Savitri’s permit to pass through British-occupied Germany, on 15 June 1948. (See Chapter 4.)
Savitri Devi (1905–1982) was an ardent National Socialist. She regarded Hitler’s Germany as a Holy Land for all Aryans. But Savitri never saw National Socialist Germany in its days of glory.1 She saw it only in ruins. Gold in the Furnace is the record of her experiences.
My purpose in this Preface is not to provide a summary, analysis, or critique of Gold, but to tell the story of its creation based primarily on Defiance, Savitri’s gripping and powerful account of her arrest, trial, and imprisonment in 1949 for distributing National Socialist propaganda in occupied Germany. Defiance is something of a companion volume to Gold since it tells the story of its creation.2
Savitri first entered Germany on the night of 15–16 June 1948. She was working as a dresser in the dance company of Ram Gopal.3 The company was returning to London after a Scandinavian tour on the Nord Express, which entered Germany from Denmark at Flensburg, passed through Hamburg, Düsseldorf, and Cologne, and crossed the Belgian frontier near Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). In solidarity with the German people, many of whom were starving, Savitri neither ate nor drank. Nor did she sleep. She spent the night throwing packets of food and cigarettes and hand-lettered National Socialist leaflets from the windows of the train. She describes her experiences in Chapter 4 of Gold, “The Unforgettable Night.”
Savitri returned to Germany on 7 or 11 September 19484 with eleven thousand posters and leaflets printed for her in London by Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk, a pro-German poet, printer, and pretender to the throne of Poland whom Savitri had met in London in 1945 or 1946.5 In addition to stealthily distributing National Socialist
1 “Savitri Devi” is a nom de plume meaning “Sun Goddess.” (“Savitri” = sun; “Devi” = goddess.) It may seem like undue familiarity to refer to her, for the sake of verbal economy, as “Savitri” rather than as “Devi,” but “Devi” is not a surname, but a title analogous to “Saint,” and just as one refers to Saint Paul as Paul for short, rather than as Saint, one refers to Savitri Devi as Savitri, not Devi. Savitri’s surname, after her marriage, was Mukherji, Mukherji being a contraction of Mukhopadhyaya.
2 Savitri Devi, Defiance (Calcutta: A.K. Mukherji, 1951).
3 Ram Gopal (1912–2003) was one of the leaders of the revival of classical Indian dance and one of the most celebrated and widely travelled dancers of the twentieth century.
4 In Defiance (51), Savitri gives her date of return as 7 September 1948; in Gold (123) she gives the date as 11 September.
5 Count Geoffrey Wladyslaw Vaile Potocki de Montalk (1903–1997).
propaganda, Savitri had three other goals: to contact die-hard National Socialists, to take part in any possible resistance activities, and to record her experiences in a book.
Savitri probably began writing Gold in the Furnace shortly after her return to Germany. The Introduction to Gold is dated 3 October 1948 and was completed in Alfeld an der Leine, about 60 kilometres south of Hanover. Savitri remained in Germany until 6 December 1948, when she returned to London to spend the Christmas holidays with friends.1 We know that the first two chapters of Gold, “The Philosophy of the Swastika” and “Brief Days of Glory,” were completed before or during her holiday, as Savitri prepared a typescript of them while in London. She then wrote out the beginning of Chapter 3, “Now, the Trial,” by hand and appended it to the typescript.2
Savitri returned to Germany sometime after Christmas of 1948 and resumed her activities. On 12 February 1949, she completed Chapter 3 of Gold in a café in Bonn.3 She began writing Chapter 4 in a café in Hanover the day before she departed for Cologne,4 where she was arrested on the night of 20–21 February 1949.5 The remaining chapters of Gold—the end of Chapter 4 and ten other chapters—were written in captivity, at great speed, in a blaze of inspiration: “I wrote feverishly every day. I felt inspired. And the days were long.”6
Savitri was transferred to the Werl prison on 21 or 22 February 1949. Although her manuscripts had been confiscated by the police, she was given pen and paper upon her arrival so she could write letters.7 Fearing the manuscript of Gold lost, she promptly tried to rewrite the Introduction, Chapters 1–3, and the beginning of Chapter 4.8 By 14 March, when her manuscripts were returned to her, she had completed Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, “‘De-Nazification.’” By 5 April, the day of her trial, she had completed Chapter 6, “Chambers of Hell,” and had begun Chapter 7, “Plunder, Lies, and Shallowness.” Thus she wrote or
1 Defiance, 52. The friends were probably Muriel Gantry (1913–2000) and Veronica Vassar (d. 1972).
2 Defiance, 200.
3 Defiance, 85.
4 Defiance, 116.
5 Savitri Devi, And Time Rolls On: The Savitri Devi Interviews, ed. R.G. Fowler (Atlanta: Black Sun Publications, 2005), 53.
6 Defiance, 530.
7 Defiance, 114.
8 In Defiance (94), she gives the date 21 February, but this does not seem to be consistent with the chronology of the book’s narrative, which indicates a later day. In And Time Rolls On (61), she gives the date as 22 February, which makes more sense.
re-wrote six chapters and part of a seventh in about six weeks—up to page 118 in this edition.1
On 5 April 1949, Savitri was convicted of disseminating Nazi propaganda by a British military tribunal in Düsseldorf and sentenced to three years imprisonment. She was returned to Werl to serve out her sentence. A few days later she completed Chapter 7 and began work on Chapter 8, “A Peep into the Enemy’s Camp.”2 By 13 May, or soon thereafter, Savitri had completed Chapter 8, had gone on to write three other chapters (Chapter 9, “The Élite of the World,” Chapter 10, “Divine Vengance,” and Chapter 11, “The Constructive Side”—up to page 222 in this edition) and to begin work on a fourth (Chapter 12, “The Holy Forest”)—all in about five weeks.3 Savitri was still working on Chapter 12 when on 30 May her cell was searched and her manuscripts confiscated. On 17 June, however, her manuscripts were returned to her. Although she was expressly forbidden to continue writing Gold, she completed the book on the sly, finishing Chapter 12 and going on to write Chapter 13, “Echoes from the Russian Zone,” and Chapter 14, “Against Time.” She recorded that the final chapter was “Finished in cell no. 49 of the Werl prison, on the 16th of July, 1949.”4
Savitri’s speed in writing Gold seems all the more remarkable in light of the fact that she was writing her magnum opus, The Lightning and the Sun, at the same time. She wrote the first chapter of Lightning on 9 April 1948 in Edinburgh while on tour with Ram Gopal.5 She recorded that Chapter 3 of Lightning was completed in the railway station of Karlsruhe in Baden-Württemberg on 6 December 1948, the day she left Germany to spend the Christmas holidays in London.6 Savitri mentions that on 8 April 1949 she decided to return to working on Chapter 4 of Lightning.7 By the time her cell was searched and her manuscripts were seized on 30 May, Savitri had started writing Chapter 5 of Lightning. Although Savitri was forbidden to work on Gold after her manuscripts were returned to her on 17 June, that very day she was
1 Defiance, 184. Savitri marked the point in Chapter 7 where she resumed work after her conviction with a footnote. See below, 118 n2.
2 Defiance, 288.
3 Defiance, 393.
4 Gold, 288.
5 Savitri Devi, The Lightning and the Sun (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherjee, 1958), 19.
6 Lightning, 55.
7 Defiance, 276.
given a writing pad, pen, and ink to continue writing about Genghis Khan in Lightning; on 22 June she was given a copy book.1 Amazingly, none of the British authorities who examined the early chapters of Lightning thought it sufficiently National Socialist in orientation or political in implication to consider the book dangerous.2 After Savitri completed Gold on 16 July, she continued to work on Chapter 5 of Lightning until her release from prison on 18 August. At the end of Chapter 5, she records that it was “Written in Werl (Westphalia) in July and August, 1949.”3
The manuscript of Gold, along with the manuscripts of Lightning and Impeachment of Man, narrowly escaped destruction after being confiscated during the aforementioned search of Savitri’s cell on 30 May 1949. Although the authorities may have heard rumours that Savitri was continuing to write Gold, it is not among the stated reasons for the search. Instead, her cell was searched because Savitri had received forbidden visits from female prisoners convicted of war crimes; furthermore, as the holder of a British passport, Savitri was entitled to better food than the German prisoners, and she had shared her rations with the war criminals; moreover, once Savitri was locked up for National Socialist propaganda, she simply continued her efforts among the prisoners, talking to them and sharing the texts of her leaflets; Savitri also wore Indian earrings adorned with the swastika and showed them to fellow prisoners; she even kept a picture of Hitler in her cell.
On 3 June, Savitri had an interview with the Governor of Werl, Colonel Edward Vickers, who complained of three things: that she had a picture of Hitler in her cell, that she had a copy of Das neue Soldaten-Liederbuch (The New Soldiers’ Songbook), vol. 3, the first song of which was “Wir fahren gegen Engelland” (“We are going [to War] against England”), and that she received visits from war criminals. It was Savitri who raised the topic of her manuscripts. Vickers told her they were in the hands of experts and that they would be destroyed if deemed subversive.4 Vickers repeated the threat on 10 June, when he told Savitri, to her lasting joy and pride, that she was “the most objectionable type of Nazi” he had ever met.5
After three agonizing weeks of fear for her manuscripts, Savitri was
1 Defiance, 527–28.
2 Defiance, 527.
3 Lightning, 86.
4 Defiance, 467.
5 Defiance, 514.
stunned to learn on 17 June1 that all her seized property had been returned to her: her manuscripts, her National Socialist songbook, her personal copies of her propaganda leaflets, even her picture of Hitler.2 Savitri never learned the reasons behind this decision. Perhaps the British authorities simply could not have been bothered to read her manuscripts. Perhaps they followed the recommendation of the prison doctor who examined Savitri and found that her ordeal was taking a toll on her health.3 Whatever the proximate causes, Savitri believed she spied the hand of Providence at work behind them and gave thanks to the gods.
Savitri also made the best of her dark night of the soul. It wrung from her some of her deepest reflections and most inspired prose, namely Chapter 12 of Defiance, “The Way of Absolute Detachment.” Here Savitri tries to reconcile herself to the possible destruction of her manuscripts and to justify going to any lengths to save them. To accomplish this, she appeals to the Bhagavad-Gita’s doctrine of “karma yoga,” which teaches that one who does the right thing, one’s duty—detaching himself from all concern with positive or negative consequences and leaving all such concerns to the gods who look after the welfare of the world—can rest in consciousness of complete moral rectitude.
Aside from the temporary seizure of her manuscripts, Werl turned out to be an almost ideal place for Savitri to write. She had ample free time and few distractions. The women imprisoned for war crimes whom she met provided her with useful information. Above all, she enjoyed working and sleeping in peace and quiet, far removed from the maddening twenty-four hour din of Calcutta.4 Having been arrested and convicted for Nazi propaganda, Savitri was, of course, forbidden to write it in jail. But most of the German members of the prison staff took a liking to her and either tolerated or actively assisted her writing. Furthermore, Savitri was not forbidden to write entirely. She could, for instance, write letters. So even if she were observed writing by someone unsympathetic to her, that alone would not raise suspicion. The authorities would have had actually to read what she had written, and no one in the Werl administration seemed inclined to do so. Before her trial, Savitri was not required to work; after her conviction, she was.
1 There had already been a preliminary search on 26 May and a clandestine search on 27 May, thus her ordeal had lasted three weeks by 17 June.
2 Defiance, 523–27.
3 Defiance, 470–78.
4 Defiance, 397, 452–53.
But a sympathetic German member of the prison staff gave her light duties so she would have time to continue writing.1
The lack of paper was a significant inconvenience, but Savitri was resourceful:
I saved to the utmost the little paper I had. I would write upon the envelopes of the rare letters I received, or even upon the letters themselves, between the lines, or on the packing paper from the parcels that a kind friend occasionally sent me from England, so as to make the half a dozen sheets I had left last as long as I could. I wrote at first very faintly, with a black pencil. Then, again, upon the same paper, over the pale writing with more stress, so that, this time, only the second writing would show. Then, I used over that second writing an indelible pencil which Colonel Vickers had given me “to write letters,” on the day following my arrival . . . . And whenever it was possible, I would write a fourth time over this third writing, with pen and ink. Each successive writing I copied, after correcting it, in the brown copy-book, with pen and ink.2
The lack of paper became even more acute after the search. Savitri was forbidden to continue work on Gold, and although she was given paper to continue writing Lightning, she could not use it for writing Gold because the pages had been counted, and she might have been asked to account for her use of each page. But again Savitri was resourceful:
What I actually did was to write the rough text of my dangerous book . . . upon my wooden stool, with a piece of chalk that the searchers were kind enough to forget in a corner of my drawer; to correct it, wiping out with a damp cloth this sentence or that one, until I was satisfied with it; and then to copy it off with pen and ink, in tight writing, paragraph by paragraph, not upon my new writing pad nor in the copy-book . . . but at the back of the pages of the letters that I used to receive from Miss V [Veronica Vassar]. And that too, not in English, but in Bengali; and with many abbreviations and conventional signs of my own.3
After each letter was filled, Savitri returned it to its envelope and asked
1 Defiance, 250.
2 Defiance, 392.
3 Defiance, 529.
to have it placed in storage until the day of her release. Once free, she needed only to translate the end of her book into English.
Another inconvenience was lack of access to reference materials. Savitri mentions this in the text of Gold itself.1 Because of these limitations, Gold consists primarily of professions of faith and narratives of Savitri’s and others’ personal experiences, rather than rigorously documented philosophical and historical discussions of National Socialism, World War II, and the Allied occupation. Nevertheless, Gold does contain many quotations, and Chapters 7 and 11 in particular contain many footnotes. Thus it is tempting to conclude that these quotations and notes were added after Gold was completed, which belies Savitri’s assertions that the book was composed entirely in prison.
Savitri did, however, have a remarkable memory. Even in old age, she was able to quote her favourite passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf from memory, including the page numbers. Her memory also suffices to account for her quotes from Racine’s Andromaque, which she had committed to memory as a child, as well as her quotes from Leconte de Lisle, Victor Hugo, Akhnaton’s hymns to the sun, Wulf Sörensen’s (Heinrich Himmler’s) Die Stimme der Ahnen (The Voice of the Ancestors), and other works. Furthermore, in Defiance we learn that Savitri had a number of books with her in prison: the Bhagavad-Gita, Gottfried Feder’s Das Programm der NSDAP (The Programme of the NSDAP), H.R. Hall’s The Ancient History of the Near East, Herbert H. Gowan’s An Outline History of Japan, a Mythology of Ancient Britain (perhaps Charles L. Squire’s The Mythology of Ancient Britain and Ireland), an Art and Civilisation of Ancient America, two books on Mongolian history2 (Harold Lamb’s The March of the Barbarians3 and Ralph Fox’s Genghis Khan4), and the aforementioned New Soldiers’ Songbook. Moreover, Savitri mentions that she had copies of and extracts from the periodicals she cites in Chapter 7 with her in prison.5 Finally, she mentions that the passages she quotes from Winston Churchill’s War Memoirs in a footnote to Chapter 36 were copied from an issue of Life magazine given to her by a fellow prisoner.7 So it is quite conceivable
1 Gold, 182, 202.
2 Defiance, 258.
3 Gold, 196 n1.
4 Gold, 283 n1.
5 Defiance, 248.
6 Gold, 20–21, n1.
7 Defiance, 301.
that Savitri also had access to the other titles she quotes in Gold while in prison. Of course Savitri probably checked her citations from memory against the originals once she left prison, and she added at least two notes,1 but her claim that Gold was written in prison is essentially true.
After her release from Werl on 18 August 1949, Savitri entered the French occupied zone to visit friends in Koblenz. On 21 August, she left Germany for France where she took up residence in her home town of Lyons. But instead of immediately publishing Gold, Savitri first wrote and published Defiance. It was Savitri’s custom to write the Forewords to her books last. The Foreword to Defiance was written in Lyons on 29 August 1950.2 Defiance was published in 1951 in Calcutta by Savitri’s husband A.K. Mukherji. Savitri then turned her attention to Gold and Lightning. She recorded that chapters 6 and 7 of Lightning were written in Lyons in 1951 and 1952, but the book was not finished until 21 March 1956 in Hanover,3 after many more adventures in Germany, some of which Savitri chronicled in Pilgrimage and Long-Whiskers and the Two-Legged Goddess.4 The Foreword to Gold was written in Lyons on 21 August 1952. The book was published later that year in Calcutta by A.K. Mukherji.
ON THE PRESENT EDITION
The first edition of Gold in the Furnace contains many errors and stylistic inconsistencies. Savitri attributed these to the fact that the book was printed in India while she was in France, unable to oversee production. Page proofs were apparently sent to her, but she gives no indication they were ever received.5 In truth, Savitri also needed the services of a good copy editor.
My goal as editor was to make the minimum number of editorial interventions necessary to bring Gold into accord with proper English and contemporary stylistic canons. Following Savitri’s use of British English, I
1 Gold, 56 n1, 118 n1,
2 Defiance, vii.
3 Lightning, 126.
4 Pilgrimage (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1958) was written in Emsdetten, Westphalia in 1953–54. The Introduction is dated 3 June 1953; the completion date of the book is 6 February 1954 (Pilgrimage, 8, 354). Long-Whiskers and the Two-Legged Goddess, or the true story of a “most objectionable Nazi” and . . . half-a-dozen cats (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1965), was begun in Joda near Baramjamda in Orissa, India, in September 1957 and completed in Hanover on 10 July 1961 (Long-Whiskers, 136).
5 And Time Rolls On, 68.
have corrected errors of spelling and grammar and made the style consistent throughout. I corrected a few “foreignisms”: unidiomatic diction and syntax based on French and German, the languages that Savitri was using regularly while writing Gold. I corrected errors of diction, e.g., “enormity” where “enormousness” was meant, “ostensibly” where “ostensively” was meant, “specially” where “especially” was meant, etc. I strayed from my minimalist approach in Chapter 4, where I changed the tense of part of Savitri’s account of her conversation with Sven Hedin to impart greater immediacy. I preserved Savitri’s sometimes eccentric capitalization practices without trying to make them consistent.
The subtitle, “Experiences in Post-War Germany,” does not appear in the first edition, but it translates the subtitle of the 1982 German translation of Gold, “Erlebnisse im Nachkriegsdeutschland.” Since Savitri was in constant contact with the translator, Lotte Asmus, while the book was in preparation, it is reasonable to assume that Savitri approved of the subtitle.
Regarding punctuation and capitalization: Savitri did not merely use commas and semicolons to organize information on a page, but to indicate dramatic pauses in imaginary speech. She indicates quite a few pauses, which seems ironic to anyone who actually heard her speak, for she spoke quickly and without pause. Nevertheless, I have maintained her punctuation practices. There are six exceptions to this. First, I “updated” the use of hyphens, for example in “to-day” and “to-morrow.” Second, I regularized the use of commas before conjunctions. Third, I removed a few commas that seemed to be obvious strays, conforming neither to accepted usage nor to Savitri’s style. Fourth, I eliminated commas and, in a couple of cases, semicolons that were adjacent to dashes. Fifth, Savitri enclosed every instance of the word “de-Nazification” in “scare quotes.” Although it pains my editorial conscience, I did not follow this practice when the repetition seemed tedious and excessive. Finally, there were several sentences that were difficult to read and understand because commas and semicolons had sprouted between virtually every word. I weeded out just enough punctuation to make these sentences readable.
I have translated all quotations in French and German or looked up existing translations. I have cited standard translations of French and German works, even where the translation is mine. Where possible, I have supplied complete citations for books and articles mentioned. Finally, where useful, I have provided editor’s notes, which are clearly marked as such.
I encourage those who wish to check my editorial labours against the original to contact me at the Savitri Devi Archive (www.savitridevi.org), and I will provide them a photocopy of the first edition at cost or a PDF free of charge.
I judged a third edition of Gold necessary because of problems with the second edition, published by Historical Review Press, most notably the
omission of two entire pages of text. I would have preferred the entire printing scrapped and a corrected version printed. That was not done, hence this third edition. In the end, it was all for the best, because preparing this new edition has given me the opportunity to discover and correct a number of my own editorial mistakes, thus bringing this edition into closer correspondence both with Savitri’s original and my own editorial principles.
I wish to thank all who made this new edition of Gold in the Furnace possible: Colin Jordan for supplying a copy of Gold that had belonged to his ex-wife Françoise Dior, the copy that I scanned for this and the previous edition; Beryl Cheetham for supplying a copy of the dust jacket for Gold hand-painted for her by Savitri herself in 1961; M.H. for the cover photo and the 1948 photos of Savitri in Germany and Sweden; J. for the images of pages from Savitri’s 1940–1950 passport; Fr. Genesthai for his advice on editorial matters; and John Morgan and D.A.R. Sokoll for carefully reading the page proofs. Special thanks are due Gabriella for her help with the dust jacket/cover.
Beryl Cheetham was Savitri’s friend for more than twenty years and was especially helpful to Savitri during the last year of her life, when, with failing health and fading eyesight, she travelled around France and Germany living on the charity of friends and comrades. Beryl’s contributions to this new edition of Gold go beyond the back jacket/cover, for she has been indispensable to my research on Savitri Devi. Therefore, for her help to Savitri and to me, I wish to dedicate this new edition of Gold to her.
Savitri in Alfeld an der Leine, Lower Saxony, 5 December 1948