De Valera's expression of sympathy to diplomat condemned
HITLER'S DEATH:ÉAMON DE Valera was told that by expressing condolences to the German ambassador on the death of Adolf Hitler, he had “shown allegiance to a devil”, newly declassified papers reveal.
The files also disclose that it was decided not to fly the Irish flag at half-mast at Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park, even though a similar gesture had been made on the death of US president Roosevelt three weeks previously.
The Nazi leader shot himself at his bunker in Berlin on April 30th, 1945. Two days later de Valera, who was taoiseach and minister for external affairs, called on ambassador Eduard Hempel to express his condolences.
The gesture aroused immediate controversy. The file in the National Archives contains a number of strident letters sent in the immediate aftermath. Angela D Walsh, with an address at East 44th Street, New York, writes to de Valera the day after: “I am horrified, ashamed, humiliated . . . You, who are the head of a Catholic country, have now shown allegiance to a devil.”
The writer concludes by saying a copy of the letter was being sent to President Douglas Hyde. On the day the letter was written, Michael McDunphy, secretary to the president, also visited the ambassador to express condolences.
A note by McDunphy states: “After consultation with the government and acting on the authority of the president, I called today on the German minister, Herr Eduard Hempel, at the Legation in Northumberland Road, and on behalf of the president expressed condolence on the death of the Fuehrer and Chancellor of the German Reich.”
In another note, dated May 7th, 1945, McDunphy writes that he raised with the government the issue of whether the Irish flag should be flown at half-mast over the Áras after Hitlers death.
The question arose, “in view of the fact that on the death of President Roosevelt of the USA, the flag was half-masted from the date of his death until after the funeral on the following Sunday”.
The note continues: “The official view was that the special ties of historic friendship which linked Ireland with the USA did not apply to the same extent to Germany, and it appeared therefore that the half-masting of the flag immediately on the announcement of the death was not necessary.
“A decision could be taken later as to whether the flag should be half-masted on the day of Herr Hitler’s funeral. At the moment it did not seem there would be any funeral.”
The episode resurfaced in a letter dated January 22nd, 1970, when de Valera was president. Fr Kevin Keegan, writing from an address in France, said he had been watching a television documentary in which the famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal “said that you went to the German ambassador to express your sympathy when you heard that Hitler had committed suicide”.
The letter continues: “Needless to say I was astounded to hear such a statement. I would be very grateful to you if you inform me whether it is true or not. In the case of it being untrue, I will inform the French Television immediately asking them to make a public rectification.”
Responding, Máirtín Ó Flathartaigh, secretary general to the president wrote that de Valera was “convalescing from a recent illness” and was “not at present dealing with correspondence”.
The letter confirmed, however, that in his capacity as minister for external affairs at the time, de Valera had called on ambassador Hempel on May 2nd, 1945, “following the announcement of the death of the German head of state” and the visit was made “in accordance with established diplomatic practice”.
He continues: “The reference to suicide in your letter is, however, incorrect; no announcement had then been made (or for long afterwards with any degree of certitude) about the circumstances of Hitler’s death. Had there been, both charity and protocol would, no doubt, still have had to be considered.”
The presidential papers also include a report of a letter to the Timesof London two weeks after the incident by playwright George Bernard Shaw, who defends de Valera as “a champion of the Christian chivalry we are all pretending to admire”.