Thursday 27 October 2016

We are past masters at Nazi denial

Published 21/01/2007 | 00:11

IN ANY other country, Cathal O'Shannon's two programmes, showing how we made Ireland a safe house for Breton, Flemish, Croatian and German Nazis (many of them wanted for war crimes against citizens of their own countries) would have prompted a national soul-searching, political debate and public regret. Not here. Why?

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Before I attempt to answer that, let me remind my readers that not all of the Nazis were remote from the life of the Republic.

Charles Haughey was a guest of Otto Skorzeny. But there were many more who remained below O'Shannon's radar - presumably for want of time - but who played a prominent part in the cultural life of the Irish Republic and who remained persona grata until their recent deaths.

In particular I would point to three Bretons - Yann Goulet, Alan Heussaff and Yann Fouere - who were respected members of the republican-nationalist cultural establishment. Contrary to a carefully cultivated impression these three (a) were not noble Breton nationalists but collaborated with the Nazi security forces in Brittany and (b) enjoyed the esteem of what I call armchair Ailesbury Road republicans until the end.

First, let me show they were fascists. Google their three names and you will get the goods from many historians.

The following brief summary is based largely, but not exclusively, on a work called French Volunteers and Collaborationist Forces: Bretonische Waffenverband der SS Bezen Perrot by Daniel Laurent and Ben Dekho.

From the end of the First World War, the PNB (Breton National Party), which modelled itself on Sinn Fein, had been seeking independence from France. Like Sinn Fein it had many streams. But after the fall of France, Celestin Laine led a faction into fully-fledged collaboration with the occupying German forces. Laine's group was loathed by most Bretons and drew reprisals from the local Resistance.

In 1942, in response to reprisals, Laine set up the Bezen Perrot, an armed Breton fascist group. Among its founding members was Heussaff.

The Germans quickly integrated the Laine group into the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), where it functioned as a fascist police force inside Brittany, hunting down, torturing and murdering members of the Resistance.

Goulet is described as organiser of Bagadou Stourm (combat groups) "rapidly taken in hand by the Nazis, incorporated into the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Services)". By D-Day, the Laine group was on the run. Laine, Goulet and Heussaff were sentenced to death in absentia.

Yann Fouere founded a pro-Vichy newspaper, La Bretagne, under German occupation. It was "anti-national and seldom critical of the Germans," a stance that brought its rewards, including subsidies.

At the end of the war Fouere was imprisoned for collaboration with the occupying Germans, but eventually, together with Laine, Goulet and Heussaff, he found refuge in Ireland, where they were welcomed as fellow nationalists.

Goulet, a sculptor in the heroic fascist style, did particularly well, swiftly securing a commission for the Custom House Memorial to the IRA men who had burned it down.

Goulet's Irish admirers seemed blind to the symbolism of a Breton fascist forging a memorial to IRA vandals who had virtually destroyed most of the primary sources of Irish history when they burned the Custom House.

In fact Official Ireland found Goulet's style of Celtic Brutalism so congenial that other commissions quickly followed, most with strongly republican themes - a major exception being the Christy Ring statue in Cloyne.

Goulet did the Ballyseedy Memorial in Kerry, the East Mayo Brigade IRA Memorial, and the Republican Memorial in Crossmaglen, facing the British army post.

Not surprisingly, Goulet's politics stayed resolutely republican and he remained a friend of Ruairi O Bradaigh and a supporter of Continuity Sinn Fein - which published an extensive tribute to him in its journal Saoirse - until his death in 1999.

According to Saoirse, Ruairi O Bradaigh requested Goulet to go to Belfast to make a death mask for Bobby Sands (the local IRA turned the project down, one hopes on aesthetic grounds). But the claim that Ruairi O Bradaigh first came up with the ghoulish idea for a Sands death mask is contested by another source, a source which points up my second contention: that Goulet was well regarded in the most respectable nationalist circles.

Let me enter as evidence Ulick O'Connor's diary entry for May 4, 1981. (This is also a personal favourite of mine in the field of bad politics; just check out the names.) According to this, O'Connor had the death mask idea (using the word 'idea' in its loosest sense) before O Bradaigh did.

I give the entry in full so you can enjoy the extra bits about Bernadette Devlin:

Robert Ballagh rings up to say Bobby Sands died this morning. As soon as I get off the phone, ring up sculptor Yann Goulet to ask him to make a death mask. No reply. Watch Bernadette Devlin on the news. Fantastic. Masterful. Advocacy, authority and passion. Attractive looking. As you can see, Goulet got around. This brings me back to the basic question. How come we could welcome in people wanted for war crimes but balked at taking in a few Jewish children? No matter how much we wriggle, the answer is Irish nationalism. In simple terms we would take a drink with anybody who came into our pub provided he wore a badge which proclaimed him an enemy of England - and by extension an enemy of England is our friend.

Hence the silence. I would like to think it the silence of shame. But I suspect the source of some of the silence is a sullen self-deception and a denial of the raw data. For all their great virtues - courage, manliness and creativity - denial disfigured my grandfather's and father's generation. Although rich in physical courage they seemed to lose their moral compass whenever Irish nationalism and Anglophobia came between them and the real world.

In particular they were in denial about three issues which cast a shadow on the probity of their proud republicanism. These three issues were (a) the morality of the 1916 Rising, (b) the pogroms against ordinary Irish Protestants (as distinct from the deplorable but defensible attacks on Anglo-Irish Big Houses), (c) an ambivalence about Nazi Germany which persisted until well after the war - an ambivalence which was rooted in antipathy to England and to Jews.

You do not need a degree in history to figure out that we are experts at denial and suppression.

We deny we did anything sectarian to southern Irish Protestants. We deny we did anything to be ashamed of in our dealings with Nazi Germany and its Jewish victims. We deny any complicity in the Provos' sectarian campaign against northern Protestants.

The truth is that Ireland still suffers from a suppressed form of Anglophobia and anti-Semitism - and it emerges in anti-Americanism. After all, a major component in our current antipathy to American policy is anger against America for supporting Israel. And is it an accident that we were one of the last states in the western world to recognise the state of Israel?

Anglophobia and anti-Semitism allowed us to shut the national door on Jewish children.

At the same time it allowed us to put out the welcome mat for a nasty piece of goods like Goulet. We elected him to Aosdana, made him a professor of sculpture and gave him a mental inscription which, instead of reading "Yann Goulet, Friend of Fascism, Traitor to Brittany", read "Yann Goulet, RHA".

Which literally tells you more about us than about him.

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