Yoga is many things to many people—for some it is a spiritual practice while others consider it a physical exercise. But for most, what comes to mind when they think of yoga are scenes of peace and tranquility—at the least the search for peace and tranquility.
It’s hard to imagine, then, that yoga was recommended to death camp guards in Nazi Germany. But that’s exactly what historian and yoga expert Mathias Tietke found as he researched his new book, Yoga In National Socialism.
“It is associated with mental equilibrium, the search for wisdom and inner peace and is not considered to be about force or persecution,” Tietke told The Daily Mail. “Never the less, there is also this side to the history of yoga.”
It’s a very dark history.
Tietke’s research shows that not only were there S.S. leaders who were fascinated with yoga, they even used yoga’s history and philosophy to justify the Holocaust. S.S. Captain Jakob Wilhelm Hauer wrote “yoga can internally arm us to prepare us for the forthcoming battles,” while Commander Heinrich Himmler actually considered the Bhagavad Gita as a blueprint for cruelty. He identified with the attitude of “unscrupulous killing for one’s ‘higher purpose,'” wrote Tietke.
Does it bother you that yoga was used in this way by the Nazis? Would you be interested in reading a book about this?