Hermann Kallenbach (1 March 1871 – 25 March 1945) was a German born Jewish South African architect who was one of the foremost friends and associates of Mahatma Gandhi. Kallenbach was introduced to the young Mohandas Gandhi while they were both working in South Africa and after a series of discussions they developed a long-lasting friendship.
Kallenbach was born in 1871 in Žemaičių Naumiestis, Russian empire (today Lithuania) as the third eldest out of seven children of a German-Jewish family. His father Kalman Leib Kallenbach was a Hebrew teacher and, later, a timber merchant. Hermann's childhood centered around education, sports and friendships with the village youth and later he studied architecture in Stuttgart and Munich. In 1896, he went to South Africa to join his uncles in Johannesburg, where he practiced as an architect and became a South African citizen. A skilled ice-skater, swimmer, cyclist and gymnast, and a successful architect, Kallenbach acquired considerable property in South Africa. Yet a major transformation in his life took place after he met Mahatma Gandhi.
With Gandhi in South Africa
In 1904 he met Gandhi, who was then working in South Africa. They had long discussions on religious and other issues. He was highly influenced by Gandhi's ideas of Satyagraha and equality among human beings and became his intimate friend and a dedicated devotee. In Gandhi's words, they became "soulmates" and, for a time, shared what is now called Satyagraha House. This was a house designed by Kallenbach for them both to live together.
In 1910 Kallenbach, then a rich man, donated to Gandhi a thousand acre (4 km²) farm belonging to him near Johannesburg. The farm was used to run Gandhi's famous "Tolstoy Farm" that housed the families of satyagrahis. Kallenbach himself named this farm after Leo Tolstoy as he was deeply influenced by Tolstoy's writings and philosophy. Abandoning the life of a wealthy, sport-loving bachelor, he adopted the simple lifestyle, vegetarian diet and equality politics of Gandhi on this farm. Henry Polak was another close friend and follower of Gandhi. Kallenbach was associated with Gandhi throughout the Satyagraha (non-violent resistance) struggle, which lasted in South Africa until 1914.
Kallenbach also accompanied Gandhi in his first penitential fast at Phoenix in 1913 over the 'moral lapse' of two inmates. Also, Kallenbach acted as a manager during Gandhi's 'The Epic March — Satyagraha' movement in South Africa. He also accompanied Gandhi and his wife on their final voyage from South Africa to London in 1914. Gandhi and Kallenbach used to call each other "Upper House" and "Lower House" respectively, the Lower House being a metaphore for preparing the budget, and the Upper House vetoing for it.
As a Zionist
Kallenbach planned to accompany Gandhi to India in 1914, but with the outbreak of World War I, he was interned as an 'Enemy alien' at detention camps and shifted to the Isle of Man as a Prisoner of war from 1915 until 1917. After the war he returned to South Africa, where he resumed his work as an architect and continued to correspond with Gandhi. The rise of Nazism and Hitler's anti-Jewish propaganda shocked Kallenbach into a rediscovery of his Jewish roots. He became a Zionist, served on the Executive board of the South African Zionist Federation and planned to settle in Palestine ("Ereẓ Israel" in Hebrew). He wanted society there to involve no state, military or industry, in order to avoid colonialism through Zionist settlements. At the request of Moshe Shertok (Sharett), Kallenbach visited Gandhi in May 1937 to enlist his sympathy and support for Zionism. The architect once again became a simple man, participating in all the activities of Gandhi's ashram life. Kallenbach wrote, "I join the whole programme. ... It is 'almost' as the old joint life, as if the 23 years, with all the events that affected millions of people, had disappeared." Although disagreeing with Gandhi over Zionism and also in his (Kallenbach's) conviction that Hitler had to be resisted by violence, Kallenbach's deep friendship with Gandhi continued, and he visited him again in 1939.
Death and Legacy
Kallenbach died in 1945. He left a portion of his considerable estate for South African Indians, but the bulk was left for the benefit of Zionism. His large collection of books went to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his cremated remains were buried at Kibbutz Degania in Israel.
Kallenbach was one of the foremost associates and friends of Gandhi, devoting a major part of his life to follow his principles and ideals. Gandhi has frequently mentioned him in his autobiography, where he explains how Kallenbach was his 'soulmate' in the early days of development of his personality and ideologies.
A biography of Hermann Kallenbach, written by Isa Sarid, the daughter of his niece Hanna Lazar and Christian Bartolf, depicts Kallenbach's personality and his friendship with Gandhi very deeply. In his book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, Joseph Lelyveld quotes Tridip Suhrud, a cultural historian, as claiming: "They were a couple." This statement has proven controversial. Nevertheless, Gandhi's correspondence with Kallenbach shows the deep mutual respect they had for each other, and how they had affected each other's ideas. Lelyveld later clarified that he never intended to describe the relationship in a sexual light. The Indian Government purchased Gandhi-Kallenbach Archives to prevent their auction by Sotheby's in July 2012. This purchase aligned with the expectations of Indian people that the memoirs of their cultural and socio-philosophical leader should not be auctioned for profit.
A recent book by the writer and photographer Shimon Lev, "Soulmates: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach," (Orient BlakSwan, 2012) depicts the relationships between the two idealists, and Gandhi's attitude towards Zionism.
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- Surendra Bhana, "Tolstoy Farm, A Satyagrahi's Battle Ground," Journal of Indian History, 1979, Vol. 57 Issue 2/3, p431-440. Journal of Indian History, 1979, Vol. 57 Issue 2/3, pp 431–440
- Shimon Lev, "Soulmates: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach," Orient BlakSwan, 2012