India Institute of the Deutsche Akademie (1928–45)

A lecture by Walther Wüst, member of the India Institute and professor of “Aryan Studies” at the University of Munich

Table of Con­tents: Back­ground | India Insti­tu­te 1928–1933 | India Insti­tu­te 1933–1945Archi­val Sources | (Bun­des­ar­chiv) Federal Archi­ves, Koblenz | Sta­te Archi­ves of Bava­ria (Baye­ri­sches Haupt­staats­ar­chiv or BayHs­tA) | Jour­nal of the DA | Leib­niz Insti­tu­te for Con­tem­pora­ry Histo­ry (Insti­tut für Zeit­ge­schich­te Mün­chen-Ber­lin) | Federal Archi­ves, Ber­lin-Lich­ter­fel­de | Thierfelder’s wri­tings | Con­clu­si­on | End­no­tes | Biblio­gra­phy


The India Insti­tu­te (Indi­scher Aus­schuß) came into exis­tence in 1928 as a part of the Munich based Deut­sche Aka­de­mie or “Ger­man Aca­de­my” (hence­forth DA). The lat­ter had been foun­ded as a pri­va­te cul­tu­ral orga­ni­sa­ti­on in 1925 by a group of aca­de­mics affi­lia­ted to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich. The aim was to dis­se­mi­na­te Ger­man lan­guage and cul­tu­re in the world. India Insti­tu­te was the first of a num­ber of com­mit­tees wit­hin the Deut­sche Aka­de­mie that were estab­lis­hed for spe­ci­fic nations.

The India Insti­tu­te was set up through the efforts of Tara­k­nath Das, an Indian natio­na­list living in Euro­pe and Karl Haus­ho­fer, pro­fes­sor of Geo­gra­phy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich who was invol­ved with the DA from the start. Haus­ho­fer had visi­ted India in 1908–1909 and had deve­lo­ped a sym­pa­the­tic inte­rest towards the Bri­tish colo­ny (Spang, 2013: 336). The orga­nis­an­tio­nal part of the India Insti­tu­te was ent­rus­ted to the young jour­na­list Franz Thier­fel­der. He was the Gene­ral Secreta­ry of DA from 1929–37 (Michels, 2005: 3).

After the First World War, Ger­ma­ny tried to com­pen­sa­te its lack of poli­ti­cal clout in the inter­na­tio­nal are­na with “soft power,” exer­ted through sup­po­sed­ly non-poli­ti­cal asso­cia­ti­ons like the DA which offi­cial­ly enga­ged in the spread of Ger­man cul­tu­re. In rea­li­ty, the sepa­ra­ti­on of poli­ti­cal and cul­tu­ral sphe­res was often only cos­me­tic (Schol­ten, 2000: 41–42). From its modest begin­nings during the Wei­mar Repu­blic, the DA rose to beco­me the most important orga­ni­sa­ti­on repre­sen­ting Nazi cul­tu­ral poli­cy. It was ban­ned by the occu­p­y­ing Ame­ri­can for­ces in 1945. This also signi­fied the end of the India Institute.

As part of the DA, the Insti­tu­te also clai­med to be a non-poli­ti­cal orga­niz­a­ti­on with the sole aim of pro­mo­ting cul­tu­ral ties with India. This was to be done by pro­vi­ding sti­pends to Indian stu­dents and pro­fes­sio­nals to stu­dy and work in Ger­ma­ny, by invi­t­ing dis­tin­guis­hed India­ns to Munich, and by sprea­ding Ger­man lan­guage and cul­tu­re in India.

While the­re are several scho­l­ar­ly stu­dies that cri­ti­cal­ly exami­ne DA’s past (Har­volk, 1990, Kathe, 2005 and Michels, 2005), the tra­jec­to­ry of the India Insti­tu­te remains unchar­ted, except for a rela­tively short stu­dy (Fram­ke, 2013: 66–79). My pre­sent rese­arch (as part of the DFG pro­ject “Indo­lo­gy in Nazi Ger­ma­ny”), indi­ca­tes that from its very begin­ning, India Insti­tu­te espou­sed the inte­rests of the Ger­man state.

The “pure­ly cul­tu­ral” image of the DA and its affi­lia­ted insti­tu­tes ren­de­red them an aura of poli­ti­cal inno­cuous­ness and credi­bi­li­ty. Hence, pro­pa­gan­da under­ta­ken by them was par­ti­cu­lar­ly effec­ti­ve. Their non-poli­ti­cal faça­de also pro­vi­ded good cover for espio­na­ge. The NS regime incre­a­singly took advan­ta­ge of the­se con­di­ti­ons. In exchan­ge, the DA recei­ved much nee­ded finan­cial assi­s­tance and este­em. Des­pi­te Bri­tish sur­veil­lan­ce, India Insti­tu­te could car­ry on pro­pa­gan­da and espio­na­ge in India till the out­break of the Second World War.

In the fol­lowing sec­tions, I first pro­vi­de a brief over­view of the Institute’s histo­ry till 1945, based on my own archi­val rese­arch as well as secon­da­ry sources, befo­re dis­cus­sing rele­vant archi­val sources on the subject.

India Institute 1928–1933

During the years of Wei­mar Repu­blic, Germany’s approach towards India ent­ail­ed pro­jec­ting its­elf as a covert sym­pa­thi­ser of India’s stri­fe towards eco­no­mic deve­lo­p­ment and poli­ti­cal auto­no­my. Fol­lowing this cour­se, the India Insti­tu­te col­la­bo­ra­ted with the Alex­an­der von Hum­boldt Foun­da­ti­on, which was a front for the scho­l­ar­s­hip pro­gram of the For­eign Minis­try. The Insti­tu­te and the Foun­da­ti­on joint­ly pro­vi­ded scho­l­ar­s­hips to India­ns with the aim of attrac­ting sym­pa­thy for Ger­ma­ny (Impe­ko­ven, 2013:20).  

Ger­ma­ny, which had com­mer­cial inte­rests in India, could not afford to ant­ago­ni­se the Bri­tish colo­ni­al aut­ho­ri­ties sin­ce the lat­ter con­trol­led access to the Indian mar­ket and pro­duc­tion (Baroo­ah, 2018). Hence, India Institute’s poli­cy was to encou­ra­ge mode­ra­te Indian natio­na­lists and honour Indian icons who were accep­ta­ble to the Bri­tish colo­ni­al estab­lish­ment. The Insti­tu­te also rea­li­sed that the­se eli­te India­ns were likely to be the best con­duits for pro­pa­ga­ting Germany’s views and inte­rests in India.

A num­ber of Ger­man Uni­ver­si­ties (Munich being the fore­mo­st), Tech­ni­cal Aca­de­mies as well as com­mer­cial firms like Sie­mens and Alli­anz co-ope­ra­ted with the Insti­tu­te in pro­vi­ding scho­l­ar­s­hips and trai­nee­ships to India­ns. The­se firms had bran­ches in India and sought to use the Insti­tu­te to pro­mo­te their com­mer­cial interests.

The Insti­tu­te, in turn, nee­ded aca­de­mics with dis­cur­si­ve know­ledge of India for dealing with the coun­try as well as to fami­lia­ri­ze Ger­man opi­ni­on-making clas­ses with India, in order to rein­for­ce its own sta­tus as a media­tor of Indo-Ger­man cul­tu­ral rela­ti­ons. This demand was ful­fil­led by a num­ber of scho­l­ars from various disci­pli­nes, inclu­ding indo­lo­gists.[i]

India Institute 1933–1945

A photo of Karl Haushofer and Rudolf Hess standing outside

Figu­re 2: Por­trait of Karl Haus­ho­fer and Rudolf Hess cir­ca 1920 – Bun­des­ar­chiv Koblenz und Ber­lin – Pho­to­gra­pher: Fried­rich V. Hau­ser (d. 1921)

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the DA mobi­li­zed its­elf to con­form to the new regime’s expec­ta­ti­ons, in the hope of get­ting necessa­ry finan­cial help. Trans­for­ma­ti­ons in the DA after 1933 inclu­ded expel­ling the “poli­ti­cal­ly and racial­ly unde­s­i­ra­ble” mem­bers from its gover­ning units. In 1934, Karl Haus­ho­fer was made Pre­si­dent of both the DA as well as the India Insti­tu­te. Haus­ho­fer was not a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty but his geo­po­li­ti­cal theo­ries enjoy­ed some respect in Nazi cir­cles. He was expec­ted to bring in funds from the regime without tar­nis­hing DA’s apo­li­ti­cal image. Haushofer’s stu­dent and friend Rudolf Heß, now depu­ty to Hit­ler, was wel­co­med in the DA´s Exe­cu­ti­ve Coun­cil (Michels, 2005:105–111).

One of the “tasks” that the India Insti­tu­te took upon its­elf after 1933 was to defend the Nazi regime against indict­ments of rising racism towards India­ns, reports of which appeared fre­quent­ly in Indian press. The result of such nega­ti­ve publi­ci­ty was a tem­pora­ry decre­a­se in the num­ber of India­ns app­ly­ing to pur­sue aca­de­mic stu­dies or pro­fes­sio­nal trai­ning in Ger­ma­ny. On behalf of the India Insti­tu­te, Thier­fel­der and Das embar­ked on a coun­ter pro­pa­gan­da which insis­ted that bene­fi­cia­ries of the Insti­tu­te were “safe” in Ger­ma­ny if they desis­ted from “poli­ti­cal acti­vi­ties,” a euphe­mism for left-wing poli­tics inclu­ding radi­cal anti-colo­nia­lism. Ins­tead, sti­pend hol­ders were to acqui­re “the best of Ger­man cul­tu­re,” which stood for the Natio­nal Socia­list worldview.

Das left for the US in 1934, though he con­ti­nued to be a cor­re­spon­ding mem­ber of the Insti­tu­te. His wife Mary Kea­ting Das finan­ced a scho­l­ar­s­hip for medi­ci­ne from 1936 and was made a life mem­ber. Ano­t­her Indian spo­kes­man for the Insti­tu­te was the “Ger­ma­no­phil” Benoy Kumar Sarkar, a poly­math and pro­fes­sor of Eco­no­mics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­cut­ta. Sarkar had tra­vel­led exten­si­ve­ly in Euro­pe, in the cour­se of which he had deve­lo­ped friend­ly rela­ti­ons with Karl Haus­ho­fer. Through him, the India insti­tu­te arran­ged for Sarkar’s appoint­ment as a guest pro­fes­sor at the Tech­ni­cal Aca­de­my in Munich in 1930–31. While Das did not appro­ve of Nazi Germany’s rising anti-Semi­tism, Sarkar was wil­ling to defend it. He saw in the “Third Reich” a reju­ve­na­ted Ger­ma­ny and an inspi­ra­ti­on for India. Sarkar con­sist­ent­ly pro­mo­ted the inte­rests of the Insti­tu­te and Nazi Ger­ma­ny in India.

An aspect of the Insti­tu­te was its par­tia­li­ty towards scho­l­ars and mys­tics asso­cia­ted with Hin­du revi­va­list move­ments. A com­mon goal shared by the­se dis­pa­ra­te move­ments was to revi­ta­li­ze Hin­du­ism by taking it back to its pur­por­ted­ly glo­rious Vedic Aryan roots. After 1933, the India Insti­tu­te offe­red pro­pa­gan­da plat­forms and scho­l­ar­s­hips to indi­vi­du­als asso­cia­ted with such Hin­du revi­va­lists. The inten­ti­on was to use the­se “agents” to spread Nazi pro­pa­gan­da among Hin­dus through ana­lo­gies based on Aryanism.

The Insti­tu­te was par­ti­cu­lar­ly drawn to a Hin­du reform move­ment cal­led the Arya Samaj or the “Socie­ty of Aryans” which ima­gi­ned India as a Hin­du “Aryan” nati­on whe­re other reli­gious groups had no right­ful place. The “Aryan con­tent,” along with the majo­ri­ta­ri­an and aut­ho­ri­ta­ri­an cha­rac­ter of this move­ment, made it com­pa­ti­ble with some racial and disci­pli­na­ri­an aspects of Nazism, inclu­ding a euge­ni­cist dimen­si­on (Gould, 2004: 157–158). Though appar­ent­ly non-poli­ti­cal, Arya Samaj also had an under­cur­rent of anti-colo­ni­al acti­vism (Fischer-Tine, 2013).

The India Insti­tu­te col­la­bo­ra­ted with the depart­ment of “Aryan Stu­dies” at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich, offe­ring scho­l­ar­s­hips to India­ns to stu­dy at the Uni­ver­si­ty and teach Indian lan­guages. Can­di­da­tes asso­cia­ted with the Arya Samaj were unof­fi­cial­ly given pre­fe­rence. The Indo­lo­gist Walt­her Wüst, mem­ber of the India Insti­tu­te and pro­fes­sor of “Aryan Stu­dies” at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich, arran­ged to set up this posi­ti­on. Wüst was a mem­ber of both the Nazi par­ty and the SS. After 1933, Wüst‚s scho­l­ar­s­hip often tried to con­nect “Aryan India” with Nazi Ger­ma­ny (Jun­gin­ger, 2008).

Nota­b­ly, the India Insti­tu­te also encou­ra­ged “racial anthro­po­lo­gy” based on Aryan dis­cour­se. In col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with other Ger­man insti­tu­ti­ons, it invi­ted Indian “race sci­en­tists” as aca­de­mic guests and stu­dents in Germany.

By 1936, des­pi­te Haushofer’s efforts, DA’s eco­no­mic posi­ti­on beca­me pre­ca­rious. In order to attract funds, DA incre­a­singly tur­ned towards the government, which on its part star­ted to use it more inten­si­ve­ly. The amount of influ­ence that the regime was to exer­cise in the DA beca­me a con­ten­tious issue, lea­ding to the resi­gna­ti­on of both Thier­fel­der and Haus­ho­fer. Thier­fel­der left the DA but con­ti­nued to con­duct pro­pa­gan­da for Nazi Ger­ma­ny. Haus­ho­fer remai­ned in DA’s exe­cu­ti­ve coun­cil and suc­cee­ded in making his pro­té­gé Walt­her Wüst the Pre­si­dent of the Insti­tu­te in 1937 (Michels, 2005: 102–119). In the same year, Wüst also beca­me the Pre­si­dent of the SS-Ahnen­er­be, Hein­rich Himmler’s orga­niz­a­ti­on for pseu­do-sci­en­ti­fic “ances­tral rese­arch.” Wüst tried to inte­gra­te India Insti­tu­te into the net­work of SS and the Ahnen­er­be in dif­fe­rent ways.

In June 1938, the DA was pla­ced under the For­eign Ministry’s “cul­tu­ral poli­ti­cal sec­tion” which, along with other func­tions, also con­duc­ted anti-Bri­tish and pro-Nazi pro­pa­gan­da in India. Thus, both DA and the India Insti­tu­te beca­me ful­ly inte­gra­ted in Nazi Germany’s exter­nal poli­tics (Kathe, 2005:75).  The Nazi­fi­ca­ti­on of DA was com­ple­te when Lud­wig Sie­bert, a com­mit­ted Natio­nal Socia­list and chief minis­ter of Bava­ria, beca­me its pre­si­dent in 1939.

With the start of the war, “cul­tu­ral ties” with India beca­me impos­si­ble to main­tain. The India Insti­tu­te now open­ly par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the pro­pa­gan­distic ven­ture to pre­sent Nazi Ger­ma­ny as a cham­pion of India’s inde­pen­dence by pro­mo­ting books that were stron­gly anti-Bri­tish in tone. After Siebert’s death in Novem­ber 1942, Walt­her Wüst beca­me the working head of DA in addi­ti­on to being the head of the India Insti­tu­te. He con­ti­nued in this role till Arthur Seyß-Inquart, “Reichs­mi­nis­ter” and Com­mis­sio­ner for occu­p­ied Hol­land, beca­me the Pre­si­dent of DA on 10th Febru­a­ry, 1944, unders­co­ring the DA’s pres­ti­gious position.

The con­cur­rence of inte­rests of the DA/India Insti­tu­te and the Nazi regime was best reflec­ted in the pro­files and acti­vi­ties of the three lec­tors who were sent to India by DA to teach Ger­man. Apart from this offi­cial task, they were semi-offi­cial­ly requi­red to enga­ge in “cul­tu­ral poli­ti­cal acti­vi­ties” which deno­ted espio­na­ge and pro­pa­gan­da for the NS regime. The first of the­se lec­tors was Dr. Heinz Nitzsch­ke, who had finis­hed his doc­to­ral stu­dies at the Leip­zig Uni­ver­si­tät, arri­ved in Cal­cut­ta in Novem­ber 1933. Nitzsch­ke was a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty, who lost litt­le time in pro­mo­ting the “Third Reich” in India. He was suc­cee­ded by Horst Poh­le, a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty as well as the Nazi Tea­chers’ Asso­cia­ti­on (NSLB), in 1934.  Pohle´s jour­ney to India was paid by Ger­man For­eign Minis­try. The third lec­tor was Alfred Wür­fel, trai­ned as a Volks­schu­le tea­cher who spe­cia­li­zed in Eng­lish, also a mem­ber of the NSLB, who arri­ved in Banaras in Octo­ber 1935. Both the lec­tors were inter­ned by the Bri­tish aut­ho­ri­ties as “enemy ali­ens” after the Second World War started.

Archival Sources

Important archi­val mate­ri­als on the India Insti­tu­te are at the India Office Records, Lon­don, the Natio­nal Archi­ves of India, New Delhi and the West Ben­gal Sta­te Archi­ves, Kolk­a­ta. The archi­ves in Ger­ma­ny that have mate­ri­als on the India Insti­tu­te are: (i) Federal Archi­ves (Bun­des­ar­chiv), Koblenz (ii) Sta­te Archi­ve of Bava­ria (Baye­ri­sches Haupt­staats­ar­chiv, hence­forth BayHs­tA) Munich (iii) The Leib­niz-Insti­tu­te of Con­tem­pora­ry Histo­ry (Insti­tut für Zeit­ge­schich­te Mün­chen-Ber­lin), Munich, and (iv) (Bun­des­ar­chiv) Federal Archi­ves, Ber­lin-Lich­ter­fel­de. Sum­ma­ries of the rele­vant hol­dings in each of the­se archi­ves are pro­vi­ded below.

(Bundesarchiv) Federal Archives, Koblenz

The Nach­lass or papers of Karl Hau­ho­fer (signa­tu­re NL 1122) pro­vi­de sub­stan­ti­al infor­ma­ti­on about the India Insti­tu­te. Glim­p­ses of the Institute‚s begin­ning can be found in Haushofer’s cor­re­spon­dence with Tara­k­nath Das (NL1122/6). The cor­re­spon­dence, which star­ted in July, 1925, shows that an under­ly­ing anti-Bri­tish sen­ti­ment shared by the two for­med the back­drop to the foun­da­ti­on of India Insti­tu­te. The idea of such an Insti­tu­te came from Das. Haus­ho­fer mana­ged to con­vin­ce the DA of its neces­si­ty. The let­ters show that India Insti­tu­te star­ted actu­al work from 1929.

Haushofer’s inte­rest in India’s anti-colo­ni­al poli­tics is recor­ded through his exchan­ge with the radi­cal acti­vist Viren­dra­nath Chat­topad­hya­ya, who then lived in Ber­lin (NL1122/5). Chat­topad­hya­ya and Das were part of the Ber­lin-based India Inde­pen­dence Com­mit­tee for­med during the First World War (Lie­bau, 2019).[ii] Haushofer’s cor­re­spon­dence with Benoy Kumar Sarkar (NL 1122/28) pro­vi­des an idea of the latter’s enga­ge­ments for Ger­ma­ny befo­re and after 1933.

The cor­re­spon­dence of Das and Thier­fel­der, pre­ser­ved under the signa­tu­re NL1122/6, bear tes­ti­mo­ny to their unti­ring efforts to indu­ce the government of Bava­ria, dif­fe­rent aca­de­mic and tech­ni­cal insti­tu­ti­ons, as well as indus­tri­al firms in Ger­ma­ny to assist the India Institute.

State Archives of Bavaria (Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv or BayHstA)

Pri­ma­ry mate­ri­als pre­ser­ved at the BayHs­tA in Munich (under the signa­tures MK 40443–40445) are indis­pensable for any stu­dy on the India Insti­tu­te. Among the hol­dings here are lists of mem­bers of the India Insti­tu­te and “cor­re­spon­ding hono­ra­ry mem­bers” from India. The lat­ter inclu­ded Indian lumi­na­ries like the Nobel Lau­rea­tes C.V. Raman and Rabin­dra Nath Tago­re, who were hono­u­red by the Insti­tu­te as they tou­red Ger­ma­ny (MK 40444). The annu­al reports of the Insti­tu­te acces­si­ble under the signa­tures MK40443-40444, pro­vi­de details of the institute’s acti­vi­ties from 1929–1933. 

Under the signa­tu­re MK 40443, the­re is a record of an inte­res­ting lec­tu­re seri­es orga­ni­zed by the India Insti­tu­te and held at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich in the win­ter of 1932/33. Some of the lec­tures had poli­ti­cal under­to­nes which would assu­me grea­ter signi­fi­can­ce in the Third Reich. For instance, Karl Haus­ho­fer spo­ke on the geo­po­li­ti­cal signi­fi­can­ce of India. Simi­lar­ly, Indo­lo­gist Jakob Wil­helm Hau­er, Pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tübin­gen and a mem­ber of the India Insti­tu­te who would go on to offer dif­fe­rent ser­vices to the NS regime, spo­ke on Yoga as a part of the glo­rious spi­ri­tu­al histo­ry of Nor­dic Indo-Aryans, whom he pro­jec­ted as ances­tors of modern Germans.

Journal of the DA

An inva­lu­able source for the histo­ry of the India Insti­tu­te is the jour­nal of the DA, tit­led Mit­tei­lun­gen or “Announ­ce­ments” avail­ab­le at BayHs­tA (signa­tu­re Z236). Among the signi­fi­cant ent­ries is one from the first issue of March 1936, docu­men­ting the expul­si­on of two “Jewish Indo­lo­gists,” Luci­an Scher­man and Otto Strauß from the Exe­cu­ti­ve Com­mit­tee of the India Insti­tu­te (Mit­tei­lun­gen: 165). This announ­ce­ment con­tra­dicts Thierfelder’s post war claim that he mana­ged to avoid imple­men­ting the noto­rious “Aryan para­graph” of 1933 in the DA (Schol­ten, 2000:100).

The jour­nal records instan­ces of the India Institute’s attempts to defend the inter­na­tio­nal repu­ta­ti­on of Nazi Ger­ma­ny. The third issue from Novem­ber 1934 men­ti­ons, for examp­le, that M.S.Khanna, an erst­while sti­pend hol­der of the Insti­tu­te, publis­hed a “mis­lea­ding and par­ti­al­ly made up account” of the harass­ments faced by Indian stu­dents in Ger­ma­ny. The Insti­tu­te respon­ded by mobi­li­zing its asso­cia­tes and erst­while bene­fi­cia­ries in India to wri­te arti­cles coun­te­ring this report (Mit­tei­lun­gen: 398).

Mit­tei­lun­gen regu­lar­ly repor­ted on Benoy Kumar Sarkar’s attempts to pro­mo­te aspects of Nazi Ger­ma­ny through various publi­ca­ti­ons as well as through a “Ben­ga­li Ger­ma­ny Know­ledge Socie­ty” that he had estab­lis­hed in Cal­cut­ta in 1932. From the­se reports it tran­spi­res that erst­while sti­pend-hol­ders of the India Insti­tu­te were invol­ved in this Socie­ty as orga­ni­zers and spea­kers. After 1933, the Socie­ty arran­ged lec­tures on sub­jects asso­cia­ted with Natio­nal Socia­lism – like natio­nal com­mu­ni­ty (Volks­ge­mein­schaft), mili­ta­ri­sa­ti­on, and gene­tic selec­tion. The Insti­tu­te reco­gni­zed Sarkar’s con­tri­bu­ti­on by elec­ting him as one of its hono­ra­ry life mem­bers in 1933 (Mit­tei­lun­gen: Octo­ber 1933: 392).

The con­nec­tions bet­ween the India Insti­tu­te and Hin­du revi­va­lism as well as racial anthro­po­lo­gy can also be traced from dif­fe­rent issu­es of Mit­tei­lun­gen. For examp­le, a lec­tu­re deli­ve­r­ed by a guest of India Insti­tu­te, Pro­fes­sor B.S. Guha, tit­led “The racial foun­da­ti­on of the Indo-Aryans and racial mis­ce­ge­na­ti­on in India” was publis­hed in 1935 (Second Issue July 1935: 488–496).

From 1937, the jour­nal chan­ged its name to Deut­sche Kul­tur im Leben der Völ­ker or DKLV (“Ger­man cul­tu­re in the lives of the peop­le”). Hence­forth it rou­ti­nely publis­hed Walt­her Wüst’s wri­tings glo­ri­fy­ing Germany’s “Aryan past” as well as reviews of books cham­pio­ning Indian anti-colo­ni­al strugg­le. A nota­ble examp­le is Wüst’s sym­pa­the­tic review of the Ger­man trans­la­ti­on of the pole­mi­cal book, “The Indian war of inde­pen­dence” writ­ten anony­mous­ly by Vina­yak Damo­dar Savarkar, the anti-colo­ni­al acti­vist tur­ned cham­pion of poli­ti­ci­zed Hin­du­ism (DKLV, Decem­ber 1941: 122). 

Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte München-Berlin)

The archi­ve of the Leib­niz Insti­tu­te of Con­tem­pora­ry Histo­ry (Insti­tut für Zeit­ge­schich­te Mün­chen-Ber­lin), in Munich has pro­to­cols of some of the mee­tings of India Insti­tu­te from 1934–1938 (Signa­tu­re: MA 1190 and MA241). The pro­to­col of a mee­ting held on 23rd Octo­ber, 1934 for examp­le, reve­als that the India Insti­tu­te bla­med Mus­so­li­ni and his government for ins­ti­ga­ting Indian stu­dents against Ger­ma­ny (MA1190). Ano­t­her mee­ting held on 1st Febru­a­ry, 1937 (MA 241) records the reli­ef expres­sed by the Exe­cu­ti­ve com­mit­tee about the depar­tu­re from Euro­pe of “cer­tain peop­le” who fomen­ted dis­tur­ban­ce among Indian stu­dents in Ber­lin and Munich (allu­ding to the natio­na­list lea­der Sub­has Chan­dra Bose who ins­ti­ga­ted Indian stu­dents to pro­test against racism during his visit in 1934). The pro­to­col of the mee­ting of the Insti­tu­te on 27th Octo­ber, 1938 (MA1190) indi­ca­tes that Benoy Sarkar post­po­ned accep­t­ing the Institute’s invi­ta­ti­on to visit Ger­ma­ny becau­se the “nega­ti­ve pro­pa­gan­da” about Nazi Ger­ma­ny actual­ly sca­red him.

Federal Archives, Berlin-Lichterfelde

A hol­ding at Federal Archi­ves, Ber­lin (Signa­tu­re R51) pro­vi­des insights into the “cul­tu­ral poli­ti­cal acti­vi­ties” under­ta­ken by Horst Poh­le and Alfred Wür­fel, the two lec­tors sent to India. The hol­ding con­tains the cor­re­spon­dence of the two lec­tors with various func­tio­n­a­ries of the DA. “Reports” sent in 1938–1939 were some­ti­mes part of this cor­re­spon­dence though more “sen­si­ti­ve” infor­ma­ti­on were sent through diplo­ma­tic chan­nels of the Ger­man Con­su­la­te in Cal­cut­ta, as the let­ters claim.

Würfel’s “acti­vi­ties” (signa­tu­re R51\10128) inclu­ded the dis­tri­bu­ti­on of publi­ca­ti­ons pro­mo­ting the “New Ger­ma­ny” among his stu­dents, some of whom were pro­fes­sors at the Banaras Hin­du Uni­ver­si­ty. Pohle’s let­ters (signa­tu­re R51\144) are more expli­cit. They reve­al that he kept a tab on the Euro­pean Jews who sought refu­ge in Cal­cut­ta after fle­eing the Nazis. He also repor­ted on India’s poli­ti­cal situa­ti­on and noted the country’s respon­ses to hap­pe­nings in Ger­ma­ny. As a Nazi par­ty mem­ber, Poh­le kept in touch with the Nazi exter­nal cell (Aus­lands­or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on) based in Bom­bay. Both the lec­tors were awa­re of being spied on by Bri­tish sur­veil­lan­ce, as is clear from their correspondence.

Thierfelder’s writings

A brochu­re tit­led “India Insti­tu­te of the Deut­sche Aka­de­mie,” com­po­sed by Thier­fel­der and publis­hed in 1937, pro­vi­des a detail­ed “first-hand account” of the Insti­tu­te. The brochu­re sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly names the Institute’s office bea­rers, dif­fe­rent kinds of mem­bers, sti­pend hol­ders and guests. India Institute’s poli­ti­cal ori­en­ta­ti­on is mani­fest in the state­ment that “For­eign anti-Ger­man pro­pa­gan­dists under the gui­se of stu­dents are not wel­co­me” (Thier­fel­der, 1937: 7–8). The brochu­re also pro­vi­des visu­al records of the Institute’s past in the form of a num­ber of photographs.

In 1959, Thier­fel­der publis­hed ano­t­her arti­cle on the India Insti­tu­te com­me­mo­ra­ting thir­ty years of its exis­tence. In this essay, he pre­sen­ted the Insti­tu­te as a poli­ti­cal­ly neu­tral orga­niz­a­ti­on which kept its distance from the Indian anti-colo­ni­al move­ment as well as Nazi poli­tics (Thier­fel­der 1959: 92–102). This arti­cle is a per­fect examp­le of a retro­spec­tively mani­pu­la­ted account of the past, as this brief review of the Institute’s histo­ry demonstrates.


The sources from dif­fe­rent Ger­man archi­ves make it clear that the India Insti­tu­te, much like its parent orga­ni­sa­ti­on, the DA, iden­ti­fied with the con­cerns of suc­ces­si­ve Ger­man regimes. After 1933, the Insti­tu­te beca­me incre­a­singly invol­ved in a cul­tu­ral poli­cy that was com­pa­ti­ble with the inte­rests of the NS regime, which gran­ted it finan­cial secu­ri­ty and pres­ti­ge in return. Fol­lowing the out­break of the Second World War, the India Insti­tu­te open­ly and com­ple­te­ly iden­ti­fied with Nazi Germany.


[i] Apart from tho­se men­tio­ned in this arti­cle, the indo­lo­gists at the Insti­tu­te also inclu­ded Hel­muth von Gla­sen­app and Wil­helm Geiger.

[ii] See also Hei­ke Liebau’s ent­ry on the India Inde­pen­dence Com­mit­tee: Lie­bau, Hei­ke, “‚Unter­neh­mun­gen und Auf­wie­ge­lun­gen‘: Das Ber­li­ner Indi­sche Unab­hän­gig­keits­ko­mi­tee in den Akten des Poli­ti­schen Archivs des Aus­wär­ti­gen Amts (1914–1920)”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2019): 11 pp,


Baroo­ah, Niro­de K., Ger­ma­ny and the India­ns. Bet­ween the wars. Nor­der­stedt: Books on Demand, 2018.

Fischer-Tiné, Harald, “Arya Samaj”. In: J. Bron­khorst, A. Mali­nar (eds.) Hand­book of Ori­en­tal Stu­dies. Sec­tion Two: India. Volu­me 22/5. Lei­den: Brill, 2013, pp.389–396.

Fram­ke, Maria, Delhi Rom Ber­lin. Die indi­sche Wahr­neh­mung von Faschis­mus und Natio­nal­so­zia­lis­mus 1922–1939. Darm­stadt: WBG (Wis­sen­schaft­li­che Buch­ge­sell­schaft), 2013.

Gould, Wil­liam, Hin­du Natio­na­lism and the lan­guage of poli­tics in late colo­ni­al India. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004.

Har­volk, Edgar, Eichen­zweig und Haken­kreuz: Die Deut­sche Aka­de­mie in Mün­chen (1924–1962) und ihre volks­kund­li­che Sek­ti­on. Munich: Münch­ner Ver­ei­ni­gung für Volks­kun­de, 1990.

Impe­ko­ven, Hol­ger, Die Alex­an­der von Hum­boldt-Stif­tung und das Aus­län­der­stu­di­um in Deutsch­land 1925–1945. Bonn: Bonn Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013.

Jun­gin­ger, Horst, “From Bud­dha to Adolf Hit­ler. Walt­her Wüst and the Aryan tra­di­ti­on”. In: Horst Jun­gin­ger (ed.) The stu­dy of reli­gi­on under the impact of fascism. Lei­den: Brill, 2008. pp. 105–177.

Kathe, Stef­fen R., Kul­tur­po­li­tik um jeden Preis. Die Geschich­te des Goe­the-Insti­tuts von 1951 bis 1990. Frank­furt am Main: Peter Lang, 2005.

Lie­bau, Hei­ke, “‚Unter­neh­mun­gen und Auf­wie­ge­lun­gen‘: Das Ber­li­ner Indi­sche Unab­hän­gig­keits­ko­mi­tee in den Akten des Poli­ti­schen Archivs des Aus­wär­ti­gen Amts (1914–1920)”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2019): 11 pp,

Michels, Eckard, Von der Deut­schen Aka­de­mie zum Goe­the Insti­tut. Sprach und aus­wär­ti­ge Kul­tur­po­li­tik 1923–60. Munich: Olden­bourg, 2005.

Schol­ten, Dirk, Sprach­ver­brei­tungs­po­li­tik des natio­nal­so­zia­lis­ti­schen Deutsch­lands. Frank­furt am Main: Peter Lang, 2001.

Spang, Chris­ti­an W., Karl Haus­ho­fer und Japan. Die Rezep­ti­on sei­ner geo­po­li­ti­schen Theo­rien in der deut­schen und japa­ni­schen Poli­tik. Munich: Iudi­ci­um, 2013.

Thier­fel­der, Franz, India Insti­tu­te of the Deut­sche Aka­de­mie 1928­–1937. Munich: India Insti­tu­te, 1937.

——–, “30 Jah­re India Insti­tut Mün­chen. 1928–1958”. Mit­tei­lun­gen des Insti­tuts für Aus­lands­be­zie­hun­gen 2, Stutt­gart 9 (1959): pp. 92–102.

Bai­ja­y­an­ti Roy, Goe­the-Uni­ver­si­tät Frank­furt am Main