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Thursday, January 05, 2006 

Challenging some popular misconceptions of World War II

See here in the Observer. One passage in the article caught our eye:
"The minutes fuel the debate over when exactly the Allies were aware of the Holocaust in central Europe. In December 1942, amid reports that thousands of Jews were being transferred to Poland from the German-occupied countries, Churchill asked his cabinet: 'Any confirmation of story of wholesale massacre? By mass electrical methods.' Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, replies there is 'nothing direct, but indications that it may be true. Can't confirm the method.'"
This is rather curious, as Eden only went before the English parliament on December 17th of the same year to issue a joint Allied statement declaring the existence of the Nazis' genocidal policies. As the last-linked piece notes, Eden's statement came only after public disquiet on leaked reports of the Holocaust - and there is plenty of evidence to suggest Allied foot-dragging on rescuing Jewish refugees from Occupied Europe (see especially here). We look forward to more detail on Eden (and what he and his government knew) as this treasure trove of documents gets sifted through.

What particularly piques our interest is the connection to one of the attacks we see cropping up regularly in all sorts of places, especially from those hostile in general to this State: the claim about Éire (and de Valera) callously refusing to take in Jewish refugees. While this happened to a certain extent (and McDowell issued an apology a while back for it) the success of this slur depends on a conventional wisdom that the attitudes and behaviour of the Allies were noticeably nobler on this issue - a perception which is very much at odds with the observable facts of the matter, as we've noted above. In this, it shares a good deal with the "Éire as a wicked neutral" meme, which conveniently forgets the fellow neutrality of such countries as the USA, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and others - all of whom were determinedly neutral until attacked by the Axis.

The other two old reliables that get a regular dusting-off are of course the accusation that not giving the Allies/British the ports cost thousands of lives, and de Valera's visit to give official condolences to the German Legation in Dublin. The first is nonsense - giving the British military facilities would have meant the very real ending of our neutrality and the initiation of hostilities with the Axis (never mind the possibility of civil war over a renewed British presence), and the military usefulness of the ports (apart from dragging us into the war) is very much open to question.

The issue of de Valera paying his condolences to Herr Hempel on Hitler's death is an understandably emotive issue, given the magnitude of the German leader's evil. Conor Cruise O'Brien has opined that this was a clever ruse by de Valera to provoke a public row with Churchill, and thereby increase Dev's popularity in advance of imminent Irish elections. While this is possible (and O'Brien certainly walked in the right circles at one point to pick up gossip of this sort), we tend to believe that the tone-deaf Dev was instead being characteristically fastidious in the proper diplomatic forms with an ambassador who had acted properly throughout the war, resisting entanglement in IRA-Nazi plots. (It needs to be made clear that contrary to the deliberate insinuations in this line of attack, de Valera himself wasn't an anti-Semite by any stretch of the imagination - those who imply otherwise are charlatans, as can be easily shown).

Getting to the point, we recently read a Washington Post article on a new revelation in the story of Dev going to offer condolences - that Douglas Hyde, the (Protestant) President of Ireland, also visited Hempel to deliver his own condolences. As the WaPo reports:
"The presidential protocol record for 1938-1957, made public this week within a trove of previously secret government documents, shed new light on one of the most embarrassing chapters in the history of independent Ireland _ its decision to maintain cordial relations with the Nazis even after news of the Holocaust emerged.

The new document confirmed that President Douglas Hyde visited Hempel on May 3, 1945, a day after Ireland received reports of Hitler's death.

The newly released document says Hyde _ who died in 1949 _ says the president did not send an official letter of condolence to German government headquarters because "the capital of Germany, Berlin, was under siege and no successor had been appointed." "
We breathlessly await the form that incorporating this little detail (into the Anglophile narrative on the untrustworthy Irish) might take. Personally, our money's on Myers declaring that Dev himself wheeled the old man from the Park to the Legation, and the extra-territorial wingnuts keeping it simple and merely leaving out all the boring little details on Hyde's actual politics and beliefs.

p.s. An interesting aside on de Valera, Bob Briscoe and the Israel/Palestine question.

(See also Best of Both Worlds, which deals with this release as it may impact the latest right-wing fashion - the comparison of George W. to Winston Churchill)

"Libel"-Richard Waghorne
"Attack blog"-Damien Mulley

About me

  • An early-thirties male Irish technologist living and working in Dublin, I'm a former (recovering) member of both Fianna Fáil and the Roman Catholic Church.

    I'm not a member of any political party these days, but my opinions can be broadly categorised as 'lefty' and republican. I am also a former member of the Irish Defence Forces.

    Please feel free to check out the FI Fie Foe Fum group blog, where I was once a regular contributor, and the Cedar Lounge Revolution, where I can usually be found in the comments.

    (This blog and its contents reflect only my own personal opinions as a private citizen, and not those of any other person or organisation.)



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