Defiance: The Prison Memoirs of Savitri Devi
Ed. R. G. Fowler
The Savitri Devi Archive, 2007
One feature of Mister
(Iron Sky Publishing, 2009), that has stirred up a ferment of
discussion and questions is the shadowy conspiracy of “Esoteric
Hitlerists” that runs like a golden thread through the labyrinth of the
much as I would like to take credit here for a brilliant stroke of
imagination, this is a case of truth being stranger than fiction, for
there really is something called “Esoteric Hitlerism,” and I
am fairly sure that it already exists as a world-wide conspiracy—
although, of course, nobody has let me in on the secret.
The two founders of Esoteric Hitlerism are the French-born Savitri Devi (1905–1982) and the Chilean Miguel Serrano (1917–2009).
A hundred and five years after Savitri Devi’s
birth, we are gradually seeing her entire literary corpus brought back
into print. This 2007 Centennial Edition of Defiance: The Prison Memoirs of Savitri Devi, published by the Savitri Devi Archive is the most recent contribution to this effort.
Defiance is Savitri Devi’s memoir of her
arrest, trial, and imprisonment for distributing Nazi propaganda in
occupied Germany during the early months of 1949. She was sentenced to
three years and served six months before being deported to India. The
story is told in a gripping first-person narrative, and it
constitutes not only a fascinating historical document of Allied
justice and prison life for Nazi women during the immediate post-war
years but also provides a hugely engaging insight into Savitri Devi’s
Born Maximiani Portas in Lyons, France in 1905 of
an English mother and a father of mixed Greek and Italian ancestry,
Savitri Devi was repelled by egalitarian, democratic, Christian, and
humanistic doctrines from an early age, and enjoyed overtly mocking
them in school, much to the shock of her tutors. She nevertheless
impressed them with her penetrating mind and performed well
academically, earning two masters degrees and a doctorate in
philosophy, as well as learning eight languages. The realisation that
she was a National Socialist took place in 1929, while on a pilgrimage
to Palestine during Lent.
From 1935 to 1945 Savitri Devi lived in India,
where she went in search of the pagan Aryan culture, and where her
formal adherence to Hinduism led to the acquisition of her adopted
name. Despite her ardent – and religious – belief in National Socialism,
Savitri Devi never experienced Germany during the National Socialist
era; her first opportunity to visit the country would not be until
1948, three years after Hitler’s empire had perished in the inferno of
the Allied bombing. The lost opportunity proved a tremendous source
of regret and disappointment, and resulted in a burning desire for
expiation, for making up lost time. It is this that compelled Savitri
Devi to make a passionate – and indeed “quixotic and futile”—profession
of support for National Socialism, even though by then all had been
Savitri Devi made three visits to Germany between
1948 and 1949, funding the journeys and the printing of thousands of
propaganda leaflets and posters with the sale her gold jewelry. We
learn in Defiance that she began writing Gold in the Furnace: Experiences in Post-War Germany and her magnum opus, The Lightning and the Sun, during this period, mostly in cafés.
We also learn to what intense, fanatical, even
foolhardy degree Savitri Devi identified with National Socialism: once
arrested, and once convinced that a conviction was inevitable, she
became inflamed with the truculent euphoria of a righteous martyr,
from then on almost sadistically relishing every opportunity afforded
by the legal process to make a dramatic show of her scorn for the
values of the victors as well as of her uncrushable defiance in the
face of their power.
As by this time Savitri was a British subject
(having previously held Greek and French nationalities), she was the
responsibility of the British authorities, and they treated her rather
kindly, given the nature of her offence. Indeed, they show a great
deal of baffled patience in the face of Savitri’s strident support for
every National Socialist policy, even the most cruel.
Savitri is unimpressed and unmoved, however, and
on the day of her trial, which she sees as the paroxysmal moment in
which she is to show the world what she is and what she thinks of the
democratic powers, she even makes it a point to wear her gold swastika
ear-rings. (And rather appropriately, on the front cover of this
volume we find a photograph of Savitri Devi at the height of her
powers, aged 46, looking into the distance with the aforementioned
ear-rings and the expression of a wrathful demi-goddess.)
Savitri Devi is so over the top, her prose so
high-flung with joyous visions of Nazi palingenesis, poetic
revanchism, and cruentous glory, that one cannot help but smile when
Mrs Taylor, the British policewoman escorting her to and from the
court house in Düsseldorf, finally says “What a baby you are for a
woman of forty-three”. The pragmatic Mrs Taylor, however, did not
understand Savitri Devi’s need for redemption.
Savitri’s “glorious day” ends in disappointment.
When sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, she is outraged: Is that
all? She had been hoping for the death penalty, or at least life
imprisonment. The phlogiston of the immediate aftermath of the war,
however, had abated somewhat, and by 1949 Nazi propaganda no longer
entailed capital punishment.
This only exacerbated Savitri’s contempt for
democracy: she tells us that she would not have been so lenient
herself, had she been on the other side; she thinks the democracies
are soft, craven, ideologically vacuous, and interested only in
material comfort and money. She promises that one day—never mind
when—they will pay a millionfold for their foolishness and their
weakness. She only hoped that she would be there personally to mete
out justice, or at least gloat while democrats wail.
Despite Savitri’s electrifying intensity,
velocious extremism, and brutal misanthropy, the “democrats”, as she
calls them, often could not help but take a liking for her, and even
respect her for her ideological integrity, consistency, courage, and
strength of character. This sentiment also affects the reader: Savitri
Devi is a very likeable monster.
Once transferred to the Werl prison, Savitri wasted
no time to seek out “her comrades and superiors,” namely the Nazi war
criminals. She soon developed an intense friendship with Hertha
Ehlert, a former deputy wardress at the Bergen-Belsen prison camp,
then serving a 15-year term. Colonel Vickers, the British Governor,
tried to keep Savitri segregated from the political prisoners, which
provoked a good deal of tedious self-pity and complaining.
Fortunately, the German wardresses – some of whom were
crypto-Nazis—took a liking to Savitri and allowed her regular visits
from Ehlert and other “war criminals”. Moreover, equipped with
copybooks, she was assigned light tasks so that she may have time to
Propelled by a fulgor of inspiration, Savitri poured all her love and energy into her writing, completing large sections of Gold in the Furnace and The Lightning in the Sun
within the first few months. One day, however, her cell was searched
and her manuscripts confiscated, dealing Savitri a devastating blow. The
manuscripts seemed doomed to destruction.
For two weeks, she agonised over her manuscripts,
alternating between stratospheric defiance and blackest depression.
And it is here, in her darkest hour, that Savitri Devi finally had her
most profound insight, which leads to Defiance’s core
philosophical meditation on the Nazi ethics of detached and selfless
duty. She consoles herself in the face of her manuscript's imminent
destruction—the destruction of the favorite children of her brain—by
reminding herself that a true Aryan does what is right, regardless of
personal consequences, leaving those for the gods to sort out.
For Savitri, the right thing to do is nothing
less than the perfection of the cosmos by contributing to the
emergence of the Superman, which she takes to be the ultimate aim of
National Socialism. She cannot control what is done with her
manuscripts, but she can take solace in the fact that she has acted in
the cosmic interest, an aim which justifies any expediency—even
humiliations, lies (which she detested), and tactical alliances with
the hated enemy—and renders her personal suffering of no consequence.
Eventually, for unexplained reasons, Savitri’s
manuscripts were returned to her. Far from being grateful to her
captors, however, she regarded them with incredulous contempt. All
thanks were reserved to “the invisible powers” that she felt were
watching out for her.
Savitri then resolved to complete her manuscripts
right under Colonel Vickers’ nose, only this time she took additional
precautions to ensure their survival. We see that while never
compromising or attenuating her extremism, Savitri Devi has learnt the
value of employing more careful methods in the interest of long-term
Defiance has not a dull moment in it, told
in a rousing and poetic style, blending philosophical meditation with
personal revelation in a hypnotic, novel-like narrative. In years to
come, texts like this one will remain a primary source for scholars and
readers seeking to understand the mentality of those in Europe who saw
the Allies not as liberators, but as a force of evil.
Unavailable for over half a century, the new Centennial Edition of Defiance
is elegantly designed, lavishly illustrated with archival photographs,
and carefully edited to the highest scholarly standards. It was
initially offered as a limited edition of 200 hand-numbered clothbound
copies, which proved highly collectible. If you covet one, you may be
in for a wait, as I imagine only death will separate current owners
from their copies. Fortunately for collectors of fringe literature,
however, the new edition of Defiance has now been released in a high-quality, smyth-sewn paperback edition.