From the Editor…

Published in Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2005), Letters, Letters, Volume 13

Ireland and Auschwitz

This period marks the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps. Here it has been marked by a particularly Irish form of commemoration—the vandalisation of a public monument, in this case the decapitation of the statue of IRA leader Seán Russell in Dublin’s Fairview Park. In the eyes of the anonymous perpetrators, who cited the current commemorations, Russell was a ‘Nazi collaborator’. Yet, as numerous of his defenders have pointed out (see ‘Letters’, p. 14), Russell was no Nazi but a physical-force Republican for whom ‘England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity’. Nevertheless, the question remains: had Russell succeeded in his aim of uniting Ireland, what sort of freedom would we have enjoyed in a Nazi-dominated Europe? Yet for Unionists, tempted to exploit the discomfiture of Republicans on this issue, any attempt to attach ‘guilt by association’ is a double-edged sword. A former Northern Ireland education minister, Lord Londonderry (see Neil Fleming’s article on p. 31), was one of the leading appeasers of Hitler in the 1930s, and there’s no doubt that that policy paved the way for Nazi domination of Europe and the death camps that followed.
Fine Gael has the troubling legacy of the Blueshirts to contend with. Not only did the party’s first leader, Eoin O’Duffy, join the Axis powers in militarily supporting Franco in Spain, he was even prepared to raise a force to fight for Mussolini in Abyssinia! Nor is the record of the Fianna Fáil government, then in power, without blemish. De Valera’s government refused to accept Jewish refugees, including children, fleeing Hitler’s Third Reich before the war, and at its end, when the existence of the death camps was public knowledge, he paid his infamous ‘visit of condolence’ to the German representative in Dublin on hearing of the death of Adolf Hitler.
So, should Russell’s monument be reinstated (Nelson’s wasn’t)? Should President McAleese, on behalf of the nation, apologise for de Valera’s slavish adherence to diplomatic protocol? Before we rush to judgement on this issue, perhaps it is time for us all, regardless of our political traditions, to reflect, investigate and debate. It is a happy coincidence that our ‘Curriculum’ section in this issue (p. 36) marks a new departure by dealing with non-Irish history, with an article by John Horne of Trinity College, Dublin, on the origins and nature of fascism and Nazism. We will also revisit the Russell issue in our May/June issue with an article by Brian Hanley.
Finally, Hiram Morgan of UCC, one of the original founders and joint editors of History Ireland, has renewed his formal association with the magazine by joining our board of patrons (in place of the late Douglas Gageby). In truth, in terms of advice and support, Hiram never really went away.


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