Pho­to: Ban­gi­ya Jar­man Vidya Samsad at Home on Janu­ary 10, 1938

Table of Con­tents
Intro­duc­tion  | Archi­val Sources  | Back­ground  | Ear­ly years (1933–1936)  | Euge­nics, Hin­du revi­va­lism, Nazi poli­tics (1936–1939)  | Con­clu­si­on  | Biblio­gra­phy


The Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re (Ban­gi­ya Jar­man Vidya Samsad) was estab­lished by the Ger­ma­no­phi­le and poly­math intellec­tu­al Benoy Kumar Sar­kar (1887–1949) in Cal­cut­ta in 1933. The aim of this Socie­ty, as sta­ted in its pro­gram­mes, was “to car­ry on and pro­mo­te among our coun­try­men stu­dies and inves­ti­ga­ti­ons rela­ting to Ger­man insti­tu­ti­ons, sci­en­ces and arts.” The main acti­vi­ty of this socie­ty was to orga­ni­ze public lec­tures on various sub­jects rela­ted to Ger­ma­ny. Its acti­vi­ties ended with the onset of WWII.

 In its aims and objec­ti­ves, the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty was simi­lar to the “Ger­man Socie­ty” of the Ali­garh Mus­lim Uni­ver­si­ty (AMU), which was estab­lished in 1932 by the Ger­man ori­en­ta­list scho­lar Otto Spies, who joi­n­ed the Ara­bic Depart­ment of the AMU in the same year, and Sat­tar Khei­ri, the Ger­man lec­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty. All the mem­bers of the Ger­man Socie­ty belon­ged to dif­fe­rent facul­ties of the AMU (Roy forth­co­ming 2023). Unli­ke the Ger­man Socie­ty of the AMU, howe­ver, the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty was not for­mal­ly affi­lia­ted to any Uni­ver­si­ty though its foun­der Benoy Kumar Sar­kar was a pro­fes­sor of Eco­no­mics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­cut­ta. The mem­bers of this Socie­ty were also not limi­t­ed to academia.

In the fol­lo­wing sec­tion, I will brief­ly trace Sarkar’s role as an inter­me­dia­ry bet­ween an expan­ding Nazi net­work that evol­ved in India and the indi­ge­nous edu­ca­ted eli­te in Cal­cut­ta. The core of this Nazi net­work com­pri­sed a unit of the Nazi par­ty that exis­ted in India from 1932. Most mem­bers of this unit were the Ger­man employees of the Ger­man com­mer­cial firms ope­ra­ting in India. After 1933, the Ger­man Con­su­la­tes in India also joi­n­ed the Nazi net­work, as the tra­di­tio­nal diplo­mats were incre­asing­ly repla­ced with Nazi par­ty mem­bers. The­re were also a num­ber of Indi­an and Ger­man indi­vi­du­als in India who belon­ged to the Nazi net­work wit­hout offi­ci­al­ly joi­ning the Nazi par­ty. Benoy Sar­kar was one such indi­vi­du­al (Roy forth­co­ming 2023).

This dis­cus­sion is neces­sa­ry to situa­te the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re in its pro­per poli­ti­cal con­text. Fol­lo­wing this, I will enu­me­ra­te on the archi­val sources rela­ting to the Socie­ty that I have found in Ger­ma­ny. Final­ly, I will pro­vi­de a short account of the acti­vi­ties of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty, which, to my know­ledge, ope­ra­ted only in Calcutta.

An important com­po­nent of the Nazi net­work was the India Insti­tu­te of the Deut­sche Aka­de­mie (DA), a sup­po­sedly non-poli­ti­cal orga­ni­sa­ti­on estab­lished in Munich in 1925.  The declared aim of the DA was to dis­se­mi­na­te Ger­man lan­guage and cul­tu­re in for­eign lands. Howe­ver, it incre­asing­ly con­duc­ted cul­tu­ral poli­tics in the form of pro­pa­gan­da and espio­na­ge for the Nazi regime in dif­fe­rent count­ries inclu­ding India, South-East Euro­pe, Gre­at Bri­tain, Ame­ri­ca, South Afri­ca, Chi­na, Japan, and Thai­land, as the jour­nals of the DA sta­ted. Benoy Kumar Sarkar’s col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the Nazi net­work, par­ti­cu­lar­ly with the DA, for­med the back­drop to the foun­da­ti­on of the Society.

Archival Sources

Main Archives of the Bavarian State (Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv or BayHsta) Munich

The jour­nals of the DA, which are available at the Baye­ri­sches Haupt­staats­ar­chiv (BayHs­ta), occa­sio­nal­ly repor­ted on the acti­vi­ties of the Society.

Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv or BArch) Berlin

A num­ber of bul­le­tins con­tai­ning details like the list of mem­bers and advi­sors, pro­gram­mes orga­nis­ed by the Socie­ty as well as reports on them are housed in the Fede­ral Archi­ves (Bun­des­ar­chiv or BArch) inBer­lin under the signa­tu­re R57/10712.

Political Archive of the German Foreign Ministry (Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts or PA AA) Berlin

This archi­ve has mate­ri­als rela­ting to a pro­gram­me from 1938 as well as an announce­ment of the Society’s plans in the sec­tion Poli­ti­sche Bezie­hun­gen Indi­ens zu Deutsch­land, Pol VII, signa­tu­re R10477.

This list of archi­ves does not cla­im to be exhaus­ti­ve. For the pur­po­se of pre­sen­ting a coher­ent and com­pre­hen­si­ve nar­ra­ti­ve, I have used rele­vant infor­ma­ti­on from colo­ni­al sur­veil­lan­ce records held by the Natio­nal Archi­ves of India, New Delhi (NAI), and West Ben­gal Sta­te Archi­ves, Kolk­a­ta (WBSA).


Benoy Kumar Sar­kar belon­ged to an eli­te group of natio­na­list intellec­tu­als of Ben­gal who were par­ti­cu­lar­ly recep­ti­ve towards cer­tain ide­as asso­cia­ted with Ger­man phi­lo­so­phy and Ger­man natio­na­lism. The­se ide­as were fil­te­red to them through cul­tu­ral exch­an­ges with Bri­tain (Sar­to­ri 2010: 79). Sar­kar and others of his ilk saw Ger­ma­ny as a vic­tim of the Bri­tish Empire, which nevert­hel­ess suc­cee­ded in reju­ve­na­ting under Hitler’s lea­der­ship. To Sar­kar, Ger­ma­ny beca­me a pro­jec­tion of what India should have aspi­red to be.

Sarkar’s attempts to coale­s­ce ele­ments of Ger­man intellec­tu­al tra­di­ti­ons and Nazi poli­tics with his visi­on of India’s past, pre­sent and future are best known through his (in)famous book The Hit­ler Sta­te: A Poli­ti­cal, Eco­no­mic and Social Rema­king of the Ger­man peo­p­le, published in 1934. The book remains par­ti­cu­lar­ly memo­rable for the oft-quo­ted phra­se that Hit­ler com­bi­ned “the moral idea­lism of a Vive­ka­nan­da mul­ti­pli­ed by the iron stre­nuous­ness of a Bis­marck” (Sar­kar 1934:8).

This quo­te repres­ents Sarkar’s attempt to link the “reju­ve­na­ti­on” of Ger­ma­ny with Hin­du revi­va­lism embo­di­ed by the asce­tic Ram­krish­na (1836–1886) and his wes­tern edu­ca­ted disci­ple, Vive­ka­nan­da (1863–1902). Sar­kar also tried to estab­lish that the “Ram­krish­na Vive­ka­nan­da com­plex” was car­ry­ing on the intellec­tu­al lega­cy of Johann Gott­lieb Fichte’s ide­al of “the mind’s domi­na­ti­on over the world” (Sar­to­ri 2010:80). The Ben­ga­li Socie­ty was a fur­ther mani­fes­ta­ti­on of Sarkar’s attempts to inter­pret aspects of (Nazi) Ger­ma­ny and con­nect them to his views of India’s “glo­rious” (Hin­du) past and to the pos­si­bi­li­ty of its future resuscitation.

The Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re was, howe­ver, not just an expres­si­on of Sarkar´s per­so­nal quest. Sar­kar who was flu­ent in Ger­man, had visi­ted Ger­ma­ny seve­ral times and for­med fri­end­ships with influ­en­ti­al Ger­man intellec­tu­als, like the geo-poli­ti­ci­an Karl Haus­ho­fer (1869–1946). The lat­ter was a con­ser­va­ti­ve natio­na­list who enjoy­ed some respect among lea­ding Nazi poli­ti­ci­ans. Haus­ho­fer was also one of the foun­ders of the DA’s India Insti­tu­te, estab­lished in 1928 in Munich. The India Insti­tu­te pro­vi­ded sti­pends to Indi­an stu­dents and pro­fes­sio­nals to stu­dy and work in Ger­ma­ny (Roy 2021). The aim was to influence them enough to con­duct pro­pa­gan­da for Ger­ma­ny in India, or at least to remain sym­pa­the­tic to the coun­try. Through Haushofer´s media­ti­on, the India Insti­tu­te invi­ted Sar­kar to be a guest pro­fes­sor at the Tech­ni­cal Aca­de­my, Munich, in 1930–31 (Thier­fel­der 1937:9).

After the Nazis assu­med power in 1933, the DA (and the India Insti­tu­te) embark­ed on the ven­ture to con­form to the new regime’s expec­ta­ti­ons. Sar­kar took upon hims­elf the task of pro­mo­ting the DA and the “New Ger­ma­ny” in India in dif­fe­rent ways (Roy 2021). The estab­lish­ment of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re in Cal­cut­ta was a part of such efforts.

The DA dis­play­ed signi­fi­cant inte­rest in the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty. In Octo­ber 1933, Mit­tei­lun­gen, the jour­nal of the DA, announ­ced the estab­lish­ment of the Socie­ty in Cal­cut­ta, adding that its main objec­ti­ve was to orga­ni­ze lec­tures on Ger­ma­ny and “Ger­man intellec­tu­al life”. The jour­nal fur­ther announ­ced that Indi­an stu­dents who had com­ple­ted their dis­ser­ta­ti­ons in Ger­ma­ny are among the Society’s advi­sors (Mit­tei­lun­gen, Octo­ber 1933: 392). Howe­ver, a list of mem­bers and advi­sors of the Socie­ty found at the Fede­ral Archi­ves in Ber­lin shows that the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty included not only scho­lars and pro­fes­sio­nals who had stu­di­ed in Ger­ma­ny, but also other mem­bers of the edu­ca­ted eli­te of Cal­cut­ta (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).

Not long after the foun­da­ti­on of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty, the DA made Sar­kar an hono­ra­ry mem­ber of the India Insti­tu­te, for “his gre­at achie­ve­ments in cul­tu­ral work” (Mit­tei­lun­gen Decem­ber 1933: 533). This “rewar­ding” of Sar­kar points to an exch­an­ge of poli­ti­cal, intellec­tu­al, and cul­tu­ral resour­ces bet­ween Sar­kar and the DA, which pro­gres­si­ve­ly beca­me the mouth­pie­ce of the Nazi sta­te in India.

Early years (1933–1936)

Benoy Kumar Sar­kar was the direc­tor of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re and Naren­dra Nath Law, an entre­pre­neur and the edi­tor of the maga­zi­ne The Indi­an His­to­ri­cal Quar­ter­ly, was its Pre­si­dent (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).

Ben­ga­li intellec­tu­als with natio­na­list lea­nings, who loo­ked towards Ger­ma­ny as a model of pro­gress were pre­fer­red as mem­bers and invi­ted guests. One of the vice pre­si­dents of the Socie­ty was Biren Das Gupta, the direc­tor of a mul­ti-natio­nal com­pa­ny cal­led Indo-Swiss Tra­ding Co. Das Gupta was known to the Bri­tish sur­veil­lan­ce as a radi­cal anti-colo­nia­list who went to Ber­lin during WWI and beca­me invol­ved in spre­a­ding anti-Bri­tish pro­pa­gan­da under the aegis of the Ger­man govern­ment (WBSA: IB File 355–41).  Nota­b­ly, most mee­tings of the mem­bers of the Socie­ty were held at the office of the Indo-Swiss Tra­ding Co. The venue of the public lec­tures, which were held pri­ma­ri­ly in the evenings, was a com­mu­ni­ty hall cal­led the Bud­dhist Hall in Col­lege Squa­re, cen­tral Cal­cut­ta (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).  

Ano­ther mem­ber of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty was Dr. Suhrit Mitra, who had com­ple­ted his PhD in Leip­zig in 1926 on expe­ri­men­tal psy­cho­lo­gy (Hart­nack 2022:193). He deli­ver­ed at least two public lec­tures, one of which was on cur­rent rese­arch in the field of expe­ri­men­tal psy­cho­lo­gy in Ger­ma­ny. It was deli­ver­ed on 21st Novem­ber 1933, at the Bud­dhist Hall. The other lec­tu­re on “Gestalt Theo­ry in Ger­man Psy­cho­lo­gy” was held on 26th Sep­tem­ber 1936, at the Labo­ra­to­ry of Expe­ri­men­tal Psy­cho­lo­gy of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­cut­ta. The audi­ence included Girin­dra­sek­har Bose, the pio­neer of psy­cho­ana­ly­sis in India, and Bidhan Chandra Roy, the renow­ned phy­si­ci­an and natio­na­list poli­ti­ci­an (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). This is an indi­ca­ti­on of the pres­ti­ge that the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty enjoy­ed among the aca­de­mic as well as poli­ti­cal eli­te of Calcutta.

The second lec­tu­re was also atten­ded by Horst Poh­le, the Ger­man lec­tor sent by the DA to Cal­cut­ta in 1934. Poh­le was asked to be pre­sent at all the pro­gram­mes of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty by Franz Thier­fel­der, the Gene­ral Secre­ta­ry of the DA, in a let­ter writ­ten in 1935. Thier­fel­der clai­med that the pre­sence of the Ger­man lec­tor was essen­ti­al to signi­fy the DA’s encou­ra­ge­ment to the Socie­ty (NAI: Home Poli­ti­cal. EW 1941. NA-F-10–103). Poh­le, a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty, was known to the colo­ni­al sur­veil­lan­ce as a Nazi pro­pa­gan­dist and agent (Roy 2021).

In a pro­gres­si­ve ges­tu­re, the Socie­ty included a few women as well. Mai­trayee Basu Chat­ter­jee, a prac­ti­cing phy­si­ci­an who had recei­ved a scho­lar­ship from the DA to stu­dy medi­ci­ne at Munich was lis­ted as an advi­sor. The list of mem­bers also included “Mrs. Sus­ha­ma Sen­gupta, M.A.” who was the prin­ci­pal of a girls’ school in Cal­cut­ta (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).

The Socie­ty some­ti­mes invi­ted “main­stream” poli­ti­ci­ans to deli­ver lec­tures. One such guest was Humayun Kabir, a wri­ter and a mem­ber of the Indi­an Natio­nal Con­gress. He spo­ke on the poli­ti­cal­ly inno­cuous sub­ject of “Kant and modern thought” on 13th Sep­tem­ber 1935.

Nevert­hel­ess, the Society’s main agen­da seems to have been to pro­vi­de plat­forms to per­sons con­nec­ted in diver­se ways to the Nazi poli­ti­cal estab­lish­ment. For exam­p­le, on 16th Sep­tem­ber 1933 Her­bert Rich­ter, the Ger­man Vice Con­sul of Cal­cut­ta, spo­ke on “New Ger­ma­ny” (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). The con­tents of the lec­tu­re were pre­su­ma­b­ly simi­lar to ano­ther speech titled “Ele­ments of New Ger­ma­ny” that Rich­ter deli­ver­ed around the same time at the Vishwa Bha­ra­ti Uni­ver­si­ty (Bhat­tacha­rya 1990: IX). This speech was rep­le­te with Natio­nal Socia­list pro­pa­gan­da like the “neces­si­ty of pre­ser­ving the puri­ty of Aryan blood,” a mea­su­re which, clai­med Rich­ter, “must be com­pre­hen­si­ble to my Indi­an fri­ends” (Fram­ke 2021: 115).

On 27th March 1934, the Socie­ty orga­ni­zed a lec­tu­re by Heinz Nitzschke, the pre­de­ces­sor of the afo­re­men­tio­ned Horst Poh­le. Nitzschke’s lec­tu­re was on “Three Ger­man Socio­lo­gists: Fer­di­nand Tön­nies, Hans Frey­er and Leo­pold von Wie­se” (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). Among the socio­lo­gists in ques­ti­on, Frey­er and von Wie­se tried to con­form to Nazi poli­tics in dif­fe­rent ways (Klin­ge­mann 1996). Accor­ding to a colo­ni­al sur­veil­lan­ce report, Nitzschke, a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty, regu­lar­ly deli­ver­ed lec­tures on Nazi Ger­ma­ny and met Indi­an natio­na­lists at Calcutta’s Young Men’s Chris­ti­an Asso­cia­ti­on whe­re he taught Ger­man as well (NAI: EAD File No. 665‑X\38. P11C3).

The Socie­ty invi­ted one of its mem­bers, Bata Krish­na Ghosh, an erst­while sti­pend hol­der of the DA who taught Ger­man at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­cut­ta, to lec­tu­re on “Recent Ger­man rese­ar­ches in Lin­gu­i­stics” on 20th April 1934 (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). Ghosh hap­pen­ed to be the head of the stu­dent sec­tion of the Socie­ty, which Sar­kar mana­ged to start at this Uni­ver­si­ty (WBSA. IB File No. 355–41.Sl.183). A sur­veil­lan­ce report from 1939 suspec­ted Ghosh of being sym­pa­the­tic towards the Axis (NAI: Home Pol. EW-1939, NA-F-93kw). The same report also men­tio­ned Dr. R. Ahmed, Prin­ci­pal of the Cal­cut­ta Den­tal Col­lege and Hos­pi­tal and a Vice Pre­si­dent of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty, as well as Prof. Banes­war Dut­ta from the Col­lege of Engi­nee­ring, Jadav­pur (now Jadav­pur Uni­ver­si­ty), an hono­ra­ry mem­ber of the Socie­ty, as being “pro-Axis”. Both are lis­ted as office hol­ders in a pam­phlet of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10217).

The lec­tures were often accor­ded sym­bo­lic importance by the Ger­man poli­ti­cal estab­lish­ment. For ins­tance, a public lec­tu­re orga­nis­ed by the Socie­ty on 15th Decem­ber 1934 on “Engi­nee­ring and indus­tri­al Ger­ma­ny”, was deli­ver­ed by Jatin­dra Nath Basu, an erst­while sti­pend hol­der of the DA as well as an advi­ser of the Socie­ty. He was also a pro­fes­sor at the Col­lege of Engi­nee­ring, Jadav­pur. The lec­tu­re was atten­ded by the Ger­man Con­sul and Vice Con­sul of Cal­cut­ta, as well as by Horst Poh­le (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). This lec­tu­re was later published in Ger­man as a book­let and sent to Sar­kar from Ber­lin in 1939 (WBSA IB File No. 355–41 SL 183).

Eugenics, Hindu revivalism, Nazi politics (1936–1939)

Around 1936, the lec­tures orga­ni­zed by the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re star­ted to focus incre­asing­ly on sub­jects asso­cia­ted with Natio­nal Socia­lism. The­se lec­tures sought to dis­pel the anti-Nazi views that were fre­quent­ly arti­cu­la­ted in the Indi­an Press. As the Mit­tei­lun­gen sta­ted in 1937, “unfri­end­ly atti­tu­de towards Ger­ma­ny” per­sis­ted in cer­tain Indi­an cir­cles and Indi­an maga­zi­nes often published “ill-dis­po­sed artic­les about today’s Ger­ma­ny” (Mit­tei­lun­gen April 1937: 87). The jour­nal added that it was for­t­u­na­te that Benoy Kumar Sar­kar con­tin­ued his work of spre­a­ding the truth about con­tem­po­ra­ry Ger­ma­ny through his Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re. Mit­tei­lun­gen then men­tio­ned a num­ber of lec­tures which osten­si­bly aimed to “spread the truth” in 1936. They were on “Win­ter­hilfs­werk or Win­ter Reli­ef Mea­su­res in Ger­ma­ny” (Benoy Kumar Sar­kar), “Avia­ti­on in the Ger­man Reich” (Biren Roy) and “Euge­nic Rese­arch in Ger­ma­ny” (Pra­ful­la Chandra Bis­was). The sum­ma­ries of the talks can be found in the Fede­ral Archi­ves in Ber­lin (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).

Among the spea­k­ers, the avia­tor Biren Roy was con­side­red to be “anti-Bri­tish” by the colo­ni­al sur­veil­lan­ce, which also alle­ged that he recei­ved finan­cial remu­ne­ra­ti­on from the Nazi par­ty in India for con­duc­ting pro-Ger­man pro­pa­gan­da (WBSA File 236–39. Part 1). Roy spo­ke glo­wing­ly of the advan­ces made in Ger­ma­ny in the sphe­re of aviation.

Ano­ther spea­k­er, the anthro­po­lo­gist Pra­ful­la Chandra Bis­was, a lec­tu­rer at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­cut­ta, had stu­di­ed at the Kai­ser Wil­helm Insti­tu­te (KWI) in Ber­lin with a fel­low­ship from the Alex­an­der von Hum­boldt Foun­da­ti­on, which often co-ope­ra­ted with the DA (Roy 2021). His rese­arch gui­de was the direc­tor of the KWI, the “race hygie­nist” Eugen Fischer, who pro­vi­ded scho­lar­ly legi­ti­ma­cy to Nazi racial poli­tics (Krö­ner 2005:403).

The syn­op­sis of Bis­was’ lec­tu­re from 23rd Decem­ber 1936 reve­als that he tried to asso­cia­te the sub­ject to a “Hin­du past” by clai­ming that Manu’s laws had a euge­ni­cist dimen­si­on. He then went on to endor­se the law pas­sed in Ger­ma­ny in July 1933 “for the pre­ven­ti­on of her­edi­ta­ry defec­ti­ve pro­ge­ny”. This noto­rious law led to the forced ste­ri­liza­ti­on of thou­sands and later to sys­te­ma­tic mur­ders (Eutha­na­sia) of many who were con­side­red “unwor­t­hy” of living (Hed­wig and Pet­ter 2017).

Benoy Kumar Sar­kar, in his intro­duc­tion to the lec­tu­re by Bis­was, also attempt­ed to rela­te Hin­du con­ven­ti­ons to euge­nics by clai­ming that the “tra­di­tio­nal Hin­du ide­as of exo­ga­my and endo­ga­my are at bot­tom euge­nic” (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). In his own lec­tu­re on Win­ter­hilfs­werk deli­ver­ed on 14th May 1936, Sar­kar expres­sed the neces­si­ty of India to emu­la­te “the orga­ni­zed cha­ri­ty of the Ger­man peo­p­le under sta­te auspi­ces, like the Win­ter Help Pro­gram of the Hit­ler regime” (Mit­tei­lun­gen April 1937:87). He glos­sed over the fact that this pro­gram­me was pri­ma­ri­ly a pro­pa­gan­di­stic ven­ture con­duc­ted by the Nazi govern­ment for hel­ping only the “raci­al­ly and poli­ti­cal­ly desi­ra­bles” (Vor­län­der 1986: 341–380).

It is nota­ble that the pre­si­dent of the pro­gram­me fea­turing Sarkar’s lec­tu­re was the monk Swa­mi Shar­va­danan­da from the Ram­krish­na Mis­si­on. The audi­ence com­pri­sed mon­ks from this order as well as mem­bers of the Ger­man con­su­la­te, inclu­ding the Con­sul, Edu­ard von Selzam (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). This occa­si­on was not just a mani­fes­ta­ti­on of Sarkar’s agen­da of heral­ding a cross-fer­ti­liza­ti­on of Nazi tenets with his visi­ons of Hin­du­ism; the event which took place at the Bud­dhist Hall also pro­vi­ded a cont­act zone in which the pur­vey­ors of Hin­du revi­va­lism and Nazi poli­tics could interact.

The Ram­krish­na Mis­si­on was inte­res­ted in cul­ti­vat­ing Ger­man intellec­tu­als, some of whom were also attrac­ted to its mes­sa­ges of spi­ri­tua­lism. In March 1934, the Mission’s repre­sen­ta­ti­ves wro­te to the For­eign Minis­try in Ber­lin asking for help in dis­se­mi­na­ting its Eng­lish lan­guage jour­nal Pra­bud­dha Bha­ra­ta (Awa­ken­ed India) among Ger­man uni­ver­si­ties (PA-AA R122626). The jour­nal alre­a­dy enjoy­ed some popu­la­ri­ty among some Ger­man scho­lars asso­cia­ted with the DA, which regu­lar­ly recei­ved it (Roy forth­co­ming 2023).

Ano­ther event orga­ni­zed by the Socie­ty on 7th April 1937 at the usu­al venue, the Bud­dhist Hall, ent­ail­ed five mon­ks from the Ram­krish­na Mis­si­on rea­ding out the papers pre­sen­ted by five Ger­man phi­lo­so­phers at an inter­na­tio­nal semi­nar held in March, on the occa­si­on of the cen­ten­ary of Ramakrishna’s birth (BA Ber­lin: R57/10712).

Benoy Kumar Sar­kar also admi­red the Four-Year Plans initia­ted by Her­mann Göring from Janu­ary 1937. In a lec­tu­re titled “Eco­no­mic aspects of the Ger­man Four Year Plan”, deli­ver­ed on 31st July 1937, Sar­kar waxed elo­quent on “the ascen­ding cur­ves of Ger­man eco­no­my sin­ce the estab­lish­ment of the Nazi regime in 1933” and the Four-Year Plan that fol­lo­wed (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).

A sur­veil­lan­ce record from 1938 repor­ted that in 1936 and 1937, the Ger­man Con­su­la­te in Cal­cut­ta was pro­vi­ding finan­cial aid to “the local Indo-Ger­man insti­tu­te run by Benoy Sar­kar for trai­ning young Ben­ga­lis on pro-Nazi lines”, refer­ring in all likeli­hood to the stu­dent sec­tion of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty estab­lished by Sar­kar and hea­ded by Bata­krish­na Ghosh (NAI: EAD F.No. 665‑X\38. Part II, P.9). On 14th May 1939, the Bri­tish-run Cal­cut­ta based news­pa­per The Sta­tes­man published a report titled “Nazi pro­pa­gan­da in India” in which it refer­red to the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re and clai­med that “among its list of office bea­rers are Indi­ans trai­ned in Ger­ma­ny who have defi­ni­te­ly pro-Nazi lea­nings” (NAI: EAD F.No. 288‑X).

It is pos­si­ble that Sar­kar was wary of the colo­ni­al aut­ho­ri­ties. A pro­gram­me of the Socie­ty from April 1939 shows the date of its estab­lish­ment as 1932, pro­ba­b­ly to pro­ve that it exis­ted befo­re the Nazis came to power (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712).

The Fede­ral Archi­ves in Ber­lin have an unda­ted list of “Cour­se of stu­dies and inves­ti­ga­ti­ons” to be pur­sued by dif­fe­rent mem­bers of the Socie­ty (BArch Ber­lin: R57/10712). The topics included “Tra­vels in Ger­ma­ny” by Biren Das Gupta, “Ger­man influence on Indi­an thought” (Naren­dra Nath Law), “Ger­man achie­ve­ments in medi­ci­ne, sur­gery and hygie­ne” (Amu­lya Chandra Ukil), “Eco­no­mic, Social and Con­sti­tu­tio­nal deve­lo­p­ments of the Ger­man Peo­p­le” (Benoy Kumar Sar­kar), “The Pro­gress of Indo­lo­gy in Ger­ma­ny” (Nalin­ak­sha Dutt), “Women’s acti­vi­ties in Ger­ma­ny” (Sus­ha­ma Sen­gupta), and Ger­man jour­na­lism (Pra­ful­la Kumar Chakrab­ar­ty) among others. This list demons­tra­tes that mem­bers wit­hout any ties with Ger­ma­ny could also be indu­ced to advo­ca­te “Ger­man achie­ve­ments”, unders­coring once more the appeal that Ger­ma­ny enjoy­ed among a sec­tion of the intellec­tu­al eli­te in Calcutta.

The Poli­ti­cal Archi­ve of the Ger­man For­eign Minis­try has a book­let with a pho­to­graph and details of a pro­gram­me orga­ni­zed by the Socie­ty. The pho­to, dated Janu­ary 10, 1938, is titled “Ban­gi­ya Jar­man Vidya Samsad at home” (PA AA: R10477). It depicts a meal in pro­gress at an appar­ent­ly expen­si­ve restau­rant. The cap­ti­on men­ti­ons the names of the assem­bled com­pa­ny, which include, apart from Benoy Kumar Sar­kar, other Ben­ga­lis with Ger­man con­nec­tions like Biren Roy and Satin Das Gupta. The lat­ter, an hono­ra­ry secre­ta­ry of the Socie­ty, was the Mana­ging Direc­tor of the Indo-Swiss Tra­ding Co. Mem­bers of the Ger­man con­su­la­te in Cal­cut­ta inclu­ding the Con­sul Count Erd­mann Graf von Pode­wil­lis-Dür­n­iz and the com­mer­cial agent Carl Rass­muss were also present.

Nota­ble among the other guests were the phi­lo­so­pher C. G. Jung and the eth­no­lo­gist Egon Frei­herr von Eick­stedt. The latter’s views on race enjoy­ed con­sidera­ble influence among the Nazi ruling eli­te (Preuß 2017: 186–191). The pho­to­graph was most pro­ba­b­ly taken at a func­tion orga­ni­zed by the Socie­ty to honour Eick­stedt as well as other Ger­man dele­ga­tes to the Indi­an Sci­ence Con­gress which was held in Cal­cut­ta in Janu­ary 1938. The book­let con­ta­ins a sum­ma­ry of the pro­cee­dings of this for­mal occa­si­on which most­ly con­sis­ted of spee­ches cele­bra­ting Ger­man sci­ence as well as Germany’s suc­cess in over­co­ming past obstacles.

It is not sur­pri­sing that in a let­ter to the For­eign Minis­try in Ber­lin in August 1938, the Ger­man Con­su­la­te in Cal­cut­ta named the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re as the most important orga­niza­ti­on in India encou­ra­ging Ger­man-Indi­an cul­tu­ral rela­ti­onship. It prai­sed the Society’s efforts to unite Indi­ans who had stu­di­ed in Ger­ma­ny and to pro­mo­te and fos­ter the stu­dy of Ger­man insti­tu­ti­ons, sci­en­ces, and arts (PA AA: RZ501/60667).

The last available bul­le­tin of the Socie­ty is the resu­me of Benoy Kumar Sarkar’s lec­tu­re on “New ten­den­ci­es in Ger­man Social Phi­lo­so­phy”, deli­ver­ed on 20th March 1939 (BArch R57/10712).


This artic­le has pro­vi­ded a brief sketch of the back­ground and acti­vi­ties of the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re. It is evi­dent from this short dis­cus­sion that the Socie­ty ful­fil­led Sarkar´s per­so­nal mis­si­on of inven­ting a past and ima­gi­ning a future for India, com­bi­ning ele­ments of what he held to be the “Hin­du spi­rit” and the Ger­man “advance­ments”, par­ti­cu­lar­ly under Hitler’s lea­der­ship. Though some of the lec­tures doubt­less­ly ser­ved to satis­fy the curio­si­ty of the edu­ca­ted Ben­ga­lis about Ger­man sci­en­ti­fic and cul­tu­ral deve­lo­p­ments, the Socie­ty was pri­ma­ri­ly meant to func­tion as a mouth­pie­ce for uncri­ti­cal pro­pa­ga­ti­on of Ger­ma­ny, par­ti­cu­lar­ly of Nazi poli­ci­es and world­views, which were offe­red as para­digms to an audi­ence loo­king for natio­nal self-asser­ti­on. In this regard, the Ben­ga­li Socie­ty of Ger­man Cul­tu­re was an instru­ment of Nazi pro­pa­gan­da in the 1930s.


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Bai­ja­yan­ti Roy, Goe­the-Uni­ver­si­tät Frank­furt am Main

MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con

Edi­tors: Anan­di­ta Baj­pai, Hei­ke Liebau
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ISSN 2628–5029