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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 5, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

    Shatter Stirs Things Up On Neutrality

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    There has been a good deal of controversy over remarks by Justice, Equality and Defence Minister Alan Shatter on Irish neutrality and Jewish refugees in the second World War and on the treatment of Irish soldiers who deserted to join the British Army at that time. Here is the advance draft text of the speech issued on the night.
    Speech by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Opening ‘The Shoah in Europe’ exhibition The Atrium, Department of Justice and Equality, 51 St Stephen’s Green


    23rd January 2012 at 6pm

    Oireachtas colleagues, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen

    Allied soldiers arrived at the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp sixty seven years ago this week, that is, on the 27th January 1945.  It had become the largest graveyard of the Jewish people in history.  An estimated 1.1 to 1.3 million people were exterminated there,  90% of them Jewish men, women and children. Others exterminated included Roma families, people with disabilities, homosexuals, prisoners of conscience and religious faith.

    Nothing could prepare the camp’s liberators for what they witnessed in Auschwitz. The remnants of the gas chambers and the crematoria; the mounds of bodies; the stench of death; the piles of clothes; of teeth; of childrens’ shoes and barely living skeletal survivors; the speaking bones who greeted their arrival.  By the war’s end, it was estimated that 6 million Jews had been exterminated by the Nazi killing machine in pursuit of the objective of a Judenfrei world.  If Hitler had achieved his objectives no Jewish community in Europe would have been exempt from the Nazi slaughter, not even those  resident in neutral Ireland.  In Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, a map of Europe prepared by Adolf Eichmann, one of the main architects of the extermination policy, includes the estimated 4,000 members of the then Irish Jewish community targeted for extermination.  Clearly, had Germany succeeded in invading Britain, our proclaimed war time neutrality would have provided no protection for the small Irish Jewish community nor presented any real barrier to a German invasion.  

    It is of vital importance that we and future generations remember and learn from the horrors of the past to ensure they are not repeated in the future.  In his book “The Drowned and the Saved”  Primo Levi writes “human memory is a marvellous but fallacious instrument. This is a threadbare truth, known not only to psychologists but also to anyone who has paid attention to the behaviour of those who surround him or even to his own behaviour.  The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone;  not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.”

    Despite everything witnessed, the accounts of survivors and the voluminous records maintained by Germany itself of the Nazi killing machine and the many Holocaust Memorials and museums worldwide, there are now too many in Europe who know very little of the horrors perpetrated in the second quarter of the last century and far too many in the State of Israel’s neighbours in the volatile Middle East engaged in Holocaust denial.  Again in the words of Primo Levi “the further events fade into the past, the more the construction of convenient truth grows and is perfected.”  

    As the years pass by and the remaining survivors of the Nazi horror who can tell the story firsthand reduce in number, it becomes more important than ever that we keep alive the shocking memory of the Holocaust. It is crucial that we never forget what happened or diminish the scale of the horror that was perpetrated by the Nazi regime.  This important exhibition, which will continue for the next three weeks and which I am privileged to open this evening, is an important contribution to raising awareness of the Holocaust.  The Holocaust Education Trust Ireland has worked with Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris and the French Embassy in Ireland to bring this exhibition to Dublin and I am particularly pleased to host the exhibition in the Department of Justice and Equality.  I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Luc Levy who works with the Mémorial de la Shoah, the producers of this exhibition and to the French Ambassador, Madame Emmanuelle D’Achon. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to Boaz Modai, the Israeli Ambassador, who represents a State which provided refuge and a home for tens of thousands of Jewish people following the horrors of the Second World War.  

    The timing of this exhibition has been arranged to coincide with Ireland’s 10th National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration which will take place this coming Sunday, the 29th January. This commemoration event, which is now firmly established in the Irish national calendar, has been supported by my Department since 2003 and I am very pleased to be in a position to continue that support.  Exhibitions such as this; Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorations and the work of the Holocaust Education Trust in Ireland are all excellent examples of what can be done to raise awareness of the Holocaust.  

    I am also pleased that Ireland became a full member of the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in December 2011.  This Task Force is a voice of moral authority on the international stage in raising awareness about the Holocaust and can help address the dynamics that we know precede mass killings and genocide.

    The importance of this exhibition is that it provides a global view of the Holocaust in Europe, starting with the growth of the Nazi movement, through the different stages of the persecution, inhumane treatment and extermination of millions of Jews, up to the Nuremburg Trials.  It also gives a picture of both the political and military reactions of a number of States to this tragedy which included disinterest of some nations toward the fate of the Jews and looks at reactions at an individual level including Jewish resistance and the Righteous among Nations.

    It is difficult to comprehend how a society could have allowed such unimaginable atrocities to occur.  We must remember that the Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum.  These acts of evil emerged in one of the more modern and sophisticated societies of the era.  

    Tools and advances made toward human progress were used for human destruction.  Scientific and medical advances designed to heal and save lives were used to kill.  Education which should enlighten was used to justify grotesquely immoral actions.  People made choices. Some chose to be involved in some way in the destruction, others chose to do and say nothing, while some chose to resist the evil and do the right thing to support, protect and save the persecuted.

    An inconvenient truth is that those who chose to do and say nothing during this unprecedented period in European history include this State.  In the period following Hitler coming to power and preceding the Second World War, the doors of this State were kept firmly closed to German Jewish families trying to flee from persecution and death.  The advice of the anti-Semitic then Irish Ambassador in Berlin, Charles Bewley, that Ireland should be protected from the contamination that would result from granting residential visas to Jewish refugees resulted in practically all visa requests being refused.   This position was maintained from 1939 to 1945 and we should no longer be in denial that, in the context of the Holocaust, Irish neutrality was a principle of moral bankruptcy.  This moral bankruptcy was compounded by the then Irish Government who, after the war, only allowed an indefensibly small number who survived the concentration camps to settle permanently in Ireland whilst refusing entry and permanent residence to many more and also by the visit of President De Valera to then German Ambassador Eduard Hempel in 1945 to express his condolences on the death of Hitler. At a time when neutrality should have ceased to be an issue the Government of this State utterly lost its moral compass.  

    So, in understanding the Holocaust and maintaining its memory, in ensuring that the conditions which allow such evil to flourish to such devastating consequences can never again prevail, we should not forget or ignore the failures of this State and this State’s responsibility for such failures.  John Bruton, as Taoiseach, in the Spring of 1995, acknowledged our State’s failures and honoured the memory of those millions of European Jews who died in the Holocaust.  When doing so, he acknowledged that the Holocaust “was not the product of an alien culture. It happened in Europe in living memory. It was a product of intolerance, bigotry and a distorted concept of nationalism.”  In the midst of the ongoing fiscal and banking crisis that currently impacts on the nations of Europe, including our State, we should never lose sight of the extraordinary contribution of the European Union in providing the political architecture for peace and stability in Europe.  As Europeans we must all ensure that in addressing vital issues of immediate concern that affect the lives of tens of millions, it is the European ideals of peace, cooperation and solidarity and not extreme nationalism nor narrow domestic political concerns which motivate our actions.

    It is appropriate that we revisit the morality of the conduct of our State during the 1930s and 40s, whilst of course being conscious of the fact that only a short time earlier, we had regained our independence from Britain and there was an understandable concern by Government to ensure, insofar as possible, political stability on this island at a time of global conflict.  However, there were questionable things both done and not done and we should not be in denial nor should we ignore that the conduct of our State, at that time, in the eyes of some, delimits Ireland’s moral authority and credibility when today we seek to lecture later generations of those whose families survived the Holocaust on the conduct of their affairs in Israel, without regard to the extent to which they believe themselves under existential threat.

    When viewing this exhibition no one should assume that what happened in the past cannot be repeated in the future. The truth is we should pay greater attention to the dead. We must never forget the lessons of the past when we make, or urge others to make, decisions which impact on the future.   We should never ignore the extent to which their past impacts on their perception of the present and fuels their fears of the future or causes them to question the judgement of others.  

    For well over a decade, we have commemorated and paid tribute to the estimated 10,000 Irish people who died in British uniforms during the Second World War. Many who fought in British uniforms during that War returned to Ireland. For too many years, their contribution in preserving European and Irish democracy was ignored. Some of those include members of our Defence Forces who left this island during that time to fight for freedom and who were subsequently dishonourably discharged from the Defence Forces.  I believe it is also appropriate that we revisit the manner in which they were treated whilst also remembering that those who served in our Defence Forces throughout that time performed a crucial national duty.  It is untenable that we commemorate those who died whilst continuing to ignore the manner in which our State treated the living, in the period immediately after World War II, who returned to our State having fought for freedom and democracy. This is an issue to which I hope to return in my role as Minister for Defence later this year.

    In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lynn Jackson and her colleagues in the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland for their continued important work.

    I would particularly like to commend the Crocus Project, which encourages national school children to plant yellow crocus bulbs in memory of the 1.5 million  Jewish  children  and  thousands of other children who died in the Holocaust.  This Irish initiative has now been extended to the UK, Croatia, Poland, Malta, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.   I am delighted that my Department actively supported the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland in initiatives such as the Crocus Project, the production of the Holocaust Timeline and Teachers Handbook as well as the development of other educational, research and raising awareness materials.

    I would also like to express our sincere gratitude to ‘our survivors’, who give so generously of their time to recount their personal stories to our children in schools around the country.  

    I know that there are teachers here this evening as well and I would like to acknowledge their contribution to teaching our children about the Holocaust, about the dangers of racism and the importance of respect, equality and integration.

    Congratulations to all those involved in organising this excellent and informative exhibition and I wish it every success.

    • Phones says:

      Thats really a contoversy article … i read this whole content there is a nice info but something is very out of order….

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      I have no great difficulty with Mr. Shatter’s opinion. What is perhaps controversial is that he is giving it “in office” rather than in a personal capacity. His views can hardly be viewed as a surprise.

      I do however think it odd that Diarmid Ferriter sought to arraign the Minister’s revisionism when the same learned gentleman is perhaps the best known revisionist historian in the country.

      At its essence, Mr. Shatter decries the lack of indepedence of mind on an empathic and moral level by the Irish state with regard to refugees before and after the war. Afterall, Switzerland and other neutral countries like Spain with a tradition of persecution going back as far as Ferdinand and Isabella, did not expel jews in the systematic manner that (for instance) Vichy France did.

      Perhaps one thing here that is interesting however is the question of religion and the role of religion in public discourse. As an Irish-Jew, Mr Shatter’s views are quite naturally hugely shaped by the impact the holocaust had on his global religious community.

      Religion is a common train through this entire issue really for DeVelera was a devoted, orthodox catholic. The RC church at the time had at best an ambivalent attitude towards Judaism. In certain cases, the RC church actively facilitated the capture of jews and compounded this with certain priests and bishops in Croatia and Italy facilitating the escape to South America of some of the Wehrmacht’s greatest monsters (including Eichman and Mengele).

      Ferriter is correct to state that the situation was complex at the time and that Ireland did not have particularly extreme views (outside of vehement adherance to Catholic orthodoxy) he interestingly chooses not to mention however the well documented progroms in Limerick and Cork in the early part of the last century and arguably underplays the extent to which anti-semitism did raise its head in the southern state.

      The suffocating attitude of the Fíor Gael impacted other minorities as well. It is well documented that the 1937 constitution of deVelera’s was used along with official policy after FF ascended to power to marginalise the remaining protestant and anglo irish in the state. Many eventually took the hint and emigrated. That is also a matter of national shame even if one can go back to the time and understand it in the context of the period.

      David Trimble spoke an inconvenient truth when he labelled the south a monoethical, monocultural state. That has proven to be both a boon and a curse and is very relevant in evaluating the various strands of both Dr. Ferriter’s argument and Mr. Shatter’s prismatic polemic.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I’ve been to Auschwitz and it takes your breath away to walk along where so many suffered and died – there is literally a saddness in the air that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

      It’s interesting that in the 1940s and 50s so many people still chose to let hate win and instead of the State of Israel being welcomed into the family of nations the immediate response was to unleash a hatred that continues to this day and in Ireland that is led by the very people who claim they defend the freedoms that so many gave their lives fighting the Nazi’s to protect.

      We can argue back and forth about what border Israel should have and all of that but we should instead be asking why it is that while the horrors of the Holocaust were still being revealed a large part of the world couldn’t bring themselves to take the principled stand to extend the hand of friendship and peace to people who had been subjected to such horrors even while retaining the right to want a different outcome.

    • jaygee says:

      What is a puzzle with regard to neutrality is the continuation of this policy even after the blitz on Belfast in April 1941. Nearly a thousand of Dev’s compatriots were killed that night and 1500 injured, the highest casualty total for a one night raid outside of London.
      By 1945, the attempt to exterminate European Jewry was common knowledge in all government circles, so Dev and his Govts attitude, along with his visit to offer condolences on Hitlers’s death appear inexplicable to me.

    • ROBBIE says:

      The Holocaust must never be forgotten or repeated. It should be a source of shame by Minister Shatter that he uses the memory of the Holocaust to justify an attack on this state and to silence criticism of the actions of Israel. Shame on you Minister for your manipulation of history to suit an agenda of current times, the actions of DeValera’s government should be judged in the true contemporary context, not through a distorted prism of modern propaganda.

    • Paul says:

      Everything Shatter says has to be weighed up with his ambivalence toward the Holocaust perpetrated against the Palestinian People who never had any thing to do with the extermination of a single Jew during the Nazi era.

      Why didn’t the so called world powers grant the Jews a country in Europe where they had suffered. Why not hand them Austria or Switzerland for example, why steal lands belonging to an already poor people thousands of miles away. Just because someone wrote fairy stories about a certain place didn’t give them ownership of it. And it has been proven by tracing blood lines that every man jack of those currently illegally occupying Palestinian Lands don’t have any Jewish blood in them. The true descendents Jews from ancient times all currently reside in Africa. The black falasha jews of Eithopia being one of the tribes traced by using blood lines. These people were brought back to Occupied Palastine and sure enough the bigotted White Europeans played true to form and racially mistreated them. So badly that the Falasha returned to their African homelands.
      The Occupation of Palestine by White Europeans was a still is the second greatest crime against humanity ever perpetrated by the so called civilised White European. The first greatest crime against humanity was and still is perpetrated against the Great North American Native Tribes again by Bigotted White Europeans, driven by Greed and a over estimated level of self importance only possible from a white european.
      And Shatter and his ilk conveniently ignore all this and expects us to do so also. He and those who continue to slaughter innocent Palestinians should hang their heads in shame.

    • Paul says:

      What about the Millions of Irish slaughtered by the British right up until the early 1900s – I suppose they don’t count just like the millions of Palastinians and the millions of Native Americans slaughtered by white europeans.

    • JW says:

      What if any of the deserters stayed on in the British Army and were involved in killing Jewish fighters in Palestine post 1945. Would they be heroes???

    • Mark says:

      It is very sad to see how low Ireland goes. De Valera did what he had to do for a country recently independent from a decadent neighboring empire that was responsible for thousands of deaths, famine and eviction victims – and which NEVER paid Ireland back for any of those atrocities. De Valera had the sense of Irish sovereignty and SELF RESPECT that obviously lacks in most politicians who nowadays bow to the decadent empire’s queen while forgetting to ask her to return the counties in the northern part of Eire; or to compensate Ireland for all those deaths, evictions and famine – not to mention other “little things” like the dumping of a lot of radioactive stuff in the Irish Sea since the 50s. Maybe the next act of the Irish leaders will be to thank the Queen for transforming the Irish Sea into the most radioactive sea in the world and present her with Irish caesium-filled fish!

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      Robbie, I think your intemperate attack on Alan Shatter is wholly disreputable and you should modify your argument.

      Most Irish people agree with you on Mr. Shatter’s views on Israel as it is now. The passport issue coloured the views of long standing supporters of their island of democracy in the middle east. Depending on what Happens in Syria and allowing for reforms in Jordan and the transfer of power in Egpyt, Israel will not be the only plularistic democracy in the region.

      As Minster for Justice and only the second Minister of Defence that is jewish in the western world at the moment he occupies an immensely significant office and his role reflecting on attitudes towards the holocaust, then and now is intentionally political and intended to challenge us.

      We can still decide to disagree with aspects of it but when his colleagues are crumbling in the face of septic tank protests and drilling off Dalkey island it is good to see a man of principles hold forth and be unyielding in his view.

      The beauty of democracy is that we can choose to agree or disagree. A treat his forbears were denied. This state did very little to help that situation (positive or negative) and as a result we did stand idly by. That is a fact.

    • Robbie says:

      RPE. I think it would be best if you stuck to expressing your own opinions and not extrapolating mine from a single paragraph blog. You are entitled to your view that my comments are intemperate but I don’t see the text of my comment supporting that view or the view that such an exression is an ‘attack’.
      Interestingly it is arguable that the Irish state knew a certain amount about what was going on in Nazi death camps but probably certain that the extent of it could not have been comprehended. However it is interesting that when the Allied powers were informed in London in 1942 by representatives of Jewish organisations about the atrocities being committed against the Jewish populations in Europe they chose to dismiss them. Perhaps the ire of Minister Shatter and his apologists should be directed at the perpetrators and those that actually did stand truly idly by.
      Also it should be remembered that the democracy of Israel is being undermined by attempts, which are having success, to have Israel declared and recognised solely as a Jewish State. Such exclusion does not bode well for the future of democracy in that country nor does it do justice to the memory of the Holocaust so talk of Israel being a pluralistic democracy are more than fanciful.

    • michael says:

      Ireland’s policies during WWII offer lots of scope for criticism on moral grounds, but do not justify the claim by Alan Shatter that this delimits Ireland’s right to criticise Israel in 2012. Among other details, Ireland does not pose any threat to world peace at the moment. All international attempts to criticise Israel are met with a public relations snow-storm of accusation (“Holocaust! Anti-semitism!”). Shatter’s comments sound uncomfortably like another attempt to smother criticism of a state that fully deserves and needs to be criticised.

    • FB says:

      I wonder how Mr Shatter obtained the 6m figure – anyone who’s bothered to check doesn’t get close.

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      @ 11 – I agree but many Israelis do not agree with the attempt to reduce Israel to a confessional state. Zionism is one strand – a major one – but one strand of Israeli life. I support resolution 262 but I also believe they have a right to a homeland.

      @ 13, that is a very disturbing comment. The figure can be calculated from the excellent records produce by the computer the IBM corporation sold to the Nazi regime with for running their census. It meant that they could track jews and round them up when they wanted. The idea that the number of 6m is what matters is ludicrous. Genocide is as much about intent as it is about the scale of slaughter imposed on a counter party. Would we have to prove 1m tutsis were hacked to death by hutus or whether 30 or 50m died under Mao and Stalin respectively. If it was 50m under Staln instead of 30m would it make him demonstrably less tyranical in law?

      What matters is the intent, pre-meditation, scale and the attempt to pull it off. On all counts above, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide were features of their respective regimes.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      The 6 million figure is certainly called out in the Yad Vashem law of 1953 I believe. A unique law that mandated the creation of an institution of remembrance and recovery of memory. Certainly a profound place to visit. The Minister mentioned Primo Levi, who decades later having survived the worst of the Camps (partly because of his usefulness as a chemist) and built a successful life, succumbed to the horror of his experiences and ended his own life. Levi mentions in I think ”The Shame” that those who survived the Camps were the fittest, strongest, those most willing to do what it took to survive; the ”better” who were not so strong and unable or unwilling to survive and do whatever it took were left behind in the Camps. The Jews have a long history of escaping as a Remnant from persecution, their Passover celebrates that first escape and asks the children who participate with their families to reflect on why ”this night is different”. The Jews never forget that the world has many times tried to kill them, and they have honed their abilities, including that of Israel as a State, to ensure that never happens. One must respect and salute a great people for their resolve and achievement, even if, as Levi did, one sadly considers how the wheel of abuse goes round and round as one watches images from the Middle East and the broken population of unwanted Palestinians. Btw to the commentator who said the Palestinians had nothing to do with what happened the Jews in WW2; go and look up about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Let me spell it out then. Ireland today is as morally bankrupt, no, far more morally bankrupt in terms of Her prostituted neutrality than She was between 1939 and 1942 (thereafter Ireland’s neutrality changed from strict to ”benevolent”). Ireland’s ”benevolent” ”neutrality” today has played a vital part in the murder of 1.4 million innocent Iraqi people who never offered us harm nor threat. Ireland’s ability to nod and wink at cowardice inhumanity and rapine of any and all varieties so long as there’s a buck in it has played a vital part in the kidnap and rendition unto torture of countless innocent people whose ‘crimes’ were mostly a) being in the wrong place at the wrong time; with b) brown skin.
      Our esteemed Minister for Justice might look to the beams in his own eye before plucking at the motes in deV’s and Aiken’s. Big motes an all as they are.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I will never forget my visit to Yad Vashem.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Oddly enough, it might seem, everyone knows about deV’s calling hat-in-hand upon Herr Hempel but few enough I’ll warrant know that there’s a forest in Israel named after the Long Fella and has been so for 45 years. Dunno whether it’s in recognition of deV calling out in the 1937 Constitution that the same rights enjoyed by all other Irish citizens were enjoyed by Jews (and other named religions, so as not to be overly conspicuous in asserting prescriptible protections for Jews at a time when much of the rest of Europe was trying to exterminate them) or whether it has to do with the efforts made to rescue large groups of Jews in France that deV and the government conducted. His record there is questionable still though as he refused several requests, amongst them some from his friend the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, to admit other groups of Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. Even though Dan O’Connell who did a lot for Jews in his time could in his time also boast that Ireland was the only country he knew of unsullied by pogroms against Jews that record fell when the Limerick priest fomented boycotts that led to riots and injury of Limerick’s jewish population and their premises. The resentment against the Ascendancy and against Protestantism generally was channelled against wealthy Jews they being a much less powerful and therefore vulnerable target. All the old rubrics about Christ-killers and kidnapping gentile children and cheating non-Jews were trotted out. It was a micro-cosm of the vast ocean of European anti-semitism that arose from Christianity’s struggle for dominance and the discourse that obtained that saw Jews as morally deficient and irredeemable in their very blood, and thus socially dead untermensch fit only for persecution and oppression and a very plague upon the societies in which they dwelled as citizens. A salutary example of how it can break out anywhere, even in Ireland, anti-semitism. Don’t know why Israel named one of Her forests after deV still though. Sure who knows what he’d have been up to devious and slippery as an eel that oul cross between a corpse and a cormorant. Maybe it was because he had such an effect on you you couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Dunno.

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      There were two pogroms in Limerick and one in Cork in the very early part of the twentieth century circa 1902-1907 and a young(ish) Arthur Griffith had a role in fomenting the anger. He was a particularly vituperative journalist who was known for doing a line in vitriolic anti-semitism.

      I think I already noted that Ireland was by and large indifferent to Judaism as the Briscoe dynasty showed, the single most important factor was having a face that people could picture as one of their own so that the prejudicial shibboleths of Irish bigots could be cast aside.

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