The shamrock and the swastika
Independent| January 6, 2007
A new RTE documentary reveals how the Irish establishment gave a warm welcome to a rogue’s gallery of fascists and Nazis after the war. KIM BIELENBERG reports
At one time Otto Skorzeny, Hitler‘s top SS Commando, lived with the tag “the most dangerous man in Europe“. But in June 1957, the Nazi who had made his name rescuing the Italian fascist leader Mussolini from a hilltop fortress, was made welcome in Dublin by such luminaries as Charles J Haughey.
A respectable gathering of Dublin middle-class folk assembled at a reception in Skorzeny’s honour in Portmarnock Country Club. According to the Evening Press account of the event, “the ballroom was packed with representatives of various societies, professional men and, of course, several TDs”.
Among the throng greeting one of Hitler’s most notorious henchmen was the young TD, Charles Haughey.
In Irish press reports of the time, Skorzeny was portrayed as a glamorous cloak and dagger figure, the Third Reich‘s Scarlet Pimpernel. The tone in newspaper articles was one of admiration rather than repulsion.
Skorzeny was most famous for his 1943 commando raid on the castle in Italy where Mussolini was being held captive. Swooping down on the fortress in gliders with his accomplices, Skorzeny succeeded in getting away with the deposed dictator.
A year later, Skorzeny was involved in rounding up and torturing members of the German resistance after their failed attempt on Hitler’s life. One of these plotters was my own grandfather, Fritz Schulenburg, who was executed in Berlin in August 1944.
After my grandfather was arrested with other resistance leaders and held in army headquarters in the German capital, Skorzeny arrived and pulled off the plotters’ military badges, placing them in a tin helmet.
The plotters were then forced to listen to a speech given by Hitler on the radio, confirming that the Fuhrer was indeed still alive and well.
Despite his notoriety, Skorzeny was acquitted of war crimes by a US military court. He remained a prisoner because other countries wished to try him, but in typical fashion he escaped, eventually finding sanctuary in fascist Spain.
The cead mile failte extended to Skorzeny, a key figure in Hitler’s tyrannical regime, by polite Dublin society encouraged him to buy a farm here in 1959. The man nicknamed “Scarface” owned Martinstown House near the Curragh for a decade. On his regular visits he could be seen driving his white Mercedes across the Kildare countryside.
At the time, the spectre of Nazism still haunted much of Europe and there were genuine fears that it might re-emerge as a political force.
Dr Browne told the Dail: “It is generally understood that this man plays some part (in neo-Nazi activities) and, if so, he should not be allowed to use Ireland for that purpose.”
During World War II, the Irish Government notoriously shut the door in the faces of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution across Europe. Even after the full horrors of the concentration camps had been exposed, the authorities were reluctant to allow Jewish refugees into the country.
But a two-part documentary which begins on RTE television next week reveals how a surprising number of Nazis were allowed to make a home in Ireland.
The programme’s presenter, Cathal O’Shannon, who met Skorzeny during one of his Irish visits, has delved into the movements of Nazis in and out of Ireland. He estimates that between 100 and 200 Nazis moved here.
O’Shannon (78) is himself a World War II veteran, having served in the RAF in Burma. As a Dublin teenager, he crossed the Border into the North and joined up.
“I came back in 1947, and at that time you held your head low if you had been in the British forces. At that time, there was a very strong anti-English element in Ireland that supported the Germans.
“Many of the leading Nazis who came here were not German. They were collaborators from other countries such as Belgium or Croatia. There was a lot of sympathy for them because many of them were Catholic and anti-communist.”
Chillingly, one of the Belgian Nazis, Albert Folens, helped to shape the minds of generations of Irish schoolchildren as one of the country’s leading publishers of school textbooks.
He appeared on an American list of suspected war criminals and security suspects but later denied any involvement in murder, torture and inhumane treatment.
Whatever the role of Folens in Nazi persecution, it is likely that it paled in comparison to that of Andrija Artukovic, the so-called “butcher of the Balkans” who found sanctuary in the genteel Dublin suburb of Rathgar in 1947.
In a sequence of events that shows the Catholic Church in an even less flattering light than The Da Vinci Code, the leading Croatian Nazi was given safe passage to Ireland with the help of the Franciscan order.
Before he arrived in Ireland, having been provided with immigration papers under the false name Alois Anic, Artukovic served as interior minister in the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia.
He instigated the opening of concentration camps and was accused of being involved in the genocide of up to one million Orthodox Christians, Jews, Romany gypsies and other minority groups. None of this seemed to deter Catholic Church authorities from sheltering him.
Artukovic lived with his wife and children in Rathgar for a year, passing himself off as a professor of history and living under his assumed name. His son Radoslav was born in a nursing home in Terenure.
He moved on to the United States, and was extradited to Yugoslavia decades later and sentenced to death for his murderous activities (the sentence was never carried out, because the authorities ruled that he was too ill to be executed).
The mass murderer’s stay in this land of saints and scholars might have passed without notice had it not been for the persistence of the Kilkenny writer Hubert Butler, who tracked his movements here decades after Artukovic had moved on to America.
The precise circumstances in which the Croatian received papers to move here remain mysterious. According to Tile Films, the film company which has made the RTE documentary, the Department of Foreign Affairs still refuses to release its file on the war criminal.
All but a few of the Nazis who came to live here after the war are now dead. But until now, much of the story of how they came to live here and why they were let in has remained untold.
Hidden History: Ireland’s Nazis, a two-part documentary, begins on RTE One next Tuesday
* Andrija Artukovic – Croatian “Butcher of the Balkans” adopted an alias and lived in Rathgar.
* Otto Skorzeny – Leading SS Commando bought a Kildare mansion and hob-nobbed with Dublin glitterati.
* Albert Folens – Flemish nationalist and Nazi collaborator became a leading publisher of Irish school textbooks.
‘Soon you will be joining your rotten husband’
JIM CUSACK | Independent | January 21, 2007
GARDAI are investigating threatening hate mail sent to the 83-year-old widow of the Belgian-born publisher Albert Folens, who was one of the subjects of RTE’s two-part documentary Hidden History: Ireland‘s Nazis broadcast last week.
The letter, which arrived in the post two days after the programme aired, threatens Juliette Folens and her family stating: “We will give you and your clan six months to leave otherwise suffer the consequences. We believe in an eye for an eye.”
It continues: “Remember Eichman [the senior Nazi official who organised the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps who was executed in Israel in 1961] and Mussolini. Soon you will be joining your smelly, rotten husband. We know all about your family and their movements. Israel always get their opponents.”
The letter is being forensically examined for possible DNA traces of the sender. Sending threatening mail is a criminal offence and the case is being taken seriously.
As the clearly distressed family gathered around Mrs Folens last week they continued to speak against what they say are baseless claims against Albert Folens. The Folens’ daughter, Leentje, said: “I personally hold this [programme] responsible for this letter. I blame them more than I blame the person who wrote this letter.”
Leentje said the allegations against her father were untrue, and to put them alongside a series of detailed allegations against convicted war criminals who came here after the war was most unfair. She added that Mr Folens was not a member of the Nazi party or Gestapo, as claimed. He was a member of the 300,000-strong Flemish Legion, which was inducted into the SS.
The programme-makers, however, stand over their claims. Presenter CathalO’Shannon stated last Friday: “We agreed to put a piece [a short statement from the family] in the programme. That is as much as I wish to say.”
Journalist Senan Molony, who appeared on the programme to talk about Mr Folens, said: “I think the sending of hate mail is horrendous and serves no purpose.”
Denying her husband was in the SS, Mrs Folens last week said that SS members were identified after the war by a tell-tale tattoo of their blood type on the underside of their left forearm. This was done to all SS members in order to facilitate blood transfusions. After the war many SS members were identified through the tattoo – or the equally telling scar tissue left after it was removed.
“There was no scar,” she said of her late husband, whom she reiterated worked as a translator for the Flemish Legion which was incorporated into the SS and sent to fight in the Eastern Front. He was sent home through illness and worked as a translator at its headquarters in Brussels, where she met and married him in 1943. After the war, her husband was among thousands of Flemish Belgians imprisoned for their role in joining the Germans in the Second World War. He escaped prison two years into his 10-year sentence.
Mrs Folens said she and her family had been concerned when the reporter Senan Molony telephoned to ask if he could come to their home to interview her husband in 1987 about his wartime activities. Three years earlier she and her husband had been held hostage in their home: two armed criminals held her prisoner while her husband went to a bank and withdrew a ransom. She said her husband agreed to do the interview after being assured by the-then editor of the Sunday Tribune, Vincent Browne, that Mr Molony was a bona fide journalist.
Mr Molony taped a 90-minute interview, parts of which were broadcast. At the time of the interview Mr Browne decided not to publish the article. In a letter dated June 2, 1987, he wrote to Albert Folens, saying:
“I write to inform you that we have decided not to publish anything concerning your involvement in the Second World War, at present. This decision was taken on the following basis: that, given the absence of harder information concerning any impropriety it would be wrong to expose you to the turmoil that would inevitably ensue if we published the information which we presently have in our possession.”
Mrs Folens said that, contrary to the impression given in the Hidden History programme that her husband had entered Ireland’s entrepreneurial establishment, they were in fact penniless when they came here in 1947 and rented a room in Dun Laoghaire, later moving to Walkinstown. Her husband had to retake his university degree in languages. He was working as a teaching assistant and translator when he wrote and published his first textbook in 1958. He then went on to establish a successful textbook-publishing firm.
“Shortly before his final stroke, my grandfather wrote the words Saol fada agus bas in Eireann,” added Elske, Albert Folens’ granddaughter.
“Neither of my grandparents would ever speak against the country where they finally found peace and raised a family together. Though they met with a lot of kindness here, the process of making a living out of extreme poverty was hard and slow. The setbacks they encountered in establishing Folens publishing were often through the xenophobia of those working in places of power in this country. As an Irish citizen, I am saddened and ashamed that so little has changed.”