This is another review of a book in German that I am also posting in English. Despite the book’s language, perhaps the information contained is of interest. Or maybe you are also able to read German when the subject is of sufficient interest to you.
Matias Tietke shares six letters of his first name with me. He has also been born in the same year, even though he was born in a then different country, the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Another commonality is that he is also a conscientious objector – which definitely took more courage to be in the former GDR than in the Federal Republic of Germany during the 70s.
According to Wikipedia, Matias Tietke started to travel internationally after reunification, mainly to India. Between 1994 and 1998 he became a yoga teacher (Union of German Yoga Teachers, BDY and European Yoga Union, EYU). In addition to teaching yoga, he is currently working as a journalist and as a book author. My library also contains another book by him: Der Stammbaum des Yoga, (“The family tree of yoga”, my translation) published 2007 by Theseus-Verlag.
His book about yoga during National Socialism is relatively fast to read, small format, 229 pages. It is relatively academic reading, mainly of interest for people with an interest in history – and you should not expect any sensational insights.
Romantic idealization of yoga, already 200 years ago
The book starts with a period long before National Socialism; Tietke describes the fascination of German poets and philosophers with the first translations of the ancient Indian writings into German at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. The Bhagavad Gita was translated into German for the first time in 1806. Herder, Schelling, Nietzsche, also Schopenhauer, they all were enthusiastic – including, according to Tietke, quite some romantic idealization and projection. In this relatively early period one can already find the basic ideas about Aryans, the “master race” and purity of race, later also with Nietzsche.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the theosophists around Helena Blavatsky made the broader public aware of yoga and Indian philosophy. They propagated their own mixture of Hindu and Buddhist elements on the one hand and Western esoteric and occult elements on the other hand. In the chapter of the book dedicated to the theosophists, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy is briefly mentioned. He originally belonged to that circle, and he broke with them and founded his own movement due to the plans around young Krishnamurti (see my blog on “risks and side effects of truth”).
Tietke then extensively discusses the (still quite limited) yoga activities in Germany during the 1920s and the early 30s. Yoga was promoted through lectures about ”mental yoga” and through circus performances with ”authentic Indian yogis”.
The first yoga school in Germany
The first German yoga school for hatha yoga was opened on Berlin, at the end of the 20s, by Boris Sacharow (born originally in the Ukraine, later having fled to Germany from post-revolutionary Russia). One of his students was Johannes Schultz, the founder of autogenic training.
Tietke then describes in several small chapters the proponents and the opponents of yoga during the time of National Socialism. One of the fiercest opponents was Dr. Mathilde Ludendorff, a medical doctor (second wife of general Ludendorff, who was quite famous in Germany for his role in the second half of world war I). For her yoga was „induzierter Irrsinn“ (”induced lunacy”, my translation).
Himmler and the Bhagavad Gita
As for the higher echelon of the Nazi hierarchy, Tietke mentions Alfred Rosenberg, the main ideologist of the ”movement”, and Heinrich Himmler, to whom he dedicates an entire chapter. He shows convincingly that for Heinrich Himmler the Bhagavad Gita was a main justification for the atrocities that he committed, especially for the Holocaust.