened his long-standing hatred of the Hindu nationalist movement into a paper alleging that Indology in general and the OIT in particular was much beloved of the Nazi establishment.

Edward Said

In this paper, Pollock at first seeks to supplement Edward Said’s unjustly famous thesis Orientalism (1978) with the German chapter which Said purposely left out. If truthful, such a chapter would have refuted Said’s whole theory, viz. that “Orientalism” was nothing but the intellectual chapter of the political-economic colonial entreprise. The mainstay of “Orientalist” scholarship was Central Europe, then thoroughly German-speaking at least at the intellectual level. Prussia only had colonies at a late date and far from the lands that interested the Orientalists, while the other countries involved, including the Austro-Hungarian empire, had no colonies at all. In the colonial countries too, many Orientalists were by no means part of the colonial entreprise (pace Said’s conspiracy theory), but in the German-speaking world, there was not even a colonial entreprise to integrate the Orientalist endeavour in; yet Orientalism flourished there like nowhere else. Moreover, Orientalism took wing when the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Oriental neighbor, the Ottoman Empire, was by no means a colony but a threat and an equal trading-partner.

    Indeed, even in its better-developed “British” part, Said’s theory was deeply flawed from the beginning, and the numerous errors of detail as well as the general error of his theory have ably been pointed out by Robert Irwin (For Lust of Knowing: the Orientalists and Their Enemies, Allan Lane, London 2006) and Ibn Warraq (Defending the West. A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, Prometheus, Amherst NY, 2007). A comprehensive work on German-language Oriental scholarship has been produced by Suzanne Marchand (German Orientalism in the Age of Empire. Religion, Race and Scholarship, German Historical Institute, Washington DC, and Cambridge University Press, 2009). With the benefit of hindsight, we can now pass judgment on Said’s influential publication which has seriously damaged the fair name of the academic discipline called “Orientalism”.

Academics who still rely on Said’s thesis, actually rely on a profoundly mistaken and highly politicized piece of scholarship. His thesis is a thin attempt at justification for anti-Westernism. Much as this is in vogue among Hindus, they are only making fools of themselves by espousing Said’s conspiracy theory. For everyone, it is academically weak and factually full of mistakes, but for Muslims at least, they would be supporting their own man. They would be cheering for a Dhimmi, someone upholding Islamic causes, in that as well as in other books. In supporting Said, Pollock is true to his own camp, i.e. the anti-Hindu coalition. But for Hindus, there is nothing in it, they are cheering for someone serving a declared enemy.

What Nazi rule really meant for Orientalism

    Grünendahl cites many examples where Pollock and his defender Adluri manipulate quotations to make past authors witnesses for their accusations. I vaguely knew that Pollock was wrong in associating the OIT with National-Socialism, but not that he was so spectacularly wrong. His thesis is first of all that India was a central concern for the Nazis. This is put forward most emphatically (but only with bluff) by Pollock and, on his authority, generally taken for granted. Adluri elaborates that Germany was very worried about building its “identity” as contrasting with the Semitic heritage and the Semitic people in their midst, and used India for that purpose.

But Grünendahl shows from old and neutral sources that the Indology departments received no special attention, that they were small compared to Ancient Near-Eastern Studies, Sinology etc., and that the Nazi period showed no special interest in Orientalism in general or Indology in particular. If anything, they suffered in their orientation on India from the reigning emphasis on “Indo-Germanic studies”.

Marchand notes that the number of German Oriental scholars as a whole fell from 360 in 1931 to 180 in 1940. [2009:488] What connection she cites between Indology and the Nazis [2009:499] is wholly based on Pollock, who estimates that one-third of the (only!) ca. twenty-five Indology professors in the Third Reich were active in the National-Socialist party or in the SS. This is the only time she cites him in her 526-page book. (She also naïvely gives credence to other anti-Hindu scholars such as Reza Pirbhai, p.311.) According to her: “Worst of all among the Indologist collaborators was Walter Wüst, the Vedic specialist at the University of Munich who became the director of the SS Ahnenerbe.” [p.499] But Wüst is not known to have championed the OIT, on the contrary. The Nazi regime’s favourite historian H.K.F. Günther believed the homeland lay in Southeastern Europe. This was the reigning opinion in Europe, challenged only by some Nazis who insisted on Germany or Scandinavia as the homeland. All of them agreed that the Indo-European language family had only reached India through an Aryan invasion.

Let us add that Marchand agrees to include among the Nazi Indologists Paul Thieme, the revered teacher of Michael Witzel; and he was, like his more militant pupil, a believer in the AIT. According to Marchand, one of the Nazi concerns in Oriental scholarship was “the refutation of the Jewish origins of monotheism” (p.489) namely in Mazdeism. The picture of religion in National-Socialism was complex and diverse, but belief in the superiority of monotheism was unchallenged. Like racism, it was then part of the general consensus.

She also notes that: “Among the Islamicists, there were also numerous collaborators (…) things looked rather promising for this bunch in the period 1936-39” when the Nazi leaders Joseph Goebbels and Baldur von Schirach toured the Middle East, and the Islamologists were used to liaise with Muslim leaders like the Jerusalem Mufti, so that they “successfully disseminated Nazi ideas throughout the Middle East”. [2009:490] Wouldn’t that be a good topic for Orientalist scholars: Islamic-Nazi similarities as the reason for Nazi-Muslim friendships?

    The Nazi concern for “Aryans” speaking “Indo-Germanic” (innocently so named after its two extremes: Indo-Aryan in Bengal and Germanic in Iceland) or Indo-European, now and originally conceived as a language family but then also conceived as a racial unit, couldn’t seriously be bothered with India. Their main concern was with the North, so Grünendahl argues:

“The fundamental flaw of Pollock’s narrative is that it hinges entirely on the exact reverse of the ‘Nordic’ notion. This reversal, which provides the basis for the ‘founding myth’ of the entire discourse machinery he set in motion, is enshrined in the grotesque proposition that ‘the Germans… continued, however subliminally, to hold the nineteenth-century conviction that the origin of European civilization was to be found in India (or at least that India constituted a genetically related sibling)’ (1993:77) Even to the Romantic period [end of 18th, early 19th century, when this notion was upheld by Johann Herder], this assertion only holds with considerable qualifications (…) To make it the basis for theorizing any aspect of the NS period is rendered absurd by the above-mentioned texts alone”. [p.199]

Hitler on the Hindus

Reference is to texts revealing Hitler’s position on the Hindus. In 1920 already, he laid his cards on the table, and would never waver from this position, not in Mein Kampf, which disparages Hindus as also German neo-Pagans, not in his speeches nor in his wartime table talks. There he had evolved to mocking religion in general and his native Catholicism specifically, though he appreciated its organization and mass psychology and its anti-caste way of recruiting its priests from the people rather than from a separate priestly caste (yes, Hitler was also a comrade-at-arms of Pollock in their common anti-Brahminism). He only knew of the Hindus through the lens of the AIT:

“While Hitler does refer to ‘the Hindus’, he does so not with the intent to employ them as distant relatives in the ‘creation of Indo-German as counteridentity’ (Pollock 1993:83), but merely as an illustration of ‘racial decline’ (Rassensenkung) due to the destruction of ‘national purity’ (nationale Reinheit.)” (p.218, with reference to Adolf Hitler 1980 (1920): “Warum sind wir Antisemiten?” in Eberhard Jäckel and Axel Kuhn, eds: Hitlers sämtliche Aufzeichnungen, 1905-1924, p.184-204: specifically p.195-196)

So, Hitler’s rare utterance on the Hindus was a racial interpretation of the AIT. These are his own words (1980/1920:195): “Wir wissen, dass die Hindu in Indien ein Volk sind, gemischt aus den hochstehenden arischen Einwanderern und der dunkelschwarzen Urbevölkerung, und dass dieses Volk heute die folgen trägt; denn es ist auch das Sklavenvolk einer Rasse, die uns in vielen Punkten nahezu als zweite Judenheit erscheinen darf.” (“We know that the Hindus in India are a people mixed from the lofty Aryan immigrants and the dark-black aboriginal population, and that this people is bearing the consequences today; for it is also the slave people of a race that almost seems like a second Jewry.”)

For Grünendahl, this is merely an example of how the primary sources of German history contradict the free-for-all that amateur historians make of it, in this case the manipulated narrative by Sheldon Pollock. He sounds like defending Germany’s true history against American (and then, by imitation, Indian) distortions. Probably he doesn’t realize that this distortion, about the presumed Nazi love for the OIT, constitutes Pollock’s ultimate motive. We don’t want to pretend to read inside a man’s skull, so we will not speak out on his intimate motives. But the objective finality of his thesis is at any rate to blacken the OIT by associating it with National-Socialism. Reality, however, is just the opposite: more even than other Europeans, the Nazis espoused and upheld the AIT. Hitler-Pollock, same struggle!