It is a shame I do not have access to RTE’s tv stations as there is a fascinating looking series called Hidden History (I know I could get it on Sky but it is too much hassle to move over from Cable).
Last week it showed the first part of a two parter on Nazi war criminals in Ireland. The presenter, veteran broadcaster Cathal O'Shannon who served in the RAF during WWI, claims that after WWII, Ireland gave safe haven to between 100 and 200 Nazi collaborators and war criminals. Protected by church and state they made their homes in Ireland, or used it as a staging point for escape to America.
Archive documents show how the US was worried that Ireland would become a haven for war criminals and believed Irish. 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 was apparently was furious and saw the demands as America trying to tamper with Ireland's sovereignty.
"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 Dan Leach of the University of Melbourne.
One of the first to take advantage of the soft approach of the Irish Government was Andrija Artukovic, Minister for the Interior in Croatia and responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths Artukovic arrived in Ireland in 1947 after being referred a Franciscan Church in Switzerland and lived under the assumed name Alois Annick in Rathgar in south Dublin before moving on to the USA in 1948.
"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," said O'Shannon. Artukovic was eventually sent back to Yugoslavia by the US authorities where he was sentenced to death for war crimes. He died in 1988 in his prison cell.
Another war criminal who found a safe haven in Ireland was Celestine Laine, the political leader of the Bezen Perrot, a Breton nationalist group responsible for the torture and murder of civilians in occupied Brittan. The group that served in the Waffen SS as the Bretonische Waffenverband der SS. Laine also arrived in Ireland in 1947. Former anarchist Jean Pierre La Mat met him in 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.
In addition during the Seventies it emerged that Dutchman Pieter Menten who was 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. Locals were stunned in 1976 when Menten was arrested, tried and, in 1980, sentenced to 10 years in prison for war crimes. When he was released he believed he would live out his days in Ireland but Garret Fitz-Gerald, the then taoiseach, barred him from the country.
O'Shannon has also found that Ireland apparently refused to offer asylum to 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 said "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.
More to follow
Ireland war criminals WWII