London: Nazi paramilitary organisation Schutzstaffel (SS) overlord, Heinrich Himmler, was fascinated with the ancient discipline of yoga, a historian has revealed in a new book.
A German historian has discovered how the SS in Nazi Germany recommended its members, including death camp guards, to practice yoga to enrich their “mind, bodies and spirits”.
The first ever book probing the Third Reich’s fascination with the ancient discipline intended to attain “perfect spiritual insight and tranquillity”, was published this week, entitled Yoga In National Socialism by historian and yoga expert Mathias Tietke.
It shows how Reichsfuhrer of the SS was fascinated with the discipline and perverted it and its ancient roots into a philosophy to justify the Holocaust. Tietke ploughed through thousands of Third Reich documents to chronicle the history of this most peaceful of pursuits in the time of the savagery of Nazism.
During the Wiemar Republic, as the Nazis gained strength, more than 50 yoga books were published in the 1920’s in Berlin alone. And, as the Nazis corrupted most things they touched, so it was with yoga. It was seized on by race experts in the party as being the pursuit of ‘Aryan’ people.
In 1937, four years after the Nazis attained power, the country’s first yoga centre opened up in Berlin and operated until it was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1943. The teacher who ran it had disciples in 50 German towns and cities.
Himmler, obsessed as he was with hocus-pocus race theories and mysticism relating to his SS “supermen”, carried around a German copy of the Bhagavad Gita with him wherever he went. He regarded the ancient Sanskrit epic as being a blueprint for cruelty and terror, using it, said Tietke, to ultimately justify the Holocaust.
“He identified himself and the SS with the old Indian Kshatriya caste and its publicised attitude of unscrupulous killing for one’s ‘higher purpose’,” Tietke said.