Tuesday 25 June 2019

Memories of an Irish Waffen SS man

Sir - I was once roared at by a member of the Waffen SS. This was brought vividly back to my memory on reading Eoghan Harris's tribute to "the non-sectarian socialism of Cathal Goulding" at one and the same time as he awards plaudits to the 'Hidden History' TV documentary Ireland's Nazis (January 14 and 21). He indicates some surprise that the Breton names of Fouere, Goulet an

Sir - I was once roared at by a member of the Waffen SS. This was brought vividly back to my memory on reading Eoghan Harris's tribute to "the non-sectarian socialism of Cathal Goulding" at one and the same time as he awards plaudits to the 'Hidden History' TV documentary Ireland's Nazis (January 14 and 21). He indicates some surprise that the Breton names of Fouere, Goulet and Heussaff vanished from the documentary's radar.

I regard it as no less noteworthy that the name of Van Velthoven has vanished from Eoghan Harris's own radar, not least because this Flemish nationalist was the one SS veteran to be actually interviewed in that documentary. While the three Bretons did indeed fraternise to a varying extent across the political spectrum of Fianna Fail, Republican Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein the Workers' Party, Staf van Velthoven took a significant step further by immersing himself in Irish party politics, not just as a nominal member but as a militant activist. The late Jim Kemmy, Ireland's foremost political opponent of both anti-Semitism and sectarianism, was the elected representative of the Workers' Association for a Democratic Settlement of the National Conflict in Ireland on the occasion in 1974 when I participated in a Workers' Association picket on an "Anti-Imperialist Festival" organised by Sinn Fein the Workers' Party.

Our demands were that SFWP should accept the principle of consent and abandon its support - in contempt of the wishes of the northern majority - for the Republic's territorial claim to rule Northern Ireland. Festival supporters varied in their reactions to our peaceful protest. The late Malachy McGurran scowled but kept his counsel, while Pat Rabbitte remained perfectly polite in his remonstrations with me. But very many others cursed us as they went in.

One party activist, however, not only cursed us on his way into the hall, but re-emerged after only a few minutes and, incandescent with rage, came back over to roar at me. Staf van Vethoven proceeded to denounce me as a "two-nationist" who was "outrageously daring" to question the SFWP claim to every square inch of the island as "this nation's territory".

A few years prior to 1974, concerned at some of the company being kept by the Official IRA-SFWP leader Cathal Goulding, my late father, Communist Party of Ireland general secretary Micheal O'Riordan, had decided to do his own research. He contacted his counterparts in the Belgian CP to check out his suspicions about Van Velthoven's Nazi past. They were able to confirm the worst, not least because that party and Van Velthoven's own father had held each other in high esteem. And so came the poignant addendum - that the father, who opposed the Nazi occupation and supported the Belgian resistance movement, had been rendered broken-hearted by his son's SS enlistment.

My father immediately made all of these facts known to Goulding, but the latter did not want to know. Staf van Velthoven had remained loyal to Goulding on the occasion of the latter's split with the Provisional republicans in 1970, so Goulding was in turn going to remain loyal to his own party's Waffen SS activist. Bad politics indeed.

Manus O'Riordan,

Finglas Rd, Glasnevin, Dublin 11

Sean Russell Sir - John Newman (Letters, January 21) believes the National Graves Association should not restore the statue of Sean Russell in Fairview Park, Dublin, following its vandalisation. I disagree. Russell, according to those who knew him, had no ideological worldview apart from a firm commitment to ending British rule in Ireland. Yet today Russell is being branded a Nazi sympathiser, an anti-Semite, and a murderous fanatic. Those who attacked Russell's statue probably couldn't care less about the Jews, the Holocaust, Hitler or the Nazis. The real purpose of the attack was to cause the maximum degree of embarrassment to Irish republicanism, to tar it with the taint of fascism.

Irish republicans were not alone in seeking the support of Germany during the Second World War against the British. Avraham Stern, in 1940, proposed intervening in the war on the side of Nazi Germany in return for German support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

A future Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, was a member of the Stern Gang. I'm sure no one would suggest that they were Nazi collaborators. They were not, nor was Sean Russell.

Tom Cooper,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16

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