On July 23rd of 1939, as tensions mounted in Europe following Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia, Mohandas Gandhi, the famously non-violent leader of the Indian independence movement, wrote a letter to the man who was orchestrating what would become World War II: the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler. As it happens, Gandhi’s letter—a clear and concise plea for Hitler to avoid war “for the sake of humanity”—never reached its intended recipient due to an intervention by the British government. Just over a month later, the world looked on in horror as Germany invaded Poland, thus beginning the largest, most deadly conflict in the history of the world.
As at Wardha,
Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth.
It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Any way I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.
Your sincere friend
M. K. Gandhi