Who shot Emanuel Kahn?

 

It is 80 years since Emanuel "Ernest" Kahn was shot dead as he walked home from the Jewish Social Club, on Harrington Street in Dublin. The headlines of the day screamed: "Midnight murder of a Jew: very callous crime". Katrina Goldstone is intrigued by a mysterious murder from the 1920s

More curious was that Kahn's murder was the second killing of a Jewish man in two weeks. It was a file on the first murder that led me to the story of Kahn and his strange death. The Department of the Taoiseach documents, now held in the National Archives of Ireland, were innocuously titled "Case of Bernard Goldberg"; I came across them by accident.

The first page referred to the murder of Jews in Dublin, events that merited mention at a Cabinet meeting. The bulk of the correspondence in the file related to a request for compensation by the widow of Barnett Goldberg. Goldberg, an Englishman who travelled regularly to Ireland on business, was shot on the steps of 95 St Stephen's Green on the night of October 30th, 1923.

A trawl of newspapers of the time revealed the second murder, which was covered in detail because of the testimony of a David Miller, Kahn's companion on the evening of his death. Miller had also been shot, but he survived. Kahn, a 24-year-old clerk at the Department of Agriculture, lived on Lennox Street, off South Circular Road. Miller lived nearby, on Victoria Street. They were nearing home at about 11.30 p.m., after a night of cards, when they were stopped by a number of men.

Miller reportedly told police: "At the top of Stamer Street we saw two young men who came towards us and held us up. They asked us our names and addresses, where we were going to and where we were coming from. One of the strangers then asked: 'Are you a Jew?' "

The pair were told to run, and they headed off in different directions. Miller said he heard shots, then found Kahn lying on the ground, shot in the neck and chest and already near death.

Editorials condemned the murder. One maintained: "It would seem inconceivable that in a city where the Hebrew community enjoys such a high social and public standing that the murder could have been due to anti-Semitic feeling."

Kevin O'Higgins, then the minister for home affairs, echoed the sentiment in a speech in the Dáil. Later reports said the murders created panic and unease in the Jewish community. But shootings were common in the early 1920s, and the story soon disappeared.

Rumours in the Jewish community suggested Kahn had been mistaken for a moneylender or punished for "walking out with Christian girls". More sinister details came to light 11 years later, however, during a tetchy Dáil debate in February 1934. Sean MacEntee, the Fianna Fáil minister for finance, accused Fine Gael TDs of knowing who killed Kahn and Goldberg. "The man who committed these crimes, as I have already stated tonight, is a member of the Blue Shirt organisation at the present moment. He was allowed to go free even though those charged with the administration of the law at that time were well aware of the crimes he had committed," he said.

His version of events is rife with allegations of conspiracy, the sort typical of robust political debate, but it is also eerily exact in some details, including the dates of the court appearances of those accused of the murders and the reasons for the subsequent collapse of the trial.

In 1993 I interviewed Kahn's sister Esther, who was unable to remember much except that Kahn had encountered prejudice at work. His mysterious death long intrigued and at times obsessed me. I had almost forgotten about it until, a few months ago, I visited the Jewish Museum in Dublin and found that a photograph of him had mysteriously appeared. It shows a dark-haired, serious-faced young man and is captioned: "(Emanuel Kahn) who was brutally murdered on the night of Wed., 14th Nov. 1923."

Irish Jewish Museum, 3-4 Walworth Road, Dublin 8, is open only on Sundays in winter, from 10.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.