herald

Saturday 22 September 2018

Ireland's Nazi-loving envoy is stripped bare by his own pen

NOTORIOUS: As an anti-semitic Irish report goes on display in Germany, Dermot Bolger looks at Ireland's war-time Nazi-sympathising diplomat.

UNTIL the 1970s European tourists would stare in baffled shock at laundry vans whizzing around posh Dublin suburbs emblazoned with the swastika.

The German Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Boll recalled his disbelief when in 1950s Dublin he was nearly hit by a van "whose sole decoration was a big swastika".

It looked so like the vehicles which once delivered the Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachter that Boll wondered if this banned propaganda rag was somehow still printed in Dublin. Eventually he realised it was a laundry van, "but the mere possibility that it might have been one of those others was enough to take my breath away".

To be fair, the founder of the Swastika Laundry started trading in 1912, long before Hitler hijacked this ancient symbol, and died in 1937.

It is harder to feel benign towards his successors who –with typical Irish insular insensitivity – continued to trade under the swastika for decades after it became a global symbol of oppression. Tourists thankfully no longer see Swastika vans in Dublin. But when a new exhibition opens in Berlin this week, some may pause outside Bewley's Cafe to wonder why that family name rings an unsettling bell.

If they do, they won't be aware that the company running those cafes today has no connection with the Bewley family or that the Bewleys have a proud record as highly respected, civic-minded Dubliners.

DESPICABLE

But every family has one black sheep. This week the name of the most despicable diplomat to ever represent (or misrepresent) Ireland is dragged into the limelight. This comes by way of a report sent from Berlin in 1938 by Charles Bewley, who was Ireland's Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary there from 1933 to 1939.

Until recently knowledge of Bewley's anti-semitic rants and his hectoring of de Valera for not backing Hitler was largely confined to readers of academic tomes.

But now the German public is seeing the sort of reports de Valera received from our representative in Germany, with the opening this week of an exhibition of diplomatic dispatches about the 1938 pogrom Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

The exhibition is being staged at a Berlin synagogue that was destroyed during that infamous night of brutality against Jews 75 years ago.

That co-ordinated pogrom across Germany and Austria caused global shock. Jewish homes, hospitals, businesses and synagogues were destroyed and 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.

Foreign newspapers condemned it and even fascist diplomats sent diplomatic cables expressing their horror. The only one not shocked was Ireland's Charles Bewley, who placed the blame on the Jews.

His eventual report on Kristallnacht so sickened de Valera's government that they finally got rid of him.

Even exhibition curator Dr Christian Dirks seems stunned at Bewley's incessant justification of the Nazis' actions.

In a 13-page communique Bewley ranted about how Jews corrupt all societies which let them in, shied away from manual labour, created indecent stage productions and were responsible for legalised abortion in Germany.

Mind you, Bewley wasn't the only vehemently anti-semitic Irishman longing for a Germany victory. Irish fascists included Commandant Brennan Whitmore – a 1916 veteran – who concocted a deluded theory "that Nazism, Fascism and Falangism were variations of medieval corporation originally stemming from Gaelic Ireland".

This mercifully small lunatic fringe plotted in a Dublin restaurant. Some even colluded with Jim O'Donovan – a bitter figure who held down a pensionable job with the ESB while he masterminded a scheme to bomb English civilians, represented the IRA at meetings in Germany and hid the German spy Hermann Goertz during his nomadic time in Ireland.

PARANOID

Goertz, who was Hitler's main spy in Ireland, was so delusional that Irish intelligence pumped him for information by pretending to let him continue to pass messages back to Berlin.

Irish intelligence fed him back fictional messages of praise from Berlin, including a farcical one which promoted him to the rank of major.

In 1947, when the Irish Government tried to send him back to Germany Goertz was so paranoid and convinced he would be tortured by the Allies that, to the horror of watching Irish officials in the Aliens Office, he produced a cyanide capsule, bit it and killed himself before their eyes.

David O'Donoghue's book The Devil's Deal describes how even after the full extent of Hitler's evil was known, O'Donovan and others gathered in Deansgrange cemetery where some gave the Nazi salute over Goertz's swastika-draped coffin which was laid to rest there.

The spy was later re-interned in the German graveyard in Glencree.

By then Charles Bewley was living in Italy (where in 1940 Goebbels found him a job writing Nazi propaganda) and writing a ludicrously self-serving memoir.

Bewley grew up a Quaker until he renounced it for Catholicism. When in 1910 he became the first Irish student since Oscar Wilde to win the prestigious Newdigate Prize for English at Oxford, he surely felt that his writing would bring international fame.

He was half right. This week his words bring him international infamy, displayed in a synagogue that was destroyed, to his delight, during Kristallnacht.

He deserves to be remembered so that – to paraphrase Tomas O'Crohan's classic The Islandman – his like will not be seen again.

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