Former pupils of St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge, Dublin have called for an apology from the school’s board of management for employing a former Nazi who physically assaulted them.
Louis Feutren, a Breton nationalist and SS officer, was sentenced to death in France after the second World War. He had been a member of Bezen Perrot, a Breton nationalist group that rounded up Jews and French Resistance fighters for the Nazis. He fled to Ireland in 1945 and taught French in the school from 1957 to 1985.
The campaign has been organised by the son of the former Argentinian ambassador to Ireland, writer Uki Goñi, who first attended the school in 1971 when he was 14.
Mr Goñi said Feutren, who died in 2009, “unleashed his baser instincts upon defenceless children, and, far from being an example to emulate, he was a boastful, unrepentant and proud former officer in the most evil and tyrannical organisation of the 20th century, the Nazi SS.
“I was physically bashed by Feutren during my first days there. It was the start of many beatings I myself received and that I witnessed Feutren inflict upon others,” he said.
Other students too have complained of being physically beaten by Feutren. He carried on after a ban on corporal punishment in the State was introduced in 1982.
In a letter to the board of management seen by The Irish Times, Mr Goñi included the testimony of other former pupils of the school.
One former pupil, Kieran Owens, said: “I recall seeing fellow classmates, for the slightest transgression, being flung across the room, punched or having themselves pulled up out of their seats by the hair of their sideburns.”
Mark Collins, who attended the school between 1980 and 1989, said: “It sounds such a cliche to have a Nazi as a teacher. He was a very unpleasant person. I wasn’t particularly good at French. My abiding memory is of standing at the front of the class and removing every item of clothing that I couldn’t name.”
An anonymous former student said he was also forced to strip off in front of his class because he did not know the French word for certain items of clothing.
Another testified: “He’d grab my hair and rub my nose in my copybook roaring, ‘can you not see your stupid mistakes?’ He then repeated the hair-grabbing and nose-rubbing on the blackboard. All in front of my peers.”
One drew attention to how Feutren was often feted in school publications as a “legend” and a great teacher. The anonymous pupil responded: “Feutren, by the way, was by no means the only teacher who inflicted casual, arbitrary cruelties and insults on pupils at the time, but he was the most insidious of them, in reality a million cold-blooded miles from the person previously described in breathless encomiums by former colleagues.
“What is not often remarked upon, when dealing with dramatic individual cases, is how the toleration of unacceptable behaviour in one person rapidly infects the entire culture of an organisation.”
Despite arriving in Ireland penniless, Feutren left a substantial estate. He donated €360,000 to the National Library of Wales for the study of the Breton language. The Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest declined an offer of €50,000 because of Feutren’s war record.
Mr Goñi said the school’s current management cannot be held responsible for Feutren’s employment but suggested St Conleth’s “underline the distance it has travelled and apologise for actions that it played no part in but that were carried out under the name it still bears today”.
“We cannot be judged for the behaviour of those who came before us, but that doesn’t absolve us from distancing ourselves from that past today.”
The school did not respond to a request for a comment.