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Everyone at St Conleth’s knew Louis Feutren was a Nazi. Now everyone outside knows too

School publications described the human whirlwind of violence who hurled blackboard dusters at us as ‘truly legendary’

Louis Feutren

I am at my desk pondering testimony spanning from the 1960s to 1991 that I have received in recent days from former students at various Irish schools concerning the rampant violence against children by professors and headmasters.

Words that have no place in proximity to children parade before me: fists, venom, sadism, brutality. They are followed by descriptions of the ailments that are the inevitable consequence of such abuse in childhood: pain, anguish, lifetime trauma.

In the Irish Times In the News podcast last week about my request for an apology from my former school St Conleth’s for keeping a convicted SS criminal, Louis Feutren, on its payroll for 28 years, journalist Ronan McGreevy coined a metaphor for the corporal punishment inflicted on children at Irish schools. He called it “the Mount Everest of abuse”.

For those of us who endured the repetitive, sadistic and unwarranted violence from the Tarantino-caricature Nazi who taught French at St Conleth’s, finally speaking about it has been as hard as climbing that Himalayan peak.


How a Nazi fugitive became a French teacher in a prestigious Dublin school

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Our every small ascent was pulverised by snow slides of cognitive dissonance when school publications described the human whirlwind of violence who hurled blackboard dusters at us as “truly legendary” or praised him for teaching “outside the box” and using “philosophies and methodologies which ranged from Rene Descartes to the Nazis”.

As late as 2021 an issue of Alumni News described Feutren as a “real teacher.” To us, Feutren was a proud, unrepentant and self-confessed “real Nazi” with everything that term implies.

My request for an apology from St Conleth’s for knowingly inflicting his violence upon us, followed by the school’s tepid expression of “regret” for our suffering “as described” by us, presumably in opposition to descriptions by others, without acknowledging that everybody from headmaster Kevin Kelleher on down must have known Feutren was a convicted criminal, has dynamited a dam inside us that had been withstanding pressure for decades.

Terrifying acts of violence… unforgivable corporal punishment… hitting with dusters… shoved a ruler into my mouth… the mental anguish and fear that these men provoked… hatred of children… humiliation… child abuse

Rather than speak for myself, I’ve asked other former Conlethians what they would wish to make known. They’re mostly younger than I, which seems natural, as by the time the 1980s rolled around, such violence had become unacceptable. For my older generation – I am the class of 1971 – the staff’s violence seemed invisible, part of the natural order of things, a sinister background sizzle that we knew not how to question.

“Feutren landed on his feet, both from a ‘wanted man’ perspective in terms of finding a safe haven, but also for his clear love of abusing children. Kelleher was an extremely violent man and had no problem with his staff doing whatever they wanted to children,” says Mark Collins, whose grandmother had to hide from the Nazis in wartime Budapest, from the class of 1990.

“I do remember thinking about Feutren that he hit boys like men hit men. Others might have given you a cuff or a slap, but he punched with venom. My overarching and abiding memory of my school days is fear, unpleasantness, a vague sense that things ought to be different. The day I left was the happiest of my life,” recalls Joe Lowry, from the class of 1982.

Picking out at random from the mountain of testimony I have received from Conlethians who have searched me out on social media, these phrases appear.

“Toxic culture you learn to accept as normal… terrifying acts of violence… unforgivable corporal punishment… hitting with dusters… shoved a ruler into my mouth… the mental anguish and fear that these men provoked… hatred of children… humiliation… child abuse.”

Others who wish not to be named have searing memories suffered not in adolescence but at the ages of seven and eight, a dark well of inhumanity so harrowing and soul-numbing that it required spoken conversation because it could not be put down in writing.

As one former Conlethian suggested, given the school’s reticence to admit the undeniable, the whole matter should perhaps be turned over for professional, independent, third-party inquiry. The scale of the violence against children at Irish schools those few decades ago exceeds individual reckonings.

In 2014, the then school chief executive Ann Sheppard wrote a short but glowing memorial to her friend Feutren, deceased in 2009, for the school’s 75th anniversary. “For so many years I was welcomed by his wife Maura and himself to their house on Bray Head tasting miso soup, brown rice and tahini, catching periwinkles, cooking and eating them, learning about the shintu gods, the druids and the Breton movement. For all this, I am so grateful,” Sheppard wrote.

SS Oberscharführer Louis Feutren was sentenced to death in the city of Rennes in 1945 in the trial for the crimes committed by his unit Bretonischer Waffenverband der SS (aka Bezen Perrot). These included aiding the Nazis in the capture, torture and murder of French Resistance fighters and, according to one French historian, the arrest of at least one Jewish woman in Rennes. Almost the entire Jewish population of Rennes, slightly under 400 people, were deported by the Nazis.

Feutren, who was known for the enthusiastic, arm-raised, “Heil Hitler” salute he gave German officers, had escaped from France by the time his trial had begun, eventually finding his way to Dublin.

The school’s claim that it was unaware Feutren was a condemned Nazi criminal is not credible. Everyone at the school knew. Now everyone outside the school knows as well.

Uki Goñi is the author of The Real Odessa: How Nazi War Criminals Escaped Europe, Granta Books, augmented edition November 2022. He is also a journalist who has written for the Guardian, the New York Times and the New York Review of Books