Post-war food donations led to album of thanks from starving German children to ‘you Irelanders’
Drawings and rhymes sent by German schoolchildren to their Irish benefactors survive nearly 70 years on
Hearing this, Jack’s friend gave Mary the album as a present. Sensing it was something special, she kept it safe over the years, showing it to Tony O’Herlihy when they married in 1973.
“We would often take down book over our 37 years together and wonder where the girls were who’d made it,” said Mr O’Herlihy. “We often thought we must do something about it, but we always said ‘we’ll do that tomorrow’. Mary’s death in 2011 made me decide that tomorrow is now.”
He brought the album to the German embassy in Dublin where staff made contact with Saarbrücken. A year later, he has pieced together much of the detail, recalling a little-known chapter of German-Irish history.
On May 23rd, 1945, two weeks after Victory in Europe day, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera outlined a food donation programme to help counter the “terrible conditions prevailing over most of the European Continent”. (See panel 2)
“Millions of people are already starving and many millions more are threatened with starvation [and] I am reliably informed that the danger of even more widespread distress and famine is very grave indeed,” said Mr de Valera.
“Our people are ready to provide those necessities of life. It will involve a reduction in our ration of some commodities, but the sacrifice involved will, I am sure, be readily accepted by our people to help fellow-beings in dire distress.”
The proposal met with approval across party lines – James Dillon, Fine Gael TD for Monaghan and later minister for agriculture, saying “a hungry German is as much deserving of pity as a hungry Pole”.
Mr O’Herlihy is still piecing together details of the programme, though one picture in the album suggests Irish food reached the western German cities of Cologne, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Essen, Mannheim and Ludwigsburg. His feeling is that the Red Cross and Catholic charities were involved in the programme that, thanks to his efforts, is now receiving belated recognition in Germany
“Many of the women have told me the food from Ireland is what helped them survive,” said Birgit Kollet, a cultural officer in Saarbrücken, who helped co-ordinate the search.
Mr O’Herlihy is still searching for information about how the album came to Ireland and who gave it to his late wife. He hopes to eventually tell the full story in a book and, if sponsors can be found, present all the former Saarbrücken schoolgirls with a facsimile of their album. What began for them as a labour of love in 1946 has, since his wife’s passing, become the same for him today.