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Hermann Kallenbach

Hermann Kallenbach (1871 - 1945) was a Jewish German-born South African architect and close friend and associate of Mohandas Gandhi. A man of independent means, Kallenbach removed to South Africa in 1896 and established himself as a successful and profitable architect in Johannesburg, where he became a South African citizen. In 1904 he met Gandhi and was influenced by Gandhi’s ideas about ‘satyagraha’, part of Gandhi’s wider non-violent resistance philosophy, and become very involved in the movement. In 1910 he donated a large farm outside Johannesburg to Gandhi and named this Tolstoy Farm, as he had been strongly influenced by Tolstoy’s writings. The farm became a meeting place for Gandhi’s followers and the centre of his political organisation in South Africa.

Kallenbach subsequently accompanied Gandhi and his wife when they travelled from South Africa to Britain in 1914. However, while he had intended to travel on to India with the Gandhis, he was prevented from doing so by the outbreak of the First World War. Kallenbach was refused permission to go to India and had to remain in London, and it was during this period that Schreiner and he came to know each other well and to correspond, although they had met previously. He was eventually interned as an ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man from 1915 until 1917. After the war Kallenbach returned to South Africa and as Hitler’s rise to power gained momentum and prominence, he became a Zionist. Later in the 1930s he visited India and met with Gandhi, but did not become associated with the Gandhi movement.

The relationship between Kallenbach and Gandhi was prominently in the spotlight following the publication of Joseph Lelyveld’s biography of Gandhi, Great Soul, in 2011. In this book Lelyveld quotes a cultural historian, Tridip Suhrud, as claiming that Kallenbach and Gandhi were ‘a couple’. This provoked a storm of controversy in India and more widely. Gandhi described Kallenbach in his autobiography as his ‘soulmate’.

Schreiner’s extant letters to Kallenbach begin in April 1912, with her first letter a response to a letter received from him following a face-to-face meeting. The remaining letters were written between 1914 and 1916 when Schreiner was living in London, and are mainly concerned with organising face-to-face meetings, although this changed after Kallenbach was interned. Many of Schreiner’s letters to Kallenbach thank him for small kindnesses he did for her, especially shopping for various items when she fell seriously ill during an influenza epidemic in 1914. It is clear from her letters of this period that Schreiner saw Kallenbach fairly regularly and that they went on excursions and days out together, but that his insistent paying for things frustrated her and undermined her sense of independence. In a number of letters Schreiner asks for an account of what he has spent on her shopping, or makes comments about wanting to pay for tickets and so on. Schreiner also confronts other difficulties in her letters to Kallenbach, making some pointed comments about pacifism, or for example expressing her annoyance at remarks he had made to her about the artist and poet Isaac Rosenberg. Earlier in the correspondence, he is also a conduit for Schreiner to Gandhi and in a number of letters she passes on questions, greetings or information to Gandhi via Kallenbach.

For further information see:
Mahatma Gandhi (1966) An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth London: Jonathan Cape
Joseph Lelyveld (2011) Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India New York: Knopf
Shimon Lev (2012) Soulmates: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach Delhi: Orient Black Swan
Isa Sarid and Christian Bartolf (1997) Hermann Kallenbach: Mahatma Gandhi’s Friend in South Africa, A Concise Biography Berlin: Gandhi-Informations-Zentrum
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