Irish government’s condolences to Germany after Hitler’s death

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Hubert Butler-Ireland’s Holocaust Hero

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Hubert Marshal Butler (2 October 1900 – 5 January 1991) was an Irish essayist who wrote on a wide range of topics, from local history and archaeology to the political and religious affairs of eastern Europe before and during World War II, he also traveled to Nazi Austria on his own initiative and at his own expense and helped save Jewish people from being sent to concentration camps.

Hubert Marshal Butler was born on October 2, 1900 at the family home of Maiden Hall, near to the village of Bennettsbridge in Co. Kilkenny.Butler would later go on to gain a place at St John’s College, Oxford, from where he would graduate in 1922 with a degree in Classics.

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After working for the Irish County Libraries, under the famed Sir Horace Plunkett, for four years, Butler travelled throughout inter-war Europe.

Butler was deeply disturbed by some of the anti-Semitic sentiment found in Ireland prior to World War Two, particularly that of Fine Gael politician Oliver J. Flanagan.In a 1938 Dáil (Irish Parliament)speech, Flanagan said: “They (the Jews) crucified our Saviour 1,900 years ago and they have been crucifying us every day of the week.”

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In response, Butler proclaimed: “I was as Irish as Oliver Flanagan and I was determined that Jewish refugees should come to Ireland.”

On the eve of the war, Butler moved to Nazi Austria to attempt to secure visas to Ireland for persecuted Jews.Working with both the Irish and American Quakers, he offered Jews safe passage to Ireland before helping them settle in the Americas.

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On the night of September 16th, 1938, a man called Erwin Strunz received a phone call at his flat in Vienna. The caller, a friend who had joined the Nazi party, warned Strunz that he had been chosen for deportation to the Dachau concentration camp. Strunz was a journalist and former trade-union official. He had also married a Jewish woman and converted to Judaism, making him especially obnoxious to the Nazis. His friend warned him that he would be taken away in two days’ time. Strunz turned for help to the great Irish essayist Hubert Butler. The latter had gone to Vienna entirely on his own initiative and at his own expense to do whatever he could to rescue Jews from the Nazis.

The exact number of Jews Butler saved from persecution and extermination is not agreed upon, but he certainly smuggled scores of people to safety.Butler’s daughter Julia recalled the family home in Bennettsbridge as always being full of refugees passing through.

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Butler attended the Evian international conference on the plight of Jewish refugees in July 1938 and was sickened by the attitudes of the Irish delegation, one member of which said to him: “Didn’t we suffer like this in the Penal days and nobody came to our help?”

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This was not mere individual idiocy. The Department of Justice delegated power over refugees to a body called the Irish Co-ordinating Committee for the Relief of Christian Refugees. The rule adopted was that only Jews who had converted to Christianity should be allowed to settle in Ireland. This committee was given the power to vet applications to settle in Ireland made by European Jews.

It is thus almost certain that Erwin Strunz, and his wife and two children, would never have been allowed into Ireland. When Strunz turned desperately to Butler for help, Butler and his wife, Peggy Guthrie, got the family out of Vienna to London and then to Peggy’s family home in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan (now the Tyrone Guthrie Centre).

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The Strunz family subsequently settled in Ardmore, Co Waterford. In December 1938 Strunz was interviewed by the Cork Examiner and warned of what was happening in the concentration camps: “Life in these camps is terrible,” she said, “and the people there are treated like beasts.”

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Such warnings had little effect on policy, but Butler and Guthrie, working with Irish Quakers and with the American Quaker Emma Cadbury, continued to operate what was in effect a parallel Irish refugee policy. They secured exit visas for dozen of Jews to escape from Vienna, brought them to Ireland and, as they could not stay here, helped them to settle in the Americas.

After giving a broadcast talk in 1947 about Yugoslavia he was publicly criticised for failing to mention the alleged suffering of Catholics under Josip Broz Tito’s regime.

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He responded by trying to draw attention to another matter he had avoided in his radio talk, and which he saw as a greater scandal: the involvement of Catholic clergy with the Ustaša, a Nazi-installed puppet regime that had waged a genocidal crusade against non-Catholics in part of Yugoslavia during World War II.

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Butler’s efforts in this respect earned him notoriety and public opprobrium in clerical Ireland to the extent that he felt obliged to leave the archaeological society he had played a big part in reviving.

Butler was a keen market gardener as well as a writer and his circle of friends included the Mary Poppins creator Pamela Travers, the journalist Claud Cockburn, and the poet Padraic Colum. He believed strongly in the importance of the family and, as well as playing an active role in keeping his own extended family in touch, he was the founder of the Butler Society.

He is buried five miles from the family home at St. Peter’s Church, Ennisnag, Kilkenny. The Kilkenny Art Gallery Society’s Butler Gallery in Kilkenny Castle was named in honor of Hubert and Peggy.

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