This week is the week we went to war – 70 years ago. In early September 1939 Britain responded to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland by declaring that war now existed between us. Rationing of food, defeat in France, the nightly ‘blackouts’ and enemy bombing raids, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz – all were shortly to come. Britain would not be the same for many years.
Quite recently, I met an elderly German woman at one of our ISKCON meetings. She told me that when she was 11 years old, she attended a rally and lined up as Adolf Hitler was approaching. He patted her on the cheek and in a burst of childish emotion she asked him: “Herr Hitler, why must there be a war?” “There must be a war, child, there must,” was his reply.
But just as Hitler was adamant about the need for militaristic buildup, for retribution for the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, for the right of Germans in the Sudetenland to be incorporated into an expanded nation, and all the other racial and political theories he had; so too was Britain firm in her resolve to stop him. It took six years and monumental efforts, firstly alone, then with allies.
I was born 11 years after the War ended, but all through my childhood it was all I heard about. So much had it shaped the nation of Britain that it featured regularly in conversations around my house. From all the grown-ups I learned about shelters, evacuations, ration books, Lord Haw-Haw and “Germany calling,” being demobbed, Belsen concentration camp, and what a tyrant Hitler had been. The songs on the ‘wireless’ (not radio) were often wartime songs and the clothing in the wardrobe, as well as many items around the house, were all of the same period.
When I came to the Krishna consciousness movement at the age of 17 and heard about the group’s leader who everyone slavishly obeyed and who all blindly followed, my first concerned question was: “But how do you know he’s not someone like Adolf Hitler? Everyone followed him as their leader and look what happened to them! How can you be so sure?”
I had to wait another few months until Srila Prabhupada came personally to London and I was able to see for myself the qualities that so impressed his young followers. And I became one myself.
Srila Prabhupada first came to England on September 11, 1969. 40 years ago this week. He was adamant in his determination to bring peace – the highest peace – to all.
This week, as the nation remembers the declaration of war in a fateful September 70 years ago, a growing community of Vaishnavas will mark the coming of the great chance for lasting peace exactly 40 years ago.