Both of Gandhi's letters to Hitler are addressed to "my friend". In the case of anyone else than the Mahatma, this friendliness would be somewhat strange given the advice which Hitler had tendered to the British government concerning the suppression of India's freedom movement. During a meeting with Lord Halifax in 1938, Hitler had pledged his support to the preservation of the British empire and offered his formula for dealing with the Indian National Congress: kill Gandhi, if that isn't enough then kill the other leaders too, if that isn't enough then two hundred more activists, and so on until the Indian people will give up the hope of independence. Gandhi may of course have been unaware of Hitler's advice, but it would also be characteristically Gandhian to remain friendly towards his own would-be killer.
Some people will be shocked that Gandhi called the ultimate monster a "friend". But the correct view of sinners, view which I imbibed as the "Christian" view but which I believe has universal validity, is that they are all but instances of the general human trait of sinfulness. Hitler's fanaticism, cruelty, coldness of heart and other reprehensible traits may have differed in intensity but not in essence with those very same traits in other human beings. As human beings gifted with reason and conscience, sinners are also not beyond redemption: your fiercest persecutor today may repent and seek your friendship tomorrow. If Gandhi could approach heartless fanatics like Mohammed Ali Jinnah in a spirit of friendship, there is no reason why he should have withheld his offer of friendship from Hitler.
In his first letter dd. 23 July 1939 (Complete Works, vol.70, p.20-21), and which the Government did not permit to go, Gandhi does mention his hesitation in addressing Hitler. But the reason is modesty rather than abhorrence: "Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence." But the sense of impending war, after the German occupation of Czech-inhabited Bohemia-Moravia (in violation of the 1938 Munich agreement and of the principle of the "self-determination of nations" which had justified the annexation of German-inhabited Austria and Sudetenland) and rising hostility with Poland, prompted him to set aside his scruples: "Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth." Even so, the end of his letter is again beset with scruples and modesty: "Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you. I remain, Your sincere friend, Sd. M. MK Gandhi".
The remainder and substance of this short letter reads: "It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?"
This approach is held in utter contempt by post-War generations. Thus, the Flemish Leftist novelist and literature professor Kristien Hemmerechts has commented ("Milosevic, Saddam, Gandhi en Hitler", De Morgen, 16-4-1999): "In other words, Gandhi was a naïve fool who tried in vain to sell his non-violence as a panacea to the Führer."