From Lower House, with Love

 

Series of 26 photographs with additional texts

 

Hermann Kallenbach and Mohandas Gandhi most likely met for the first time in mid-1903 in Durban. Gandhi was working in South Africa as a lawyer, Kallenbach, originally from northeastern Prussia, was working as an architect. Even though Kallenbach’s lifestyle differed greatly from Gandhi’s ideal (he surrounded himself with expensive amenities and lived quite a consumer lifestyle), he was immediately captivated by him. Under Gandhi’s influence Kallenbach’s lifestyle began to change, and both men gradually grew closer. 

Probably the most intimate and intense stage of their relationship was their approximately year and a half long cohabitation in a house that Kallenbach built for the two of them on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It was inspired by local indigenous architecture, which was why they called it Kraal. Apart from the fact that they shared a household there, Kraal was the place where the idea for the future campaign of passive resistance for the Indian population of South Africa was born, in which Kallenbach played a very important role. Later, they lived together on the edge of Johannesburg at Mountain View, in their own tent, that was where Kallenbach was building his new house. 

It is from this period that their most intimate correspondence dates, one that still raises many questions about their relationship: Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in the room. The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed. The eternal toothpick is here. The corns, cottonwood and vaseline are a constant reminder … If, therefor, I wanted to dismiss you from my thoughts, I could not do it … The point to illustrate is to show you and me how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vegeance. But then the reward, what is it to be? (Gandhi to Kallenbach, CWMG XCVI, p. 20, 24 September 1909)  

Because of Gandhi’s vow of sexual abstinence it is clear that their relationship did not include a sexual element, however, in his study Soulmates Shimon Lev speaks of how there was a strong sexual tension between the two men that was, in consideration of the above stated, homoerotic (in contrast to Erikson, who in the 1960’s came up with the theory of Gandhi’s bisexuality).   
    
In 1910, Kallenbach, already strongly under the influence of Gandhi, bought 1 100 acres of land in Lawly, not far from Johannesburg. Because both men were deeply influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy they named the farm that they founded after him. This self-sufficient farm served in particular as a refuge for men and women involved in the campaign of passive resistance. It worked on a communal basis up until 1913, when both men finally left it.  

There were sometimes rifts between the two men especially because of Gandhi’s friendships with other people and how busy he was. Kallenbach was often jealous and reproached Gandhi that he gave too much attention to others. At the same time, when Gandhi was away staying with his family in the settlement of Phoenix near Durban, Kallenbach was depressed and lonely. These feelings deepened considerably after Kallenbach returned from his several months long visit with his family in Prussia in 1911, where he had an affair with his underage niece Judith (that Gandhi disapproved of). After his return, Kallenbach lived alternately at his homes in Mountain View and on Tolstoy Farm, where his feelings of frustration and loneliness deepened. 

After the success of the third wave of passive resistance in which Kallenbach played a crucial role, Gandhi decided to satisfy the request of his political guru G. K. Gokhale and return to India and continue his fight for human rights there. It was clear that Hermann Kallenbach would accompany him. However, fate intervened, and because this trip was taking place in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War, Kallenbach was arrested while travelling from India to Britain (because he was German) and interred at a detention facility on the Isle of Man as an enemy of the United Kingdom. Both men assumed it was a misunderstanding, and that Gandhi thanks to his influence would be able to have Kallenbach released quickly. And so Gandhi travelled on to India alone, Kallenbach was supposed to have followed presently. However, Kallenbach was finally released from prison after two and a half years later, in 1917.   

During this time both men continued to maintain a robust correspondence in which Gandhi described to his friend much everyday information about the ashram that he founded in India. At the same time there was escalating tension again as Kallenbach began to feel abandoned and became jealous. Kallenbach accused Gandhi several times of not doing enough for his release. It is a strange and still unexplained fact that Kallenbach did not inform Gandhi when he was finally released. It seems likely that he was bitter and felt cheated. That would also explain why he did not follow Gandhi to India in June of 1920, when after travelling to Europe he returned to South Africa. The two men met once again in 1937 in India. 

Their relationship never again returned to its intimate character. Herman Kallenbach died lonely and bitter in May 1945 in South Africa; his remains are buried in Haifa, Israel. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948 during an evening stroll in Delhi. 

 

About the nature and origin of the photographs

Much is known about the intimate relationship between Hermann Kallenbach and Mahatma Gandhi because of the remaining letters. However, only one side of the correspondence was preserved: Gandhi destroyed Kallenbach’s letters to him. Because, as Gandhi wrote in one of his own notes, Kallenbach would certainly not want anyone reading those kinds of letters.

During the time of their most intimate correspondence they used a very specific way of addressing each other, Gandhi signed his letters as “Upper House,” Kallenbach as “Lower House.” This must have been a reference to the differing functions of the upper and lower chambers of British Parliament.

Of Hermann Kallenbach’s letters to Gandhi, a bare minimum remain. Until now, the existence of the photographs Hermann Kallenbach made for Gandhi from the years 1908 to 1914 has not been well known. He apparently sent them separately from his letters. They contain both stories about everyday events (for example work on the farm, events surrounding the campaign of passive resistance, photographs of visitors who came to their Mountain View residence, etc.), and also ones that reflect his feelings, fears, and personal insecurities. 

To this day it is not clear, given Gandhi’s negative views on the achievements of modern society, how Hermann Kallenbach was able to take these photographs. From one of the diary entries it is clear that Kallenbach made his own pinhole camera (in the form of camera obscura), photographs from that he likely developed himself in the field on strong paper. From the variation in the quality of the photographs it can be presumed that some of them were taken on a better quality instrument. So therefore it remains a question whether he borrowed a camera or hired a photographer. It is also unclear why Gandhi, who destroyed the letters, did not destroy the photographs as well. Or why the photographs did not stay in Gandhi’s estate. Why did he leave them in South Africa (from where they were taken to Europe by German voyager Gerhard Venzke, whose family later sold them to the Swiss Signer family, who kept them into their private collection)? We will likely never know the answer. However, Kallenbach’s photographs are one of the missing fragments that can help us understand the relationship between the two men. What is more, each photograph has a brief note on the back, that either relates to Kallenbach’s feelings at the time, or relates to the current events.

For many decades these photographs lay in a private family collection without any public knowledge of their existence. The Signer family has let them be available for their first public exposition in Johannesburg – where they originated. 

20/1/1908

Mr Jones would simply not budge. He insisted at all costs that he must be photographed with our new automobile. How proudly he stands, does he not? I must send him this photograph as well, although it is not very good. I borrowed this camera from Stephenson, and frankly I am not very good with it. 

Just before Gandhi’s release from prison in Pretoria Hermann Kallenbach bought a car. Gandhi, who opposed the amenities of modern times and particularly luxury, was horrified when his friend arrived to pick him up from prison in the car. At the moment Kallenbach took the portrait of his friend in front of his new car, he still had no idea that he would soon have to part with his “monster” (as Gandhi called it). Kallenbach described this humorous situation many years later in an interview with Mahadev Desai: “I had purchased a car to bring him home from jail on the day of his release. He sat in it, but not without a torment that could be read on his face. For the moment he was quiet, but when we got back home he rated me severely for my folly. „Put a match to it at once, “he said. „But how can I? I am not such a rich man to afford to do so.“ It was after much argument that he consented to my disposing of it, instead of destroying it. It remained in the garage for over a year and was disposed of. But for eleven years after that incident I did not have a motor car.” (Interview with Kallenbach, Harijan, 29 May 1937)  

18/10/1909
[Likely from around Johannesburg]

I too have your photograph with me always. Even so, I cannot wait for your return. 

It is likely that Kallenbach is responding to Gandhi’s letter to him during his time in London, where among other things he writes: “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in the bedroom. The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.“  (Gandhi to Kallenbach, 24 September 1909, CWMG)

18/9/1911
Berlin

This is Mr. and Mrs. Schneider on a walk together. They are Max’s friends, lovely people, but he is rather rude to them. I am concerned about him. More in my letter.

During his travels in to see his family, after visiting England and Belgium Hermann Kallenbach met with his brothers Max and Samuel in Berlin. In his note on the reverse of the photograph Kallenbach is apparently referring to problems with his brother which he described further in his diary: “He does not look too happy, he is more subdued … his life is not a good one.“ (Kallenbach's Diary, 11-20/9/1911)

29/1/1912

Harvesting the first plums. Nakul persuaded me to photograph him for you. Even though at all times we have enough work here, and you shall be gone only for a short while, I cannot help but think about how much I wish you were here with us. 

Gandhi and Kallenbach did everything to maximize Tolstoy Farm’s independence, and to that end they grew a wide range of fruits and vegetables. As Gandhi wrote in his Satyagraha in South Africa, on the farm there grew almost a thousand fruit trees – oranges, apricots and plums. Kallenbach adored the trees and saw to it that the inhabitants of the farms looked after them every morning. 

15/2/1912
[Tolstoy Farm]

We began to hoe corn as you wished, before you left for the city. Frankly I think that we could have waited another week, because now we have some most urgent work, but I like to make you happy. I send you this photograph so you know how very much your satisfaction is vital to me. 

10/4/1912
[Tolstoy Farm]
Walking to town. This photograph is from the day that Niraj left us. We did not  know then what would come to pass. As a memorial to him, we have at least, this photograph. 

It is not clear what the events in the photograph refer to. Niraj was likely one of the residents of the farm, most likely the second person from the right. The photograph also refers to a trip by farm residents to Johannesburg, which had its rules. Gandhi described it himself: Everyone had to go to Johannesburg on some errand or other. Children liked to go there just for the fun o fit. We therefore made a rule that we could go there by rail only on the public business of our little commenwealth, and then too travel third class. Anyone who wanted to go on pleasure trip must go on foot, and carry home-made provisions with him. No on might spend anything on his food in the city. (…) Anyone who wished to go to Johannesburg went there on foot once or twice a week and returned the same day. (Satyagraha in South Africa, SWMG, 1968, pg. 221-2)
The trip from the farm to Johannesburg was 21 miles long, and took the average walkers six or seven hours. 

[January 1913]

The photograph likely comes from January 1913. On the back there is neither date nor commentary. It is clear however that it was taken on the Tolstoy Farm after Gandhi left the farm (and never returned to it again). This created great tension between the two men. Kallenbach felt the energy and money he had invested in the farm was wasted. He also felt cheated and abandoned as Gandhi moved to the Phoenix Settlement near Durban. Kallenbach wanted to follow him, but Gandhi in several letters attempted to dissuade him: “If you had proved for yourself the correctness of the theory of life as I have endeavoured to sketch it, if you had an inner conviction, if you had become sick of the world unto death, if money had no attractions for you, if you were not influenced by your surroundings, if you were longing for poverty and suffering, it would be your duty to attempt to live the new life. But you are not any of these things, so I think that you ought not to think of India or work in Phoenix just now.” (Gandhi to Kallenbach, 8 January 1913, CWMG)
Kallenbach left the farm several weeks after Gandhi did. He never returned there.

23/1/1913

Do you remember? Sometimes I sit here and watch the footpath to the city. I see you here still. Did you know that I had photographed you then?

[Probably September, 1913]
[Volksrust]

In this photograph are several resisters just before Volksrust, where I encountered them. They are resting. Mrs. Gandhi went over there with other women in the meantime, to refresh themselves at the well. Everyone is exhausted, but eager for the task ahead. 

The photograph is undated. Most likely it was taken in the second half of September 1913, when a group of 16 people arrived in Volksrust where they met with Hermann Kallenbach, who played an important role in the third wave of the campaign of passive resistance. This group of pilgrims was just kicking off the last phase of the campaign. Their goal was to cross illegally over the border that residents of Indian origin were not allowed to cross without special permits. One week later all sixteen members of the group, which was made up largely of Gandhi’s associates and family members (including his wife Kasturba) were arrested and sentenced to three months hard labor. These events triggered a series of further protests that culminated in November of that year, when a three thousand person strong march of mostly Indian miners marched in order to again illegally cross the border of the state of Natal. The result was the arrest of the trio leading the protest – Gandhi, Kallenbach and Polak. They were released on December 18, 1913. As a result of their efforts a new law was enacted by parliament known as The Indian Relief Act of June 1914. It abolished the obligation of Indian citizens to pay a yearly 3 pound tax per person, and recognized marriages of persons of Indian origin. 

4/3/1914

Today the Vorsters visited me at M.V. I am not certain you remember them. We met them a few times at Polak’s place. They did not believe that my camera could possibly function, so they insisted that I photograph them. They were very sorry that they did not find you here. Henk’s mother in law was not as unbearable as last time, but I do not recall if you experienced her like that.