Friday 24 May 2019

How Dev's Ireland became safe haven for fugitive Nazis

Nicola Tallant

NOTORIOUS Nazi war criminals were given safety in Ireland after the war and lived here under assumed names sanctioned by Eamon de Valera's government.

The killers, responsible for some of the worst ethnic cleansing atrocities of the Second World War, were told that Ireland would welcome them as they fled from the allies.

The sensational claims will be made in a new two-part documentary by veteran broadcaster and former RAF fighter Cathal O'Shannon, who says that Ireland shunned the Jewish victims of the war while protecting the ruthless anti-Semites.

Newly-discovered archive documents show how the US was worried that Ireland would become a haven for war criminals and believed our position of neutrality had jeopardised the war effort.

In a letter to de Valera in 1944 the then US Representative in Ireland, David Gray, demanded that Ireland refuse entry to any Nazi war criminals who sought refuge here.

But de Valera, who didn't get on with Gray, was furious and saw the demands as America trying to tamper with Ireland's new sovereignty.

That, coupled with his belief that the Nazi movement was a nationalist force just like Ireland's republican movement, urged him to open our doors to Hitler's top soldiers.

"Because de Valera had been challenged on that very issue of asylum he would ensure that post-war asylum policy would be handled by the Irish Government and not dictated by any other power," says Professor Dan Leach of the University of Melbourne.

Prof Brian Girvan says that de Valera was well aware of the extermination of Jews by Nazis during the war but still identified with Hitler's army.

""He saw the Nazi regime as a nationalist regime that represented the German people to a certain extent.

"His stance doesn't make him pro-Nazi but he was very narrow in his focus on them.

"There was also, in Ireland, a scepticism about the right of the Allies to accuse anyone of being a war criminal.

"And so it was that if someone did arrive in Ireland the Irish government wouldn't arrest and expel them from the country."

Although the Irish response baffled the Allies, word soon travelled quickly across Europe that de Valera would not shut the door on those accused of war crimes.

O'Shannon says that one of the first to take advantage of the soft approach of the Irish Government was Andrija Artukovic - responsible for the death of one million men, women and children in Croatia.

He was believed to be particularly cruel opting to slowly kill the victims in his camps through hard labour, starvation and poisoning.

O'Shannon says that while making his expose he discovered that a file still exists on Artukovic in the Department of Foreign Affairs - but his request for it to be released was refused.

Artukovic worked for Hitler as the Minister for the Interior in Croatia but in 1947 he arrived in Ireland after being referred here by a Franciscan Church in Switzerland and lived under the assumed name Alois Annick in leafy Rathgar in south Dublin.

According to O'Shannon little is known about his time in Ireland but he did attend church every day.

After gaining an Irish identity card he left for the US in 1948 and settled in California where he worked as a book-keeper.

"He kept a low profile here and didn't draw attention to himself.

"In Rathgar he was saved from Allied vengeance and prosecution.

"I think it is strange that a man responsible for a million deaths could live quietly here with nobody asking who he is or how he got here," saysO'Shannon. "I have discovered there is a file on this man in the Department of Foreign Affairs but the Irish Government have refused my request to release it."

In the Fifties Yugoslavia demanded his extradition and after 30 years of legal wrangling he was eventually sent back to his homeland where he was sentenced to death for his crimes. He died in 1988 in his prison cell.

Another notorious war criminal welcomed into Ireland was Celestine Laine, leader of the Bezen Perrot, a Waffen SS unit responsible for the torture and murder of civilians in occupied Brittany.

Laine, a French extremist, joined the SS when the Germans recruited local help and took command of the region where he had grown up, ordering the torture of countless resistance fighters who once lived alongside him. His favoured method was to take young men and women into the forests at night to torture and then execute them.

Today, mass graves are scattered all over Brittany as a testament to the cruelty of his unit. In 1944 as the Allies liberated Brittany, many collaborators fled France and among them was Laine and most of his followers.

Some who were recaptured were found in the possession of letters of recommendation written in English and addressed to the Irish consulate in Paris.

In 1947 word reached Laine that he could escape to Ireland where the Irish Government were prepared to grant him asylum.

In Ireland, Laine kept a low profile. Former anarchist Jean Pierre La Mat met him in Ireland during the Seventies and says that Laine and associates had been welcomed to safety.

"What I do know is that they were welcomed to Ireland but they were not helped. When I met him he was living very poorly, first in Coolock in Dublin and after that in Oranmore, near Galway."

Laine died in Dublin in 1983 but was not the last Nazi to be protected here.

During the Seventies it emerged that Dutchman Pieter Menten, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Jews in Poland, was dividing his time between Holland and Waterford where he had a large country home at Mahon Bridge.

O'Shannon's investigation has also found that as the Allies crossed Europe and discovered the horrors of the Nazi regime, Ireland refused to offer asylum to the countless victims of the war.

While the Red Cross struggled to find temporary homes in Europe for many victims of the concentration camps, Ireland refused to help.

Author Dr Bryan Fanning says that Ireland's actions exposed it as an anti-Semitic country.

"After the war there was a widespread view in Government that a Liberal policy towards Jews would not be taken.

"There was a strong view that they didn't fit in and wouldn't become part of our society," he says.

'Hidden History: Ireland's Nazis' will be shown next Tuesday on RTE One at 10.15pm

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