Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism & the Holocaust, Dermot Keogh. (Cork University Press, £15.99) ISBN 1859181503 Hitler’s Irish Voices: The Story of German Radio’s Wartime Irish Service David O’Donoghue (Beyond the Pale

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Summer 1999), Reviews, Volume 7

Ireland’s relationship with the Third Reich is the common underlying theme for these engaging and well-  written books. Both illuminate issues glossed over by Carole J. Carter, J.P. Duggan, Robert Fisk and Enno Stephan. They have painstakingly reflected on and researched their respective topics using recently released Irish official records to expand the boundaries of twentieth-century Irish history. Their work is complementary: Keogh deals with Irish responses to the victims of Nazism, while O’Donoghue concentrates on the Irish and German individuals who worked willingly, or under coercion, for Irland-Redaktion (German radio’s wartime Irish propaganda service). Similar casts of characters appear in both books, including senior Irish decision makers, as well as the victims of, and participants in, Nazism. Both works will remain the standards in their chosen areas.
In a chronological narrative, Keogh furnishes a fascinating, scholarly, and sympathetic history of the Irish Jewish community, its contributions to Irish society, its relationship to the Irish State, Irish responses to the Holocaust, Irish anti-Semitism, and Irish refugee policy. The vast majority of the Irish Jewish population arrived in the last two decades of the nineteenth century fleeing from Russian pogroms. In 1926 there were 3,686 Jews in the Free State. In 1945 there were 3,907. Considering the high fertility of this urban and youthful Jewish community, immigration was not the key factor in its growth between 1926 and 1945. At most 100 Jewish refugees entered the Free State during the entire Nazi period.
Keogh establishes that some Irish denizens were susceptible to anti-Semitism. He tracks the expressions of Irish anti-Semitic behaviour from the infamous Limerick ‘pogrom’ of 1904 (chapter two) to Irish popular anti-Semitic stereotypes in the late twentieth century. In comparison to many other countries anti-Semitism was largely latent in Ireland. Was this due to the minuscule Jewish community in Ireland? The Departments of Justice, and Industry and Commerce used this argument to resist an influx of refugees in the 1930s and 1940s. Keogh reconstructs the interdepartmental battles concerning Jewish refugees. Patrick Ruttledge’s Department of Justice, supported by Seán Lemass’s Department of Industry and Commerce, stubbornly prosecuted a staunchly restrictive Jewish refugee policy from the 1930s onwards. They ‘consistently’ resisted the liberal line of Éamon de Valera, the Department of External Affairs, and the Department of the Taoiseach provoking de Valera’s rebuke of bureaucrats in Justice on a couple of occasions.
Keogh highlights the Irish state’s ‘lost chance’ to save Jews during the key period between 1938 and 1941. This unfortunate pattern was repeated world-wide. De Valera and the ‘liberal’ departments co-ordinated diplomatically with the USA, Britain, Sweden and Switzerland in hopeless efforts to alleviate Jewish suffering during the peak of the Holocaust. Though de Valera was willing to allow 10,000 Jewish refugees into the country, the German Foreign Office repeatedly denied the existence of the ‘Final Solution’ and countered that specific Irish démarches to save Jews in France, Hungary, Slovakia amounted to foreign interference in internal German matters. Even after World War II Justice and Industry and Commerce maintained their ‘illiberal’ line notwithstanding significant changes in personnel and a change of government. The Department of Justice refugee policy was eventually defeated in 1953 after de Valera returned to power.
De Valera built up an intimate relationship with the Jewish community in Ireland through close consultation, recognition of Judaism in the 1937 Constitution, his ‘personal friend[ship]’ with the first Chief Rabbi of the Free State (Isaac Herzog, whose son Chaim later became President of Israel in 1983), his fight against anti-Semitism in Irish society, and his humanitarian efforts in the 1940s. Consequently, the Jewish community ‘puzzled’ at de Valera’s rigid implementation of diplomatic protocol when he visited the German envoy to offer his condolences on Hitler’s death. De Valera’s public relations gaffe, however, did not damage the otherwise high esteem in which Jews held him in the long term.
The vast majority of Ireland’s Jews lacked wealth, resources, status and education, after fleeing Eastern Europe. They adopted a protective, low profile approach naturally fearing Gentiles after their persecution in Eastern Europe. However by the end of the twentieth century the community had transformed itself into a valuable contributor to the political, economic and social life of the Republic. Unfortunately, simultaneously the Jewish population aged and declined rapidly. Therefore, while Keogh analyses in depth the intricacies of official Irish attitudes towards the Jewish community, particularly in the years between 1933 and 1960, he also assesses the social and cultural dimensions of life for Jews in Ireland. He draws on a wealth of governmental and non-governmental sources in Ireland (North and South), Britain, and the USA. He is the first historian to make extensive use of Department of Justice records, thus enhancing our understanding of the interdepartmental debates on Jewish refugees. The subject-matter of the work, the use of tables and photographs, a clear writing style and the extensive use of contemporary quotes, will make it accessible to a wide swathe of the general public, both nationally and internationally, as well as academic audiences.
Colourful personalities and a conspiratorial content will similarly attract a wide readership to O’Donoghue’s monograph. As Professor J.J. Lee says in his incisive foreword, O’Donoghue has achieved a surprisingly high ‘degree of balance’ in dealing with such an ‘emotive’ subject as Nazism. O’Donoghue uses Irish, British, German and American archives to piece together the story of Irland-Redaktion. He has completed an outstanding piece of oral history conducting almost fifty interviews with survivors, relatives and friends of people involved with the service. The narrative format consists of a brief introduction,  twenty-four short chapters, and an epilogue.
Appendix V, which details Nazi party members in Ireland, is particularly informative: it lists the names, occupations, addresses and the dates they joined the NSDAP. Nazis occupied prominent positions, which provided them with ample spying opportunities. Public and semi-state bodies, such as the Turf Development Board, employed several of them. Their work was valuable in preparing a German invasion plan for Ireland in 1940 (Operation Grön). O’Donoghue reveals that they all came under close surveillance by Irish military intelligence (G2). ‘In fact, as early as 1936 or 1937, the Secretary of the Irish Department of External Affairs…complained about the “Nazi organisation in Dublin” to the German representative.’ (p. 21)
He shows that German-Irish ‘scholarly links’ in the field of Celtic studies supplied three key German participants in Irland-Redaktion after 1939: Adolf Mahr, Ludwig Mülhausen and Hans Hartmann. O’Donoghue also reveals the interdepartmental wrangles between the German Foreign Office and Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry for control of the service. Initially the station ‘piggybacked’ Lord Haw Haw’s broadcasts to the UK before establishing itself as an independent force. Commencing in December 1939 Professor Mülhausen  broadcast in Irish to the Gaeltacht. Mülhausen’s talks were simply translations of Goebbels’ propaganda material and he emerges as a stooge of the regime.Mülhausen’s membership of the Nazi party predated Hitler’s take-over of Germany and he took advantage of his political allegiances to acquire the Professorship of Celtic Studies at Berlin University in 1937. This vacancy occurred due to the removal of the previous incumbent Julius Pokorny on anti-Semitic grounds (see Keogh pp. 104-5).
The eminent Austrian archaeologist, Dr Adolf Mahr, who was Director of the Irish National Museum (1933-39) and head of the Nazis in the Free State before 1939, worked for Ribbentrop’s Foreign Office during the war. He provided the blueprint for expanded bilingual (Irish and English) propaganda broadcasts in May 1941 (which is reproduced in full in Appendix I). In 1941 Mahr ensured the Foreign Office’s triumph over the Propaganda Ministry in the battle for supremacy of the station. This victory probably explains the relatively moderate nature of much of the station’s output and kept the anti-Semitic outpourings to a minimum. Mahr ensured this through the appointment of Dr Hans Hartmann, who had studied the Irish language and Celtic folklore in Éire from 1937 to 1939, as head of Irland-Redaktion in late 1941. Hartmann broadcast in Irish to promote the Irish language and culture allegedly, but of course this reflected the German perception that Irish-speakers in the Gaeltacht would be most susceptible to propaganda.
O’Donoghue correctly judges that ‘an obvious flaw’ existed in Irland-Redaktion. Mahr’s, Hartmann’s and Mülhausen’s ‘image of Ireland had become somewhat dated.’ Mahr infused the broadcasts with an ‘extreme nationalist slant’ that was obsolete and arguably encouraged the very people that de Valera was repressing during the ‘Emergency’ to preserve neutrality, i.e., the IRA. This contradicted Irland-Redaktion’s aim of bolstering Irish neutrality. The station struggled against a lack of information about Éire’s wartime situation. It even lacked a map of Ireland, and it relied upon the personal experiences, recollections and book collections of the broadcasters. Overall, there were serious personnel, resource, political, and locational constraints upon the effective operation of the station. Hence O’Donoghue’s narrative portrays Irland-Redaktion as a ramshackle operation harbouring a group of opportunists, mavericks, and misfits. Hartmann obviously saw it as a means to avoid conscription. Susan Hilton (née Sweney), a Mosleyite stranded in Axis Europe, refused to undertake a Nazi spying mission to Ireland and probably worked at Irland-Redaktion as a means to survive and satisfy her Nazi hosts. She has the dubious honour of being incarcerated by both the Germans at the end of the war on suspicion of espionage, and the British from 1945 to 1947 on the charge of treason.
The controversial novelist Francis Stuart simultaneously pursued his own idiosyncratic route. According to his version of events, he purposefully gained a lectureship in Berlin at the beginning of the war to enrich his experiences as a writer. As O’Donoghue shows, Stuart was probably the greatest asset the station had—he was a native Irish person who was educated, knowledgeable of Irish affairs and who believed his contributions would fortify Irish neutrality. It was Stuart who suggested many of the innovations in the Ireland-Redaktion broadcasts. And he holds the debatable distinction of being the reason for provoking the only two formal protests against Irland-Redaktion by de Valera’s government. The occasions for the protests were Stuart’s praise of the IRA in Northern Ireland in December 1942 and his encouragement to the Irish electorate to vote against Fine Gael in 1943. In fact, Stuart also succeeded in upsetting the German authorities by successfully resisting their anti-Soviet propaganda line. He finally resigned over the issue in early 1944 despite threats of imprisonment in a concentration camp.
One of O’Donoghue’s revelations is that good relations existed between the Irish chargé d’affaires in Berlin, William Warnock, and the employees of Irland-Redaktion. Unfortunately, O’Donoghue fails to provide an explanation for this. Professor Lee’s foreword surmise, that the close contacts between the Legation and the Irish broadcasters are explicable because of the pro-neutrality line taken by Irland-Redaktion, is credible but requires proof.
In conclusion, Keogh’s and O’Donoghue’s works are informative and enticing. However, Keogh has completed the better work. Structurally, O’Donoghue’s might have been wiser to adopt a more conventional structure of five or six chapters dealing with specified periods. For instance, the existing first five chapters could easily be condensed into one long background chapter dealing with the pre-war German community in Ireland. From a research point of view there seems to be a scarcity of endnotes and quite a lot of speculation. Undoubtedly this is a danger of a heavy reliance on oral sources. Of course the existing structure and the low density referencing system may improve its popular appeal. On the other hand, Keogh has produced a denser book. Perhaps a little speculation would not have gone amiss in analysing the substantive issues of Jewish refugee policy. For instance, in Keogh’s estimation, to what degree were the various Irish officials personally anti-Semitic during the middle third of the century, if at all? Was anti-Semitism institutionalised in some departments? Were there different degrees of anti-Semitism? And if some officials were anti-Semitic did they simply use ‘national self-interest’ as a convenient camouflage? Nevertheless Keogh poses the most enduring question: can the mother country of the Irish Diaspora extend asylum and refuge to those from outside ‘Fortress Europe’?

Mervyn O’Driscoll


Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568