Thursday, February 11, 2016

Brian Victoria - The Zen of Hitler Jugend

NB: The paragraphs on 'national religion', highlighted in the first-person account below, are particularly significant for the argument that fascism is a form of right-wing atheism - especially given the contemporary emergence of the Nation as a substitute for God: DS

The Tripartite Pact linking Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan was signed in Berlin on September 27, 1940. Less than two months after the pact was signed, a six-member delegation of Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) arrived in Japan. This was actually the second Hitler Jugend delegation to visit Japan, a much larger delegation having first visited in the fall of 1938. In honor of the first delegation's visit, a song was composed entitled Banzai Hitorā Jūgento (Long Live Hitler Youth!). A recording of this song together with photographs highlighting the activities of both the first and second delegations in Japan is embedded below.

Members of the second delegation traveled to Daihonzan Eiheiji for an overnight stay on November 19, 1940. Eiheiji, located in the mountains of Fukui Prefecture, was established by Zen Master Dōgen, the founder of the Sōtō sect, in 1244 and is now one of the two head monasteries of the Sōtō sect, Japan's largest Zen sect. The accompanying photograph shows the Hitler Jugend seated in the front row surrounded by Eiheiji's senior monastic officials, including the head of the monastery seated in the center. It was taken shortly before the delegation departed the monastery on the morning of November 20, 1940.

The August 1942 issue of the Eiheiji periodical Sansho included an article describing the instructions Hitler had personally given the delegation prior to departure:

When you are in Japan, there is no need for you to be concerned about Japanese culture. There is no need for you to research Japanese politics. There is no need to investigate Japan's economy. The only thing you need do is thoroughly experience the great spirit of the Japanese people that has arisen in their national polity.

To understand why Hitler so strongly emphasized the need for German youth to understand "the great spirit of the Japanese people," we should recall that as early as his 1925 work Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote: "All force which does not spring from a firm spiritual foundation will be hesitating and uncertain." Hesitating and uncertain force was the last thing Hitler needed in his future soldiers.

As far as Eiheiji's leaders were concerned, there was no better place to learn the great spirit of the Japanese people than their monastery. In the same August 1942 article, Eiheiji's head monk trainer, Zen Master Ashiwa Untei, described Eiheiji's importance and its relationship to the young Nazis' visit:

Someone has said that Asia as a whole can be described as a training center for the human spirit. Europe, on the other hand, can be described as a learning center for the cultivation of knowledge. A characteristic of Asian spiritual culture is the training of the human spirit through the practice of zazen [seated meditation] and sitting quietly. It is for this reason that the latent energy of spiritual power grew out of Asia acting as a training center for disciplining the human spirit. . . .

The foundation of a nation's destiny, like the development of a person, depends on the power of the human spirit. The training of the human spirit, the importance of vigorous spiritual power is something the citizens of Japan are now selflessly demonstrating to the world. In the late autumn of the year before last, Hitler Jugend visited Eiheiji and stayed overnight. They were profoundly impressed by the existence of the training center for the human spirit they encountered here in the deep mountains.

An even earlier article in the December 1940 issue of Sansho gave a detailed description of the delegation's visit. Appropriately, the article was entitled Hittorā Jūgento (Hitler Jugend). Inasmuch as it reveals important features of the values and religious outlook of both Nazi youth and Japan's wartime Zen leaders, a complete translation follows. Note, however, that the following article presents a necessarily shallow understanding of the spiritual orientation of Nazi youth on the Japanese side inasmuch as it was gained from only one relatively short encounter, not to mention the need for interpretation.

This article also leads one to ask how members of the Hitler Jugend delegation viewed their visit to Eiheiji? What did members write or say about their visit upon return to Germany? Inasmuch as this question is beyond the author's competence, knowledgeable readers are sincerely invited to present this side of the story.

Hittorā Jūgento
(Blue Eyes Spend One Night as Zen Guests)
by Fueoka Togetsu

Bearing the brilliant future of our youthful ally Germany, a six-member delegation of Hitler Jugend, arrived at our monastery on the 19th of last month [November 1940]. Headed by [Heinrich] Jürgens, the delegation was part of a Japanese-German youth exchange program. Following their arrival in Japan, the delegation first met with people from every field in the Imperial capital [Tokyo]. Having completed this mission, they next headed southwest from Tokyo to the Hokuriku rail line, getting off the train at Kanazawa station on November 19th. Their goal was the Zen training center of Eiheiji where they spent a quiet night, the only temple at which the delegation stayed overnight during their visit to Japan. It is for this reason that the night they spent at our monastery meant so much to them.

On the day of their arrival, this writer had the good fortune to accompany the delegation on the last segment of their train ride to Eiheiji station. Young and old stood along the tracks to welcome the delegation, enthusiastically waving German flags to welcome the visitors from afar. In response, the members of the delegation stuck their long bodies out of the train windows, rapidly raising their right arms in a return salute.

The delegation arrived at Eiheiji station at 4:20 pm. Among others, pupils from the Shihidani Elementary School were waiting on the station platform to greet the delegation, waving German flags embossed with swastikas on a red background. In response, the six-member delegation lined up in a row perfectly abreast of one another and raised their right arms in a return salute. The precision of the members' movements made a deep impression on everyone present.

Marching with large Japanese and German flags intertwined, the delegation then made its way from Eiheiji's main entrance gate to the entrance of the guest quarters. At that point newspaper reporters and cameramen besieged them. Thereafter the delegation walked down a long hallway at the foot of Eiheiji's towering monastic complex until they arrived at the reception area. Here they met, for the first time, Zen Masters Katō and Takada, the monastery's head administrative officer and his assistant, together with other senior monastic officials.

The six members of the delegation were:
Heinrich Jürgens, delegation head, 37 years old
Wilhelm Daniel, delegation member, 27 years old
Heinz Rothermund, 21 years old
Daoruku Teiru (phonetic spelling), 21 years old
Rudolf Minsch, 19 years old
Heinz Schumi, 17 years old

In addition, the delegation was accompanied by Miyamoto Kinshichi, an official of the Social Education Bureau of the Ministry of Education; Hiraiwa Tatsuo from Mitsubishi Trading Co., the delegation's interpreter; and a number of representatives from the Fukui Prefectural government, including Mr. Ueda, head of the Prefectural Social Education Section.

While Eiheiji has welcomed a few foreigners in the past for an overnight stay, this is the first time our monastery formally welcomed blue-eyes [Westerners] on a mission like theirs. Thus, the monastery made careful preparations for their visit. First, all of the senior monastic officials came to the reception area at 6 pm to greet the guests of honor who had come from faraway. This was followed by a welcome banquet in order to become better acquainted with our guests.

After the monastic officials arrived at their assigned places in the banquet room, the visiting delegation bowed to them and then sat down as a group. The youngest member of the delegation, a handsome lad by the name of Schumi, made himself look attractive by wearing a formal kimono purchased in Tokyo complete with family crest and obi (narrow sash) tied in a simple knot. It was somewhat surprising to find nearly all members of the delegation sitting on bended knees for an extended period.

When everyone had been seated, Zen Master Katō, head administrative officer, welcomed the delegation on Eiheiji's behalf with Mr. Hiraiwa acting as interpreter. Delegation head Jürgens then expressed the delegation's gratitude for the invitation, noting that up until then they had only been able to read about Zen in books. Now, however, they had a wonderful opportunity to directly experience the spirit of Zen by staying overnight at this training center… 


By chance the conversation turned to food. Delegation head Jürgens stuck his chopsticks into a dish full of radishes and explained that at the time of the [First] World War the people of Germany had nothing to eat but radishes. Thus, he confessed that anytime he eats radishes he recalls that war. His words provided us with a glimpse of just what one would expect of a delegation head.

Jürgens went on to say that there were many vegetarians in Germany though not for religious reasons. While the vegetarianism of the Führer Adolf Hitler was well known, Jürgens explained that he personally leaned in that direction inasmuch as he normally ate only fruit for breakfast. Hearing this, Zen Master Katō asked, "Does that mean that Führer Hitler is a Zen priest?" With that, everyone burst out laughing.

The conversation continued for a while after the banquet finished. Jürgens spoke about the religious orientation of the Hitler Jugend. What he said can be summarized as follows:
The people of present-day Germany are no longer satisfied with the religion they have had up to now. However, a new religion that can fully satisfy the German people has yet to be born. Therefore, until a new national religion appears, they have, albeit reluctantly, to depend on the religion they've had up to now. The Hitler Jugend take the same position.

It doesn't make any difference what religion the members of the Hitler Jugend believe in. However, only belief in Judaism is strictly forbidden. For example, even though some members are Protestants and others are Roman Catholic, there is absolutely no conflict between them. Nevertheless, among today's members there are an extremely large number who have freed themselves from their former religion. This is because, as I have said, the religion we have had up to now doesn't meet our present needs.

However, even though members have left their former religions doesn't mean they have become atheists or turned their backs on God. In fact, they continue to have a very strong religious spirit, identifying themselves as "people who believe in God." They dislike describing themselves any further than this. At present we are all eagerly awaiting the emergence of a mighty religion with great religious leaders.


When this writer heard these words from delegation head Jürgens, he could not help thinking that Jürgens was also speaking about the outcome for the Buddhist world, not just the religious world in Germany. This was truly a case of thinking that Jürgens had put his finger on a sore spot....
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