Ireland’s president,Douglas Hyde, during World War II offered condolences to Nazi Germany’s representative in Dublin over the death of Adolf Hitler, declassified government records show.
It was long believed that Ireland’s prime minister(Taoiseach) at the time, Eamon de Valera, was the only government leader to convey official condolences to Eduard Hempel, director of the German diplomatic corps in Ireland.
(Dr Eduard Hempel, Dr Vogelsang and Dr Adolf Mahr at the German legation’s garden party in Dublin, 1938.)
De Valera’s gesture ,unique among leaders of neutral nations in the final weeks of World War II ,was criticized worldwide.
On May 2, 1945, just two days after Hitler and his consort Eva Braun committed suicide in their Berlin bunker, De Valera, who also served as foreign minister, and his aide, Secretary of External Affairs Joseph Walshe, visited the German Embassy in Dublin to sign a book of condolences for the departed Fuhrer.
They also met with the top German envoy to Ireland, Eduard Hempel. Irish envoys in other nations did likewise, including Leopold Kerney in Spain, who called on the German Embassy in Madrid to express his condolences.
Not everyone in De Valera’s government agreed with his decision to mourn Hitler. Frederick Boland, the assistant secretary of the Department of External Affairs, reportedly begged him not to go to the embassy.
Indeed, no other Western European democracies followed De Valera’s example – he found himself in the dubious company of two European fascist dictators, Francisco Franco of Spain and António de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal, in voicing condolences over Hitler.
De Valera, who had apparently never expressed any admiration or support for Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the war, also found himself in the embarrassing and uncomfortable spot of receiving praise and gratitude from the British Union of Fascists for “honoring the memory of the greatest German in history.”
De Valera argued that to refuse condolences “would have been an act of unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel”.
It was a pedantic and foolish diplomatic gesture, and it was not appreciated by my grandmother Christabel Bielenberg, according to Kim Bielenberg -her Grandmother was a German living in Ireland at the time,when she learned of it later on.
Many in Germany were hardly stricken with grief at the demise of Hitler in the Spring of 1945, and even if they had been sympathetic, they were so busy trying to guarantee their own survival – finding food and keeping a roof over their heads – that they had little time to mourn him.
The global media also piled on. An editorial in The New York Times said of De Valera’s visit: “Considering the character and the record of the man for whose death he was expressing grief, there is obviously something wrong with the protocol, the neutrality of Mr. de Valera.”
The New York Herald Tribune also blasted De Valera. “If this is neutrality, it is neutrality gone mad – neutrality carried into a diplomatic jungle – where good and evil alike vanish in the red-tape thickets: where conscience flounders helplessly in slogans of protocol,” the paper declared.
Some Irish-Americans also condemned de Valera.
One Angela D. Walsh of New York wrote to a local newspaper: “Have you seen the motion pictures of the victims of German concentration camps, de Valera? Have you seen the crematoriums? Have you seen the bodies of little children murdered by Nazi hands? Have you seen the living dead, de Valera? Skin stretched over bone, and too weak to walk?”
In response to vitriolic international criticism over his gesture (most notably from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Harry Truman), De Valera insisted it was a question of diplomatic protocol and that failing to send his respects would amount to “an act of unpardonable discourtesy.”
In a letter to Robert Brennan, the Irish ambassador in Washington, De Valera wrote: “During the whole of the war, Dr. Hempel’s conduct was irreproachable. He was always friendly and invariably correct — in marked contrast with [U.S. envoy David] Gray. I certainly was not going to add to [Hempel’s] humiliation in the hour of defeat.”
De Valera also specified that his actions in no way condoned the policies of Hitler’s regime.