Thursday 23 May 2019

'Soon you will be joining your rotten husband'

JIM CUSACK GARDAI are investigating threatening hate mail sent to the 83-year-old widow of the Belgian-born publisher Albert Folens, who was one of the subjects of RTE's two-part documentary Hidden History: Ireland's Nazis broadcast last week.

The letter, which arrived in the post two days after the programme aired, threatens Juliette Folens and her family stating: "We will give you and your clan six months to leave otherwise suffer the consequences. We believe in an eye for an eye."

It continues: "Remember Eichman [the senior Nazi official who organised the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps who was executed in Israel in 1961] and Mussolini. Soon you will be joining your smelly, rotten husband. We know all about your family and their movements. Israel always get their opponents."

The letter is being forensically examined for possible DNA traces of the sender. Sending threatening mail is a criminal offence and the case is being taken seriously.

As the clearly distressed family gathered around Mrs Folens last week they continued to speak against what they say are baseless claims against Albert Folens. The Folens' daughter, Leentje, said: "I personally hold this [programme] responsible for this letter. I blame them more than I blame the person who wrote this letter."

Leentje said the allegations against her father were untrue, and to put them alongside a series of detailed allegations against convicted war criminals who came here after the war was most unfair. She added that Mr Folens was not a member of the Nazi party or Gestapo, as claimed. He was a member of the 300,000-strong Flemish Legion, which was inducted into the SS.

The programme-makers, however, stand over their claims. Presenter CathalO'Shannon stated last Friday: "We agreed to put a piece [a short statement from the family] in the programme. That is as much as I wish to say."

Journalist Senan Molony, who appeared on the programme to talk about Mr Folens, said: "I think the sending of hate mail is horrendous and serves no purpose."

Denying her husband was in the SS, Mrs Folens last week said that SS members were identified after the war by a tell-tale tattoo of their blood type on the underside of their left forearm. This was done to all SS members in order to facilitate blood transfusions. After the war many SS members were identified through the tattoo - or the equally telling scar tissue left after it was removed.

"There was no scar," she said of her late husband, whom she reiterated worked as a translator for the Flemish Legion which was incorporated into the SS and sent to fight in the Eastern Front. He was sent home through illness and worked as a translator at its headquarters in Brussels, where she met and married him in 1943. After the war, her husband was among thousands of Flemish Belgians imprisoned for their role in joining the Germans in the Second World War. He escaped prison two years into his 10-year sentence.

Mrs Folens said she and her family had been concerned when the reporter Senan Molony telephoned to ask if he could come to their home to interview her husband in 1987 about his wartime activities. Three years earlier she and her husband had been held hostage in their home: two armed criminals held her prisoner while her husband went to a bank and withdrew a ransom. She said her husband agreed to do the interview after being assured by the-then editor of the Sunday Tribune, Vincent Browne, that Mr Molony was a bona fide journalist. Mr Molony taped a 90-minute interview, parts of which were broadcast. At the time of the interview Mr Browne decided not to publish the article. In a letter dated June 2, 1987, he wrote to Albert Folens, saying: "I write to inform you that we have decided not to publish anything concerning your involvement in the Second World War, at present. This decision was taken on the following basis: that, given the absence of harder information concerning any impropriety it would be wrong to expose you to the turmoil that would inevitably ensue if we published the information which we presently have in our possession."

Mrs Folens said that, contrary to the impression given in the Hidden History programme that her husband had entered Ireland's entrepreneurial establishment, they were in fact penniless when they came here in 1947 and rented a room in Dun Laoghaire, later moving to Walkinstown. Her husband had to retake his university degree in languages. He was working as a teaching assistant and translator when he wrote and published his first textbook in 1958. He then went on to establish a successful textbook-publishing firm.

"Shortly before his final stroke, my grandfather wrote the words Saol fada agus bas in Eireann," added Elske, Albert Folens' granddaughter.

"Neither of my grandparents would ever speak against the country where they finally found peace and raised a family together. Though they met with a lot of kindness here, the process of making a living out of extreme poverty was hard and slow. The setbacks they encountered in establishing Folens publishing were often through the xenophobia of those working in places of power in this country. As an Irish citizen, I am saddened and ashamed that so little has changed."

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