Killing spree led to fear of pogrom on Dublin Jews
Published 24/06/2007 | 00:00
A KILLING spree that saw two Jews gunned down on the streets of Dublin in the Twenties resulted from an anti-Semitic vendetta involving officers in the newly formed Irish Free State Army, according to previously unpublished secret files.
At the time, the apparently motiveless murders, within a fortnight of each other, caused panic in the city's small Jewish community. Armed police were drafted in to patrol a terrified 'Little Jerusalem', Dublin's Jewish quarter just off the South Circular Road.
But now it has emerged that the murders were the work of two Free State officers who were acting on claims by a Dublin prostitute that she had been sexually assaulted by a Jewish dentist.
The first to be murdered was Bernard Goldberg, 42, a Manchester jeweller and father of four who was shot on St Stephen's Green on October 31, 1923, after three men had stopped him and his brother Samuel and demanded their names. Samuel, who lived in Dublin, had a narrow escape. He was hit on the head but managed to run towards Cuffe Street, later discovering three bullet holes in his overcoat.
Emmanuel Kahn, 24, of Lennox Street, who was known locally as Ernest, became the second victim, on November 14, 1923. He was gunned down in Stamer Street in the Jewish quarter as he returned home after an evening playing cards. David Millar, a moneylender who was with him in the Jewish Club in Harrington Street, was also shot in the shoulder but managed to stagger home. Before the shooting, two men had stopped them, shouting "Halt!" Millar said the men used "profane language" and demanded their names and religion. They were told to "go home to hell out of this", and when they turned to go, the two men opened fire on them.
The Government was horrified by the killings, and many in Little Jerusalem - who had fled to Ireland after pogroms and persecution in eastern European countries - thought they were facing the new nightmare of a gang of cold-blooded anti-Semitic serial killers.
Home Affairs Minister Kevin O'Higgins, who was later to be assassinated by gunmen himself, told the Dail that sectarian crime "has not within living memory manifested itself in Dublin, and I do not believe that we are now faced with anything so horrible."
No one was ever convicted of either murder, and until now the reason for the killers' targeting of the innocent Jews, 84 years ago, has remained a mystery.
Emmanuel Kahn's photograph hangs on the stairs in the Jewish Museum in Walworth Street, and curator Raphael Siev has, until now, been unable to tell visitors why he was gunned down.
But previously secret Department of Justice files, just made public by the National Archives office, reveal who the chief suspects were and how they fled to Mexico and the United States.
The principal instigator of the murders was Commandant James Patrick Conroy, who claimed to have resigned from the army in December 1924 because he disagreed with the policy of the then government.
"There was some information at the time that a Jewish dentist, whom a lady friend of James Conroy's had been attending as a patient, had attempted to assault her criminally, and that this lady had complained to Conroy. This was assigned as a motive for the private vendetta undertaken by Conroy against members of the Jewish community," says the files.
"The woman in the case was of unfortunate class with whom Conroy was associating at the time," according to a confidential memo on the murders written by Chief Superintendent G Brennan in July 1932.
Six weeks after the Kahn shooting, police arrested Ralph Laffan of Oakley Road, Ranelagh, and Millar identified him in a line-up as one of the two gunmen who opened fire on himself and Kahn. Laffan was charged with the murder of Kahn and the wounding of Millar, but was found not guilty on the murder charge in the Central Criminal Court.
On bail while awaiting trial on the Millar shooting, Laffan absconded to Mexico, to join his brother Fred who had already fled the country. The jury had not convicted Laffan of Kahn's murder, because of statements he made voluntarily to Chief Superintendent David Neligan implicating his brother Fred and Conroy in the shooting.
He claimed he had been arrested and identified because he resembled his brother Fred, a captain in the army and a colleague of Conroy.
But the Justice files also show that Kevin O'Higgins was furious with senior figures in the army who colluded in covering up how those involved in the killings had used Beggar's Bush Barracks to escape on the night of Goldberg's murder.
An army car was missing that night, and the log book of who went in and out of the barracks was "mutilated", it is believed, to protect those involved in the cover-up.
As a result, O'Higgins wanted a number of officers in Beggar's Bush charged with obstruction. Neligan did not think there was sufficient evidence for obstruction charges, but he suggested they be immediately demobilised as "they are not a credit to the army".
A curious footnote to the whole affair was found in remarks in the Dail in February 1934, when Fianna Fail finance minister Sean McEntee claimed that one of the killers was walking free, and was a member of the fascist-style Blueshirts organisation.
The Army Comrades Association - also known as the National Guard and nicknamed the Blueshirts - was led by General Eoin O'Duffy, who had been Garda Commissioner when the two men were brutally gunned down.