Nazi conscript salutes Dublin youth for sparing him horrors of Russian front
Published 08/02/2010 | 05:00
THE only Dubliner known to have served in the Nazi army has revealed how his Irish background saved his life.
Gustav Mahr -- who arrived in Ireland when he was a toddler -- grew up in Dublin during the 1920s and 30s.
He is the son of Adolf Mahr, the controversial German who was appointed director of the National Museum of Ireland in 1934.
Now living in Berlin and preparing to celebrate his 88th birthday, retired archaeologist Gustav revealed how his formative years were spent in Waterloo Place, Ballsbridge.
In the 1930s before the family returned to Germany, Gustav took part in Hitler Youth-style camps in Hampton Hall, Balbriggan, north Dublin, run by his father, who was the head of the Nazi Party here.
The camps took place in summer and catered for the children of the German community.
"The German community in Ireland back then were very Nazi, but I had Jewish friends who came to our house," he recalled from his home yesterday. "I loved Dublin. The only problem I had was attending Wesley College. I didn't get on very well with the Anglo-Irish there because of my German extraction. I remember the odd one shouting: 'Who won the war?' This was not that long after World War I."
However, things changed completely for Gustav and his family at the outbreak of World War II when they found themselves in Germany.
"My father had brought us over on holiday but when the war started he couldn't get back to Ireland. That was when my life changed completely," he said. In 1941, the 19-year-old found himself in the German army on the Russian front as they advanced towards Moscow.
But it was Gustav's Dublin background and fluency in English which resulted in the army recruiting him to decipher allied radio signals back in Germany.
"It saved me really because I was called back from Russia before the winter set in and the German army was defeated. Most of the soldiers I was with in Russia never made it home."
However after a year in Berlin as a code breaker, Gustav was on the move again to join the German Afrika Korps under General Rommel in Tunisia, North Africa.
"At that stage in 1943 we had lost the Desert War at El Alamein. The German army was fighting the Australians and the British under Montgomery. It was only a few weeks later I was captured," he said.
Gustav said that when he spoke to the Allied soldiers taking him prisoner, they were amazed by his Dublin accent.
"I didn't mind them knowing I was from Dublin. It was my background in counter surveillance I wanted to keep secret," he said. Gustav was to spend the rest of the war in a US prisoner of war camp and after the hostilities ended he returned to live in Germany, where he became a respected archaeologist.
His father, Adolf, whose story was told in the 2009 book 'Dublin's No 1 Nazi' by Gerry Mullins, was unable to return to his job as director of the National Museum in Dublin because of his Nazi past and died in Germany in 1951.
Gustav has returned to Ireland just once since the war.
In 1976 he took part in an archaeological dig in Co Donegal.
"I could have grown up and lived my whole life in Dublin. The war ruined my youth but I'm lucky to have survived it unscathed," he said.