- German-speaking Exiles in Ireland, 1933-1945
Assembling submissions from a variety of authors into a publication is a daunting task, made even more so when those authors come from differing backgrounds. For this collection, Gisela Holfter had the option of either publishing the contributions as the proceedings of a conference (which took place at the University of Limerick in June 2004), stamping her voice on all the submissions through rigorous editing, or attempting to chart a middle course between the two. She adopted the latter with the consequence that individual authors' contributions remain distinct but at the expense of overall cohesion.
The immigrant experience of German-speakers following the Nazi takeover in 1933 until the end of the Second World War has been well researched. But this anthology is unique in that it addresses those exiles who came to Ireland, a country usually associated with emigration. The book is divided into three sections: an historical one providing primarily scholarly context; biographical portraits of certain exiles; and accounts by exiles themselves. The distinction between those last two parts is a narrow one, since both involve individual or family experience during the transition from "German" to Irish life. Nevertheless, the separation between a biographical and an autobiographical one is sound and revealing.
Ireland was not a country that usually sprang to mind for those seeking sanctuary from the Nazi state, in part because it was all but unknown. As Holfter noted of John Henning's experience, a clergyman friend, upon learning of Henning's plan to emigrate to Ireland, asked: "Are you crazy? … People there have a bottle of whiskey in their right pocket, a rosary in the left pocket, and a revolver in their back pocket." According the Holfter, 339 German-speakers were known to the Irish Intelligence Department, G2, and classified as those who were anti-Nazi (192), indifferent (47), and surprisingly pro-Nazi (100). Why this last group immigrated at all is not addressed by any of the contributors.
The paucity of overall numbers, however, is discussed. Wolfgang Benz states that at least a quarter of a million German-speakers fled before 1941, whereas Dermot Keogh places this at 432,000 Jews alone. How to explain that only 300 German-speakers or so found their way to the Republic? The insularity of Eamon de Valera's government from the coming conflict is a starting point. Dublin's policies were determined to a degree by a latent anti-British hostility. In the vein of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Irish government admired Hitler's Germany. Astonishing evidence of this came as late as 1945 when the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, received de Valera's condolences on the news of Hitler's death. Ireland was inherently sympathetic to another nation opposed to Westminster and demanding redress against perceived historical injustice. As many of the contributors note from personal experience, many Irish themselves were viscerally inclined to making pro-Nazi statements. Siobhán O'Connor writes that a large minority in Ireland admired fascism during this time. Parochial Catholicism also played a role in making foreigners unwelcome and Jewish refugees even more so. But this bigotry remained confined to verbal slanders and petty-spiritedness by officials.
Surprisingly, according to O'Connor and Keogh, de Valera's own Taoiseach office had a reputation for being more liberally inclined to the plight of refugees than were other ministries. Throughout the 1930s, various ministers and envoys refused to grant special status to anti-Nazis and Jews. While they had considerable discretion, they exercised little compassion. Some, like Charles Bewley, envoy to Berlin, were known anti-Semites. Only in late 1938, following Reichskristallnacht, was the Irish Co-ordinating Committee for [End Page 423] the Relief of Christian Refugees from Central Europe formed. This umbrella organization campaigned against the restrictive practices and plain indifference of the government. Through its work, a surge of refugees, many of them Jews, managed to find their way to safety in 1939 and even 1940, many of...