Friday 19 January 2018

The day Dev said sorry over suicide of the world's worst war criminal

Eamon DeValera
David O'Donoghue
Herald in 1945

'HITLER dies in Berlin' was the matter-of-fact headline in the Evening Herald marking the death of the tyrant who brought misery and genocide to a continent.

Adolf Hitler died 70 years ago today as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in war-devastated Berlin.

As news of the evil dictator's demise reached Dublin, then Taoiseach of neutral Ireland, Eamon DeValera, made a controversial visit to the German Embassy in Dublin to offer condolences to the ambassador Eduard Hempel.

The swastika flag flew at half-mast at the red brick house on Dublin's Northumberland Road, but few people mourned the loss of one of the 20th Century's most vile leaders.

It was Hitler's megalomania that sparked World War II with his twisted vision of world domination leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

In the closing months of the conflict, hints of the horrifying scale of the Nazi murder machine in concentration camps began to emerge.

The man responsible for it all died bitter and aware of his imminent defeat.

READ MORE: How Ireland's Nazis made careers for themselves in the Civil Service

Limited information on the circumstances of Hitler's April 30, 1945 death emerged in the following days amid the lies of Nazi propaganda and the fog of war as Soviet troops overran Berlin.

Hitler's death was officially announced on German radio after it played a solemn funeral march from one of Wagner's operas, the Evening Herald reported on May 2.

"Our Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen... at his command post in the Reich Chancellery, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany," the announcer claimed in a broadcast on the evening of May 1, the report reads.

Hitler's successor, Admiral Karl Doenitz, is also quoted, claiming that the dictator met "a hero's death".

The truth of what happened to the dictator was rather more squalid.

In his final days, Hitler married his partner Eva Braun and contemplated suicide by taking cyanide capsules.

On April 30, he was told the German forces he hoped would come to Berlin's rescue were all on the defensive or surrounded by the Soviets.

He shot himself in the mouth later that day while his wife took the cyanide.

Hitler's remains were doused in petrol and burned at his request.

It was on May 2 that Mr DeValera visited Hempel at the German Embassy to offer condolences, a move that sparked a flurry of international criticism.

Although Ireland was a neutral country during the war, the visit of the Taoiseach to Ambassador Eduard Hempel was criticised in the US and British media.

His decision to convey official condolences on the death of such a monster was widely viewed at the time as a major diplomatic gaffe.

Today, there is no sign of anything that could be linked to the Nazi occupiers of the former embassy at 58 Northumberland Road in Ballsbridge.

It is now a dental medicine practice, that did not respond to a request for comment on the building's past.

During the war, the German legation's radio transmitter in the Northumberland Road premises was used to send secret political, economic and military information to Berlin.

De Valera ordered it to be seized in December 1943 at the request of the US ambassador.

After Hitler's death, De Valera, who was also Minister for External Affairs, was accompanied on the visit to the embassy by the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs Joseph Walshe.

Later that evening, DeValera visited Hempel and his wife and young family at his home in Dun Laoghaire, a large house named 'Gortleitragh' on Sloperton Road. The building has since been demolished.


Despite giving considerable covert assistance to the Allies during the War - including DeValera sending fire brigade units to Belfast when it was bombed - the visit led to accusations that neutral Ireland was pro-German.

The Taoiseach was left in no doubt at the anger of US President Harry Truman and Britain's Winston Churchill.

The Washington Post thundered that the "moral myopia" of neutral countries such as Ireland imposed upon themselves now appeared "to have blinded them of all ethical values".

"So long as we retained our diplomatic relations with Germany, to have failed to call upon the German representative would have been an act of unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel himself," Mr DeValera later wrote to a friend.

"During the whole of the war, Dr Hempel's conduct was irreproachable. He was always friendly and invariably correct… I certainly was not going to add to his humiliation in the hour of defeat," he added.

Historian David O'Donoghue, author of Hitler's Irish Voices, said: "With the benefit of hindsight, it's unfortunate that Mr De Valera's visit to the German ambassador happened.

"Only two countries in Europe expressed condolences. The other country was Portugal, which was a dictatorship under Salazar.

"It was protocol. De Valera played everything by the letter. He was a very precise man. When President Roosevelt died sometime earlier, there were speeches in the Dail, which adjourned as a sign of respect.

"He didn't visit US Ambassador Gray because the two men didn't get on. He was friendly with Hempel, which was also probably part of the reason he made the visit," Mr O'Donoghue added.

The war against Nazi Germany ended on May 7 with the Evening Herald banner headline in its final edition that day declaring 'End of War in Europe - Total German Surrender Announced'.


The following day, the newspaper published a photograph of German ambassador Hempel stating that he had visited Mr De Valera to inform him that "in view of the events which had occurred, he regarded his mission as terminated".

De Valera granted him asylum in Ireland.

Two of Hempel's children were born in Ireland and one died here as a young child. He returned to Germany in 1949 to help set up a new West German diplomatic service.

When Hempel died in 1972, an official at the Irish embassy in Bonn was instructed to attend his funeral.

During the war, DeValera earned the grudging respect of the US and British ambassadors.

But some claimed his visit to Hempel showed his considerable political skills were on the wane by naïvely adhering to protocol.

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