Saturday 17 March 2018

Our man in Berlin who went native as a Nazi

Berlin envoy: Charles Bewley went out of his way to thwart visas for Jews coming to Ireland
Berlin envoy: Charles Bewley went out of his way to thwart visas for Jews coming to Ireland
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Jews hoping to flee ­Germany to Ireland in the 1930s faced an almost insurmountable obstacle. Charles Bewley, Ireland's envoy to Berlin from 1933 to 1939, was an unashamed supporter of Nazi rule, and did not conceal his anti-Semitic views. He made strenuous efforts to stop Jews getting into Ireland.

Bewley was from a Quaker family in Dublin linked to the famous cafés. He converted to Catholicism while he was being educated at Oxford, and as a young lawyer became a Sinn Féin sympathiser.

Early on in his career, as an Irish trade representative in Berlin, his anti-Jewish feelings became obvious when he got into a row with Dublin Jew Robert Briscoe. Bewley insulted Briscoe over his Jewish faith with a string of insults, and this was reported to his superiors.

Soon after the Nazis took power, Bewley was appointed as the Irish envoy to Berlin. Presenting his credentials to President Hindenburg, he spoke gushingly of the "national rebirth" of Germany.

After Kristallnacht in 1938, when Jews were murdered by the Nazis in large number, he was asked to compile a report on anti-Semitism for his superiors in Dublin.

He claimed in this report that he was not aware of any cruelty on the part of the German government.

Bewley said Jews did not assimilate, even though they might be centuries living in a country. He said that in every state where "they exist in any quantity, the Jews are regarded as an alien body".

He claimed that "when the interests of the country of their birth come into conflict with their own personal or racial interests, (they) invariably sacrifice the interests of their birth to Jewish interests".

According to Professor Bryan Fanning, an authority on immigration in the Department of Social Policy in UCD, Bewley appears to have gone out of his way to thwart visas being issued to Jews, even when they had already been approved by the authorities in Dublin.

In July 1938, George Klarr (Clare), a Viennese Jewish banker, travelled to Berlin to collect visas to Ireland for his family. He had been told they were awaiting him at the Irish Legation. The visas had been approved in return for investment by Klarr of £1,000 in a ribbon factory. He was one of a tiny number of Jews who were allowed in because it was felt that they could contribute to the economy.

The family travelled to Berlin, where they had to wait several weeks before obtaining their visa. The Irish Legation consisted of Bewley and his secretary Frau Kamberg, a German woman who also served as administrator.

Bewley did not follow the instruction from Dublin to release the visas. The Klarrs believed that they only received them because of the persistence of Frau Kamberg.

By 1939, the Irish government had grown increasingly impatient with Bewley and he was recalled from Berlin as war broke out, but he refused to take a job in Dublin and left the diplomatic service.

Bewley stayed on in Germany during the war, working as a Nazi propagandist. In 1945, he moved to Italy, and he later wrote a biography of the Nazi leader Hermann Göring.

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