There is a saying ” Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”
But what if in saving one life you inadvertently plunged the world into the most catastrophic horror of all time? What if you saved the life of Adolf Hitler just as he was taking his first baby steps to becoming the most evil monster in history?
Michael Keogh was an Irish soldier who served on both sides of World War I, and has become known as “the man who saved Hitler.
Michael Patrick Keogh was born in 1891, the son of a local Royal Irish Constabulary policeman Laurence Keogh, in Tullow, County Carlow. Some of Keogh’s ancestors had been involved in the 1798 Rebellion in County Wexford, and his grandfather Mathew Keogh was the leader of the 1887 resistance against the Coolgreany Evictions also in County Wexford. His great uncle was Myles Keogh, the second in command to Colonel Custer, and who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Keogh lived in Tullow as a child and at age 14 won a County Council scholarship to attend the seminary school, St Patrick’s Monastery, Mountrath, County Laois. He was a member of the O’Growney Branch of the Gaelic League in Tullow from 1903 to 1906, and entered singing and dancing competitions.
Keogh emigrated to New York City in 1907 to live with his aunt Mary Keogh, and once there he joined the National Guard. He became a member of Clan na Gael in New York, through which he developed a friendship with Roger Casement.
In 1909 Keogh claims to have obtained an engineering degree from Columbia University, though this remains unsubstantiated. Keogh spent 10 months fighting against Mexican guerrillas on the Texan frontier in 1910, but was forced to retire from the army due to an abdominal gunshot wound. He worked on the Panama Canal, possibly as an engineer, until 1913 when he returned to Ireland. Once there, he joined the Royal Irish Regiment, although he later claimed to have done this to enlist fellow Irish soldiers to the Republican Army. Private Keogh was convicted of sedition in 1914, following an incident at the Curragh Camp involving British officers refusing to fight against Ulster Unionists, and served 28 days in the cells.
In 1913 he joined the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army.
A lowly private, he lectured his officers and spent a month behind bars after a court martial for voicing his strong republican views.
Despite these views, a fight was a fight, so he fought in the trenches until he landed in a German POW camp. Keogh had befriended Roger Casement in the US years earlier, and Casement now sought him out to head an Irish Brigade of prisoners willing to switch sides.
Privately the Germans treated Casement’s Brigade as an Irish joke, but they were happy to play him along for the nuisance value he could deliver back in Ireland.
But Casement’s career as a gun runner was short-lived and after his execution in 1916 the Irish Brigade was effectively shelved by the Germans.
Keogh joined the German Army proper, where he rose to the rank of Field Lieutenant. In his regiment he met a fiery Lance Corporal called Adolf Hitler.
After the war, Germany descended into chaos as rival factions vied to fill the void left by the collapse of the old order. Keogh joined the proto-fascist Freikorps, who were sworn to smash Communism.
When Marxists attempted to set up a Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich, the Friekorps wiped them out with shocking brutality. Peace had no sooner been restored than it was shattered by the noisiest man in Germany.
Keogh was duty officer at a Munich barracks when he was called to quell a riot that had erupted in a gym. What he saw was not exactly a fair fight.
A crowd of some 200 soldiers was kicking the living daylights out of just two. Some of the attackers were brandishing bayonets. The two victims were about to die.
Keogh ordered his men to fire a salvo over the heads of the mob. It did the trick. He dragged the two victims out of the gym “cut, bleeding and in need of the doctor”.
It was a measure of Hitler’s madness that he had entered the hall to provoke a reaction from 200 troops, by hectoring them with views that were already openly hateful.
As Keogh dragged him off to the guardroom for his own safety, the future fuhrer continued to spew angry comments.
Once there, Keogh recalled: “The fellow with the moustache gave his name as Adolf Hitler. It was the Lance Corporal of Ligny. I would not have recognised him. He was thin and emaciated from his wounds.”
Keogh arrived back in Ireland in late 1919 as the War of Independence was coming to a boil. He linked with Michael Collins, trafficking guns from Germany.
After a decade here he moved back to Germany to work as an engineer. He attended one of the infamous Nuremberg Rallies, but after The Night Of The Long Knives in 1934 where Hitler killed former allies, Keogh began to fear for the safety of his German wife and children.
He moved back to Ireland on foot of a letter from De Valera promising him a job, but the promise went unkept.
Upon his return to Ireland, Keogh was employed at the Poolbeg Generating Station in Dublin and the sugar-beet factory in Carlow. Keogh died in Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown in September 1964, survived by his wife.