Saturday, September 27, 2008

Buddhism in Nazi Germany

Buddhism in Nazi Germany

In 1924, Paul Dahlke founded the Buddhistisches Haus (House for Buddhists) in Frohnau, Berlin. It was open to members of all Buddhist traditions, but primarily catered to the Theravada and Japanese forms, since they were the most widely known in the West at that time. In 1933, it hosted the First European Buddhist Congress. The Nazis allowed the House for Buddhists to remain open throughout the war, but tightly controlled it. As some members knew Chinese and Japanese, they acted as translators for the government in return for tolerance of Buddhism.

Although the Nazi regime closed the Buddhistische Gemeinde (Buddhist Society) in Berlin, which had been active from 1936, and briefly arrested its founder Martin Steinke in 1941, they generally did not persecute Buddhists. After his release, Steinke and several others continued to lecture on Buddhism in Berlin. There is no evidence, however, that teachers of Tibetan Buddhism were ever present in the Third Reich.

The Nazi policy of tolerance for Buddhism does not prove any influence of Buddhist teachings on Hitler or Nazi ideology. A more probable explanation is Germany’s wish not to damage relations with its Buddhist ally, Japan.

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