Wartime refugee re-forges close bond with Ballybunion family

Donal Nolan

NEARLY 70 years after she first came to Ballybunion as a child refugee fleeing the terrors of post World War II Germany, Gertraud Rossbach made an emotional return to the coastal resort this week.

A native of Essen in northern Germany, Gertraud was one of hundreds of German children placed with Irish families under Operation Shamrock, a joint initiative between the Irish state and Irish Red Cross.

She found a warm and loving home with Michael and Margaret Beasley and their children Marguerite, Michael, Jim and Jack. It was an oasis of calm and stability from the Europe left in ruins by the conflict.

"She lived with my mother Marguerite and her family for three years and came to see Ballybunion as home," TJ McCarron told The Kerryman. "In fact she loved it so much she did not want to go back to Germany when it came time to go and she had lost much of the language."

Gertraud returned this week with her husband, Ferdinand, to meet the next generation of the family. "We all grew up hearing about her. Danny Houlihan's late mother Mary Anne, a neighbour, was particularly friendly with her as they were in the same class and made their First Holy Communion together.

"They stayed in touch for many years, but eventually their contact dissolved and we feared that Gertraud had passed away. But contact was re-established in 1998 and Gertraud made her first trip back in 1999," he said.

Her contemporaries have mostly passed away since then, sadly, but Gertraud and Ferdinand established as deep a bond with the younger generation this week.

All will get together again next month at the Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Glencree, Wicklow, for a commemoration of Operation Shamrock at which the German ambassador will be present. "We're looking forward to meeting Gertraud again at that in a celebration of the remarkable operation," TJ added.


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