Showing posts with label Moors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moors. Show all posts

Friday, 22 July 2016

The New Christians' Role in the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch Empires

Henry the Navigator
Prince of the House of Aviz

"We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude."

Dum Diversas (Until Different)
Pope Alexander V

"He saw the land of India, but like Moses and the Promised Land, he was not permitted to enter."
- Galvano, on Bartholemew Diaz

"[The Spaniards are] heretics, schismatics, accursed of God, the Offspring of Jews and Marranos, the very scum of the earth."

Pope Paul IV,

"So, not only did the royalty of Spain agree to finance Magellan's voyage (it was several ships), but, interestingly enough, the bankers of Antwerp, in Belgium, poured money into this because they could see it as a means of taking over new lands, new wealth, gold, tin, silver, and all those spices and other trade goods. So they financed his trip, and three ships took off."

Col. L. Fletcher Prouty

"The mysterious Venitian was beaten."

Quoting the Jewish Virtual Library :

"When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived off Angediva in 1498, he was greeted in a friendly fashion by this long-bearded European on behalf of his master. Vasco da Gama self-righteously seized the Jew and compelled him to embrace Christianity under the baptismal name of Gaspar da Gama. He was also known as Gaspar d'Almeida and Gaspar de las Indias.

As a Catholic, Gaspar da Gama became the pilot of Vasca da Gama's fleet. He successfully guided the ships through treacherous Indian waters and was subsequently brought back to Portugal.

In Lisbon, Gaspar was granted a pension by the king, who employed his linguistic ability in subsequent Portuguese naval expeditions. In 1500 he accompanied Cabral on his voyage in western waters and was with Nicolau Coelho when he first stepped ashore in Brazil.

On the return voyage he met Amerigo Vespucci, the Tuscan explorer after whom America is named, at Cabo Verde and was consulted by him.

In 1502, he went to India once more with Vasco da Gama and again in 1505 with Francisco d'Almeida. He took part in the latter's expedition against Calicut in 1510, when he may have died."

"They came with intemperate demands for spices and for the expulsion of the deep-rooted Muslim community; they flouted the taboos of Hindu culture and backed up their threats with traumatic acts of violence beyond the acceptable rules of war."

The History of the Crypto-Jews/Hispanic Sephardic Jews

A Brief History of Crypto Jews of Spanish and Portuguese Descent
By Yvonne Garcia

Jews first settled in the Iberian Peninsula, (the region now known as Spain and Portugal) before the arrival of the Phoenicians in about 900 BCE. Jewish merchants settled along the coast of Spain during the time of King Solomon when this region was called Tarsus, or Tarshish. Iberia was referred to as Sefarad by its Jewish inhabitants and Hispania by the Romans from which the name “Spain” was later derived. More Jews immigrated after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. When the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, there were already large well-established Jewish settlements throughout Iberia. 

The first recorded persecution of Jews in Spain began about 489 CE when Jews were forbidden to marry non-Jews or to hold public office, and any children already born of inter-marriage were forcibly baptized into the Catholic Church. 

From this time forward, the Iberian Jews were periodically subjected to progressively worse persecution until finally from 653 to 672 CE, Jews were beheaded, burned alive, or stoned to death for the crime of relapsing from forced conversion to Catholicism back into Judaism. It was during the period of 489 to 711, under Frankish and Visigothic rule, that Crypto Jews (Secret Jews) first emerged as a large group.

In 711 CE the Moors of northern Africa conquered the region and there resulted approximately three hundred years of what is known as the “Golden Age of Tolerance,” when the Muslim rulers coexisted with Jews and Christians. Non-Muslim people were allowed great freedom as long as they paid a special tax, to which the Jews gladly agreed. Jewish art, music, medicine, education and religious study flourished, and the Jewish population increased greatly and prospered, many Jews becoming fabulously rich and famous.

During the Golden Age, Spain became the world center for Talmudic Studies, with some of the world’s most famous rabbinical academies. Some of the greatest Jewish scholars lived in Moorish Spain during the years of transition just after the end of this period of time. Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra was born in Tudela, Spain, in 1089. He was a poet, mathematician, grammarian, astronomer, commentator of Torah and philosopher. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known as “The Rambam” or “Maimonides,” was born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1135, and earned his living as a physician. He is most famous for his codification of Jewish law, entitled Mishne Torah, and for his philosophical work Guide for the Perplexed. Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known as “The Ramban,” was born in 1194. He, like Maimonides, was a physician and scholar who was the first to incorporate Cabala, or Jewish mysticism, into the Torah teaching, and was a strong proponent of taking possession of the land of Israel. Jews and Crypto Jews flourished in relative peace and plenty, enjoying the Golden Age and the free exchange of ideas, a relatively high level of education for that time in the world, and the benefits from living among Torah and Talmudic scholars. Cities such as Lucena, Granada and Tarragona were populated by Jews magnificently wealthy in culture and material goods.

However, the so-called Golden Age in Spain was also marked by occasional violent upheavals and political turmoil that affected the Jews and Crypto Jews, who were subject to the whims of the frequently changing governments. For example, violence erupted in 1002, when two politically powerful and wealthy Muslims fought to rule Granada; unfortunately the Jews had backed the loser and suffered from Muslim suspicion thereafter. In 1066 a Jewish chief minister of Granada was crucified, followed by the slaughter of more than 1500 Jewish families. The original Moorish dynasty was overpowered by the fanatical Muslim Almoravides in 1086, who were in turn overpowered by the even more fanatical Muslim Almohades from Morocco in 1112.

By 1149 the Almohades had overrun the entire peninsula which had become fragmented into about twelve small kingdoms. The lack of centralized control caused constant power struggles among neighboring kingdoms, such that the Almohades were unable to gain a strong hold on the peninsula. 

Although the Jews had coexisted relatively peacefully with the Muslims, the Catholics bitterly resented the loss of Christian control of the peninsula since 711 and had perpetuated unrest and uprisings, and by 1212, outright rebellion. The centuries-long “Reconquista,” or reconquest, of the entire region was considered a holy obligation. Unfortunately, to the Christians, the Jews were identified with the death of their Christ and with the Muslim rulers under whom the Jews had enjoyed privilege and power. Also during this period of time, the Black Plague was ravaging Europe, killing as many as one in every four people, but far fewer of the Jewish population. 

Relatively few Jews died from the Plague perhaps because of better hygiene. Jews washed their hands before eating bread, bathed weekly prior to Shabbat and before holidays, washed their clothing regularly, maintained sanitary households (especially the kitchen and toilet facilities), consumed only fresh and kosher meats from healthy animals, were required to be distant from sewage and other forms of uncleanliness when reading Torah, and buried their dead within twenty four hours. All of these practices in combination with segregated all-Jewish neighborhoods provided some measure of protection from the Plague, albeit not total immunity.

The Catholics did not observe such hygienic lifestyles, and seldom washed or bathed. The Catholics hated the Jews for their apparent immunity to the Plague, and widely believed the canard that the Jews were the source of the “Black Death” by poisoning wells. 

The Catholics united against the Muslims who were absorbed in fighting one another and slowly took over most of the small kingdoms, one by one. Catholic rule was not kind to the Jews. Widespread pogroms in 1391 resulted in the deaths of fifty thousand Jews, such that, in fear for their lives, tens of thousands converted to Catholicism. These people were called “Conversos” (converts), “New Christians”, and “Maranos” (a derogatory term meaning “pig people.”)  In 1412, the Laws of Catalina were promulgated, which excluded Jews from any economic interchange with Christians.  From this time until the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, Jews were strictly confined to ghettos and had to wear identification badges prominent on the outside of their clothing.  Hard-pressed to survive, many Jews, perhaps as many as 600,000, converted to Christianity by the end of the fifteenth century.  Many of the New Christians were in reality Crypto Jews, outwardly Christians, but tenaciously and secretly practicing Judaism.

The Spanish Edict of Expulsion of 1492 stated that all Jews must leave the country. Those who stayed faced the Inquisition. A small number fled to Italy, Amsterdam, and the Americas, but most went to neighboring Portugal. When the Inquisition came to Portugal in 1496, the Jews were forced to leave, convert, or die. Of those Conversos who opted not to emigrate, many, if not most, were murdered by the “Holy” Inquisition. By 1500, estimates of as few as 40,000 and of more than 200,000 Jews were forced to leave the Iberian Peninsula. Exact numbers are not available because many of the Crypto Jewish family names had been changed after the pogroms of the 1300s in anticipation of future persecution. 

The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition continued for three hundred and fifty years. Accurate recorded accounts of the names, numbers, dates and punishments were kept by the officers of the Inquisition, such that today anyone who cares to recount the horrors may read of them. Of those Jews and Crypto Jews who chose to not leave, or could not afford to leave the Iberian Peninsula, many later bought passage or a commission on a sailing ship bound for safer destinations, preferably as far as possible from the nearest Office of the Inquisition. 

Some purchased the proper documentation for “temporary” (which frequently became permanent) business trips to Italy or Germany, whereas poorer people fled to the north through the mountains and into France. Entire communities of “Portuguese Christians” were documented in southern France, while others continued northward to Amsterdam, England, Scandinavia, and eastward to the German provinces, Austria, Hungary and Poland. In most of these European destinations, these “Portuguese Christians” eventually revealed their true identity as Jews, and then subsequently blended into the established Jewish populations; thus, we do not find long histories of Crypto Judaism throughout Europe.

Many Jews and Crypto Jews immigrated to the New World, now known as the Americas, or the Western Hemisphere. Their choices were limited to the colonies of Spain and Portugal, so that when the Inquisition came to Peru in 1570, to Mexico in 1571, and to Cartegena in 1610, these same people were forced again to choose to convert or to die. The Inquisition spread throughout what is now the southern United States of America, Mexico, Central and South America, the islands of the Caribbean, and Cuba. No Jew or “Converso” was safe from suspicion, accusation and persecution, thus the numbers of Crypto Jews swelled to encompass almost all people of Jewish descent. The experience of the Crypto Jews in the Western Hemisphere was a litany of suffering, continual fear, social, political, professional, and religious suppression and murder. As late as the 1850s the Inquisition was finally officially ended in Mexico, and elsewhere a little sooner; however, overt discrimination and random incidents of lynching and murder continued until well into the 1950s in what we now call “Latin America”.

The final result of approximately one thousand years of persecution and murder of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (minus the three hundred years of the “Golden Age”) caused many families who immigrated to the New World to become Crypto Jewish, while living their public lives as Catholics. In the Americas, some of the Crypto Jews reverted back to being openly Jewish, only to find a few years later that the Inquisition had followed them to their new homes, and they were forced to go back into hiding again. All of these people, the “Conversos” or “New Christians”, were forced to submit to Catholicism, thus in Hebrew they are referred to as the “Anusim” or “those who were forced.”

It has been approximately fifteen-hundred years since the emergence of Crypto Jews in the Iberian Peninsula, and five-hundred years since Crypto Judaism moved to the Americas. Today we find a large Crypto Jewish presence throughout the Western Hemisphere. No one knows for sure how many there really are, however in Brazil alone an estimated 10 to 25% of the total population are Crypto Jews, which translates to 15 to 40 million people. 

While not all people of Crypto Jewish lineage are prepared at this time to accept the challenge to return to living a fully Jewish life, there are thousands, if not millions who are hungry to learn and to reconnect with G-d as Jews. 

1. The Tanach, Mesorah Publications, Ltd., N.Y., 1996.

2. Malka, Edmond S., Sephardi Jews: A Pageant of Spanish-Portuguese and Oriental Judaism Between the Cross and the Crescent, Edmond S. MalkaTrentonNJ, 1979.

3. Netanyahu, B., The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, Random House, New York, 1995. 

4. Pereira, Dione, “Contemporary B’nai Anusim in the Northeast of Brazil”, Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, Portland Conference, PortlandOregon, 2004

5. Warshawsky, Matthew, PhD., “The End of Jewry in Sephard, Land of the Hebrew Golden Age,” HaLapid, Summer 2004 issue.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Every Oligarchy Gets the Castellan it Deserves

The fountain given pride of place in this courtyard of the Sultan's palace in the Alhambra of Granada was a gift from the Jewish community of the town, given in token of their gratitude for the protection granted them by the Caliph.

The central fountain bowl is supported on the backs of Twelve Lions of Juddah representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Oh, Doctor! President.

Castellan, is the Chancellor still in his office?

Yes, your Excellency.

Castellan, as Castellan you are responsible for security on Gallifrey in general and for my safety in particular, are you not, Castellan?

That is so, Excellency.

Castellan, I don't think you're very good at it. That's just my opinion, I'm only the President. 
Still, every oligarchy gets the Castellan it deserves, eh, Castellan?


Yes, well, never mind. 
Just clear up the mess when you've got a moment.

The Jews in Islamic Spain: Al Andalus
by S. Alfassa Marks
"Two years later in 711 C.E., Moorish soldiers (a mixed Arab and Berber army) crossed over from Africa to the Iberian Peninsula. They were led by General Tariq ibn Ziyad, Governor of Tangiers (Sachar 3).   He advanced his army of near ten thousand men across the strait, and landed at a location, which from that day since has sustained his name--Jabal Tarik (Mount Tarik), or Gibraltar.  The Moors engaged in battle with Visigothic soldiers, eventually killing their monarch, King Roderick.  

The Muslim invasion, and subsequent administration of Iberia, freed the major Spanish population of Jews from Visigothic oppression.  It was said that immediately after the invasion, the Jewish population of Toledo "opened the gates" of the city, welcoming the North African Muslims (Wexler 218).  Though ruthless fighters, the Moors were very just. They gave the Goth Spaniards an opportunity to surrender each of their provinces, to which most capitulated.  
"It is a common misapprehension that the holy war meant that the Muslims gave their opponents a choice 'between Islam and the sword'. This was sometimes the case, but only when the opponents were polytheist and idol-worshippers. For Jews, Christians, and other 'People of the Book'.there was a third possibility, they might become a 'protected group', paying a tax or tribute to the Muslims but enjoying internal autonomy" (Watt 144).
Even in those early days, the Moors knew and practiced the principles of chivalry.  They had already won the title to Knightliness which many centuries later compelled the victorious Spaniards to addressed them as "Knights of Granada, Gentleman, albeit Moors"  (Lane-Poole 26). 

The occupation of Iberia by the Moors was a welcome occurrence for a well pummeled and remaining Jewish population.  Of course the Muslims were not completely tolerant, but they were more tolerant than the rulers of the previous administration. Under the ruling Caliph (the descendant of Mohammed--the prophet of G-d on earth), the Jews were able to preserve their rites and traditions.  Peaceful coexistence led to their economic and social expansion.  Their status was that of Dhimmis, non-Muslims living in a land governed by Muslims.  The Jews had limited autonomy, but full rights to practice their religion, as well as full protection by their Muslim rulers; but this did not occur for free.  There was a specific tax called the jizya that Dhimmis had to pay to receive these benefits.  Having its origin in the Qur'an, it states Dhimmis who did not pay this tax, should either convert to Islam, or face the death penalty (Qur'an 9, 29).  This tax, higher than the tax Muslims had to pay, was in several occasions one of the most important sources of income for the kingdom.  The jizya was not only a tax, but also a symbolic expression of subordination (Lewis 14).

From the second half of the eighth century to the end of the eleventh century Jewish life flourished while contributing greatly to scholarship.  A translating program was established in Toledo, using Jews as interpreters.  There they translated the Arabic books into romance languages, as well as Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic.  This included many major works of Greek science and philosophy.  Jews studied and contributed to mathematics, medicine, botany, geography, poetry, and philosophy.   It was at this time that the study of Medicine expanded to produce a large number of exceptional Jewish physicians.  Islam had its sway over Jewish cultural life too.  

In literature, and the arts, the Muslim influence on the Jews is enormous.  Though written in non-Islamic language and script, medieval Hebrew poetry, and much of the prose literature, belong to the same cultural world as Arabic and other literatures of Islam (Lewis 81).  

In the Caliphate of Cordoba [the geographical zenith of Islamic life in Al-Andalus], the Jewish element became increasingly important, reaching its peak in the tenth century  (Diaz-Mas 3).   

Jews lived among themselves in a walled area known as the aljama (Jewish quarter). There they lived among their own administration, and managed their own communal affairs (Epstein 1).   There the Jewish community had their own legal court known as the Beit Din.  This court, with Rabbis as Judges, would render both religious and civil legal opinions pertaining to Jewish affairs inside the aljama.  In the Beit Din the Jews were allowed to settle their own disputes.  This of course was positive for the them;  but it was also positive for the Muslims to, as it decreased the work load of the Islamic courts.

The influence Islamic culture injected into Jewish life was significant.  Jews accepted many customs and traditions of the Moors and interweaved them into their daily life.  The Arabic language, instead of Spanish and Hebrew, was used for prayers.  Ceremoniously washing of the hands and feet, which is an Islamic custom, became adopted by Jews before entering Synagogues.  Moreover, Jewish music was sung to the tune of old Arabic melodies.  Jews adopted the clothing style of their Moorish neighbors; however, they were restricted from wearing fine clothing such as furs and silk.  Most wore the universal long robe and belt, however they were prohibited from wearing a green or white one, which were the traditional colors of Islam.  

For almost four hundred years the Jews lived in Al-Andalus amid the moderate Islamic rule based in Cordoba.   Later came the insurgence of the Muslim fundamentalist Almoravides in 1055, and not long after their enemies, the Almohades in 1147.  Both groups brought with them radically stricter controls over the infidels (non-Muslims).   During this time Jews continued to work as moneylenders, jewelers, cobblers, tailors, and tanners.  Soon however, they would be mandated to wear distinctive clothing, including of the wearing of a yellow turban to distinguish them from Muslims.  These changes were a foreshadowing of the stricter controls that would soon be put in place.

Thus Islamic rule continued, but quickly the peninsular realm was cleaved up into numerous small Muslim kingdoms, each with its own ruler.  In a way not different then that of a civil war, they started fighting among each other.  Once the Muslims divided, the armies of Christendom gained a foothold on the peninsula.  It was this subsequent warring of Islamic administrations that led to collapse of Moorish supremacy on the peninsula, allowing the Christians to rise to power during the subsequent reconquista.  When the Caliphate disintegrated in the eleventh century as the result of civil war, many influential Jews remained in the Moorish kingdoms (Diaz-Mas 3).  

The Jews perpetuated their way of life under the subsequent Christian monarchs of Spain, until anti-Semitism caught up with them, and they were expelled three hundred years later.  The golden age of Spain was golden, but for the Jews, it was always a bit tarnished.

Sources Cited 
Charafi, Abdellatif.  Once Upon a Time in Andalusia. University of Portsmouth: 18 Nov. 1998.          

Hume, Martin A. S. The Spanish People: Their Origin, Growth and Influence. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1901.

Diaz-Mas, Paloma. Sephardim: The Jews from Spain. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Epstein, Isidore. Studies in the Communal Life of the Jews of Spain. New York,  NY: Hermon Press, 1968.

Holy Qur'an. Trans. M. H. Shakir. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, n.d. 1990
Lane-Poole, Stanley. The Story of the Moors in Spain. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1990. 

Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. PrincetMeyrick, Fredrick.  The Doctrine of the Church of England on the Holy Communion.on, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984. 

London, 1891. Sachar, Howard M. Farewell Espana: The World of the Sephardim Remembered. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1994.

Watt, Montgomery. A History of Islamic Spain. Edinburgh: University Press,  1967.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Fighting Irish : You Mean, You're Part of the Rebellion Against the Empire....?

 ‘You know, at the beginning we were all sure Germany was going to win...'

Paddy Doyle,
Lord Mayor of Dublin (Former), May 1945

"The central issue of freedom, however, is between those who believe in self-determination and those in the East who would impose on others the harsh and oppressive Communist system; and here your nation wisely rejects the role of a go-between or a mediator. 

Ireland pursues an independent course in foreign policy, but it is not neutral between liberty and tyranny and never will be.

For knowing the meaning of foreign domination, Ireland is the example and inspiration to those enduring endless years of oppression. It was fitting and appropriate that this nation played a leading role in censuring the suppression of the Hungarian revolution, for how many times was Ireland's quest for freedom suppressed only to have that quest renewed, only to have that quest renewed by the succeeding generation? 

Those who suffer beyond that wall I saw on Wednesday in Berlin must not despair of their future. Let them remember the constancy, the faith, the endurance, and the final success of the Irish. 

And let them remember, as I heard sung by your sons and daughters yesterday in Wexford, the words, "the boys of Wexford, who fought with heart and hand, to burst in twain the galling chain and free our native land."

- President John F. Kennedy,
Address to the Dail,
June 28th 1963

Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler loved Irish folk music, and historical photographs reveal that famous Irish musician Sean Dempsey played for him in 1936.

Dempsey, an uileann piper, was invited to play for Hitler and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels during a visit to Berlin in 1936 after being told that Hitler was an Irish folk music fan.

When he arrived to play however, there was no room for him to sit, which he needed to do to play, and it looked like it would be canceled.

However, Hitler jumped up and demanded that an S.S. member get down on his hands and knees and that Dempsey sit astride him while he played.

Dempsey played what was described as a "haunting air" as Hitler listened with rapt attention. After he performed, Hitler presented him with a gold fountain pen while Goebbels clapped wildly.

The bizarre scene was revealed for the first time in a 2010 exhibition of Irish photographs from that era called "Ceol na Cathra." The exhibition opened in Dublin and was collected by legendary fiddle player Mick O’Connor.

Also in the exhibit were rare photographs from the early days of The Chieftains and Sean O'Riada, the father of modern Irish folk music.

World War I was not won or lost in the fields or the trenches of the Somme.

All the most decisive engagements of the Great War took place on the "Home" front - as far and deep as can be within the colonies and encampments of The Enemy - the soft underbelly.

World War I was won and lost on the streets.

"A British MK-IV tank captured by the German army in WW1 now used by Freikorps units during the supression of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, in January 1919. 

In January 1919 all remaining armoured cars and vehicles of the german army were regrouped in Berlin under the command of Reichswehrgruppenkommando 1, forming three Abteilungen. One of these Abteilungen was designated Schwere (heavy) Kampfwagenabteilung and consisted of two british Mark IV tanks and one german A7V tank (Heidi) formerly beloning to Freikorps Maerker. They stayed in use until Summer 1919, when all armoured vehicles had to be surrendered to the allies as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles. "

The Spartacist uprising (German: Spartakusaufstand), also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike (and the armed battles accompanying it) in Germany from January 4 to January 15, 1919.

Its suppression marked the end of the German Revolution. The name “Spartacist uprising” is generally used for the event even though neither the ‘Spartacist League’ of Rosa Luxemburg fame (aka Spartakusbund) nor the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) planned, initiated nor led this uprising; each participated only after popular resistance had begun. This Uprising contributed to German disillusionment with the Weimar Government. Their leaders were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Several workers spontaneously seized the editorial office of one newspaper in the Kochstraße in Berlin and erected barricades on the streets. This attracted more workers who blocked further streets in the newspaper quarter- including the office of Germany’s Social Democrat SPD organ “Forward” (Vorwärts).

This Social Democrat paper had printed articles hostile to the Spartacists since the beginning of September. The leaders of the USPD and the KPD/Communist Party decided to support this worker-action, appealling for a general strike in Berlin on January 7. The strike garnered about 500,000 participants who surged into downtown Berlin that weekend. In the following two days however the strike leadership (known as the ad-hoc Revolution Committee) failed to resolve the classic dichotomy between militarized revolutionaries committed to genuinedly new societies and reformists advocating deliberations with Ebert. Meanwhile the strikers in the occupied quarter obtained weapons. Within the Communist Party there was further dissent. Karl Liebknecht, unlike Rosa Luxemburg, supported a militant coup over Ebert’s government, else the KPD would be alienated from worker elements planning the coup. At the same time some KPD leaders tried persuading state military regiments in Berlin, especially the Volksmarinedivision, to their side.

Their armed presence was supposed to instigate fighting. This was unsuccessful because most soldiers had either gone home or because their loyalty to the “Rat der Volksbeauftragten” (ie., the flag of the regiment). On January 8, the KPD left the Revolution Committee after USPD representatives had invited Friedrich Ebert for talks. While these took place, the workers found out about a flyer published by Vorwärts titled “Die Stunde der Abrechnung naht!” (The hour of vengeance is coming soon!) and about the Freikorps (anti-Republican paramilitary organizations, who fought the Weimar Republic and the November Revolution), whom the SPD administration had hired to suppress the workers. Ebert had ordered defense minister Gustav Noske, also a member of the SPD, to do so on January 6. Then the Revolution Committee stopped talks with the SPD. The Spartacist League then called for its members to take part in armed combat.

Roye, France 1918 (Bundesarchiv)

On the same day, Ebert ordered the Freikorps to attack the workers. The former soldiers still had weapons and military equipment from World War I, which gave them a formidable advantage. They quickly re-conquered the blocked streets and buildings; many of the workers surrendered. Around 100 civilians and 17 Freikorps soldiers died during the fighting. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by Freikorps soldiers and killed.

Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is rightly remembered for leading Britain through her finest hour – but what if he also led the country through her most shameful hour? What if, in addition to rousing a nation to save the world from the Nazis, he fought for a raw white supremacism and a concentration camp network of his own? This question burns through Richard Toye's new history, Churchill's Empire, and is even seeping into the Oval Office.

George W Bush left a bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in an attempt to associate himself with the war leader's heroic stand against fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It's not hard to guess why: his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and was tortured on Churchill's watch, for resisting Churchill's empire.

Can these clashing Churchills be reconciled? Do we live, at the same time, in the world he helped to save, and the world he helped to trash? Toye, one of Britain's smartest young historians, has tried to pick through these questions dispassionately – and he should lead us, at last and at least, to a more mature conversation about our greatest national icon.

Churchill was born in 1874 into a Britain that was washing the map pink, at the cost of washing distant nations blood red. Victoria had just been crowned Empress of India, and the scramble for Africa was only a few years away. At Harrow School and then Sandhurst, he was told a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation. As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in "a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples". In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, a crack of doubt. He realised that the local population was fighting back because of "the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own," just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a "strong aboriginal propensity to kill".

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops. He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three "savages".

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When concentration camps were built in South Africa, for white Boers, he said they produced "the minimum of suffering". The death toll was almost 28,000, and when at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his "irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men". Later, he boasted of his experiences there: "That was before war degenerated. It was great fun galloping about."

Then as an MP he demanded a rolling programme of more conquests, based on his belief that "the Aryan stock is bound to triumph". There seems to have been an odd cognitive dissonance in his view of the "natives". In some of his private correspondence, he appears to really believe they are helpless children who will "willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown".

But when they defied this script, Churchill demanded they be crushed with extreme force. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland's Catholic civilians, and when the Kurds rebelled against British rule, he said: "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes...[It] would spread a lively terror."

Of course, it's easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn't everybody think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye's research is that they really didn't: even at the time, Churchill was seen as at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was warned by Cabinet colleagues not to appoint him because his views were so antedeluvian. Even his startled doctor, Lord Moran, said of other races: "Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin."

Many of his colleagues thought Churchill was driven by a deep loathing of democracy for anyone other than the British and a tiny clique of supposedly superior races. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he "ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back." As the resistance swelled, he announced: "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." 

This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused – as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved – by the imperial policies of the British. 

Up to 3 million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits". At other times, he said the plague was "merrily" culling the population.

Skeletal, half-dead people were streaming into the cities and dying on the streets, but Churchill – to the astonishment of his staff – had only jeers for them. This rather undermines the claims that Churchill's imperialism was motivated only by an altruistic desire to elevate the putatively lower races.

Hussein Onyango Obama is unusual among Churchill's victims only in one respect: his story has been rescued from the slipstream of history, because his grandson ended up as President of the US. Churchill believed that Kenya's fertile highlands should be the preserve of the white settlers, and approved the clearing out of the local "blackamoors". He saw the local Kikuyu as "brutish children". 

When they rebelled under Churchill's post-war premiership, some 150,000 of them were forced at gunpoint into detention camps – later dubbed "Britain's gulag" by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Caroline Elkins. She studied the detention camps for five years for her remarkable book Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, explains the tactics adopted under Churchill to crush the local drive for independence. "Electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire," she writes. "The screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects." Hussein Onyango Obama never truly recovered from the torture he endured.

Many of the wounds Churchill inflicted have still not healed: you can find them on the front pages any day of the week. He is the man who invented Iraq, locking together three conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders that have been bleeding ever since. He is the Colonial Secretary who offered the Over-Promised Land to both the Jews and the Arabs – although he seems to have privately felt racist contempt for both. He jeered at the Palestinians as "barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung," while he was appalled that the Israelis "take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience".

True, occasionally Churchill did become queasy about some of the most extreme acts of the Empire. He fretted at the slaughter of women and children, and cavilled at the Amritsar massacre of 1919. Toye tries to present these doubts as evidence of moderation – yet they almost never seem to have led Churchill to change his actions. If you are determined to rule people by force against their will, you can hardly be surprised when atrocities occur. Rule Britannia would inexorably produce a Cruel Britannia.

So how can the two be reconciled? Was Churchill's moral opposition to Nazism a charade, masking the fact he was merely trying to defend the British Empire from a rival?

The US civil rights leader Richard B. Moore, quoted by Toye, said it was "a rare and fortunate coincidence" that at that moment "the vital interests of the British Empire [coincided] with those of the great overwhelming majority of mankind". But this might be too soft in its praise. If Churchill had only been interested in saving the Empire, he could probably have cut a deal with Hitler. No: he had a deeper repugnance for Nazism than that. He may have been a thug, but he knew a greater thug when he saw one – and we may owe our freedom today to this wrinkle in history.

This, in turn, led to the great irony of Churchill's life. In resisting the Nazis, he produced some of the richest prose-poetry in defence of freedom and democracy ever written. It was a cheque he didn't want black or Asian people to cash – but they refused to accept that the Bank of Justice was empty. As the Ghanaian nationalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote: "All the fair, brave words spoken about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed and grew where they had not been intended." Churchill lived to see democrats across Britain's dominions and colonies – from nationalist leader Aung San in Burma to Jawarlal Nehru in India – use his own intoxicating words against him.

Ultimately, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried to impose it on the darker-skinned peoples of the world. The fact that we now live in a world where a free and independent India is a superpower eclipsing Britain, and a grandson of the Kikuyu "savages" is the most powerful man in the world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest – and a sweet, ironic victory for Churchill at his best.

For updates on this issue and others, follow Johann at

'Churchill's Empire' is published by Macmillan (£25). To order a copy for the special price of £22.50 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit

Bridget Hitler (neé Dowling), circa 1942

De Valera, Hitler & the visit of condolence May 1945

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary HistoryDevalera & Fianna FailFeaturesIssue 3 (Autumn 1997)The EmergencyVolume 5 

A terse paragraph in the Irish national dailies on 3 May 1945 started the avalanche of international protest. Under the heading ‘People and Places’, the Fianna Fáil-backed Irish Press reported laconically that the Taoiseach and Minister for External Affairs, Éamon de Valera, accompanied by the Secretary of External Affairs, Joseph Walshe, ‘called on Dr Hempel, the German minister, last evening, to express his condolences’. The condolences were for Hitler who had committed suicide on 30 April. The Irish Times was prevented by the censor from publishing the following report from Reuter on 3 May: ‘Éire delegation mourns Hitler. Lisbon, May 3. The Éireann Minister in Lisbon today hoisted the German swastika at half mast over the legation as a sign of mourning for Hitler’. While the report that de Valera had condoled with the German minister was accurate, the Lisbon report was incorrect on one count. The swastika did fly at half mast over the Irish legation in Lisbon; but it had not been placed there by an Irish diplomat. While the Irish occupied the ground floor, the headquarters of German intelligence for the Iberian peninsula was situated on the floor above. They, not the Irish, had hung out the swastika in sympathy. Both pieces of information—one accurate and the other false—were sent by the international wire agencies around the world. Éamon de Valera, the leader of neutral Ireland, was widely interpreted internationally as being pro-Axis and personally sympathetic to Hitler. The swastika at half mast was further proof, if proof were needed, that the Irish diplomatic service abroad had been instructed to show respect for Hitler and his fallen Reich. No such instruction had been issued by the Department of External Affairs to its mission abroad. One Irish envoy, Leopold Kerney, had, without instructions, called on 3 May at the German embassy in Madrid to express his condolences. The reports of his visit were carried by the Spanish news agency, EFE. Fortunately, for Ireland’s tattered reputation the letters of gratitude he received remained unpublished. A former Spanish foreign Minister and philo-Nazi, Ramon Serrano Suner, wrote with embarrassing warmth to Kerney about de Valera’s action:

The brave, Christian and human attitude of President de Valera [sic] moves me to write you these lines to express to you my admiration for your country and to assure you again of my friendship.

The Conde de Mayalde Jose Finat, who had been Spanish ambassador in Berlin, wrote to Kerney:

The sympathy which both as Spaniard and as Catholic I have always felt for the noble people that you represent has continually increased during the war before the Christian and dignified attitude of its government. Today, in the presence of the noble [cabelleroso] gesture of Mr de Valera, president of Ireland [sic], I desire to manifest to Your Excellency my admiration and respect.

In the meantime, Michael McDunphy, the secretary of President Douglas Hyde, had been reported on 4 May as having ‘called on the German minister [yesterday] to express condolence on behalf of the President’. That report, too, was carried in all the Irish dailies and sent around the world by the wire agencies.

Unwanted international attention

Within forty eight hours, de Valera’s Ireland—which had managed to remain below the radar for the duration of the war—was the subject of unwanted and unwarranted international attention. De Valera had been ‘begged’ by Frederick Boland, the assistant secretary of the Department of External Affairs, not to go. Although Walshe’s position is less clear, he probably took the same view as Boland. It is likely that de Valera was more influenced in his decision by the advice of cabinet colleagues who viewed the issue in its narrow, domestic context. The counsel of the professional diplomats, as was evident within hours of the ill-fated visit, proved the more reliable and trustworthy. Nevertheless, de Valera continued to try to rationalise his action and justify what he had done in the teeth of the international protests. He wrote to his close friend Robert Brennan, the Irish envoy in Washington, that he had ‘noted that my call on the German minister on the announcement of Hitler’s death was played up to the utmost. I expected this’, and he added:

I could have had a diplomatic illness but, as you know, I would scorn that sort of thing…So long as we retained our diplomatic relations with Germany, to have failed to call upon the German representative would have been an act of unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel himself. During the whole of the war, Dr Hempel’s conduct was irreproachable. He was always friendly and invariably correct—in marked contrast with Gray. I certainly was not going to add to his humiliation in the hour of defeat.

De Valera felt that shirking his visit would have set a bad precedent. It was, he thought, of considerable importance that the formal acts of courtesy should be made on occasions such as the death of a head of state and that they should not have attached to them any further special significance, such as connoting approval or disapproval of the politics of the state in question or of its head: ‘It is important that it should never be inferred that these formal acts imply the passing of any judgements good or bad’, he concluded. In Dáil Éireann, de Valera stated that his visit ‘implied no question of approval or disapproval or judgement of any kind on the German people of the state represented here’. He added that there was little publicity given to the fact that the Dáil had been adjourned on the death of President Roosevelt. Dev myopic and naive

De Valera appeared to be both myopic and naive. His considerable political skills deployed during the course of the war had won him the grudging respect of the US envoy and amateur diplomat, David Gray. The British representative, Sir John Maffey, understood de Valera better than his US counterpart. Exasperated as he had been on many occasions by de Valera during the course of the war, Maffey had come to admire the Irish leader. Both Maffey and Gray were fully aware that de Valera was not pro-Axis and that he had been of considerable covert assistance to the Allies during the course of the war. He had never shown any admiration for Hitler or for the Nazis during the 1930s or during the war years. Yet, Gray’s immediate response on confirming the news of de Valera’s visit was to suggest to Washington that he should be recalled in protest. He also encouraged Maffey to persuade London to follow the same course. Neither the US nor the British felt it necessary to take such an extreme course of action. But de Valera was left in absolutely no doubt about the depth of the anger of both Churchill and Truman. The victorious Allies knew how to exact retribution and the coldness of Washington and London was felt by Dublin when it came to trying to procure scarce supplies in the difficult months which followed the ending of the war. Although Frederick Boland had strongly advised against the visit, the Department of External affairs could hardly have anticipated the deluge of international criticism which descended on them. The Irish envoy in Washington, Robert Brennan, sent a telegram to Dublin within hours of the visit:

Radio Commentator announced item in bitter and caustic tone. Although similar action by Portugal is reported Chief gets headlines in all papers seen. Particularly because of horror atrocity stories of German prison camps during past months. Anti-German feeling was never so bitter as now.

The latter was a reference to the photo and film coverage of the liberation of the concentration camps which had, in the previous months, brought out the hidden horror of the Holocaust.

US press coverage

The major US papers reported the visit and carried scarifying editorial comment. The New York Times, under the heading ‘Mr de Valera’s regrets’ wrote that de Valera may have merely been following ‘what he believed to be the protocol required of a neutral state’. However, the editorial stated caustically: ‘Considering the character and the record of the man for whose death he was expressing grief, there is obviously something wrong with the protocol, the neutrality of Mr de Valera’. The Herald Tribune was even more forceful; it entitled its editorial ‘Neutrality gone mad’ and commented:

In this time of the breaking of nations when the stream of history becomes a rushing millrace, there is much to arrest the attention of the world. But, despite all preoccupation with greater events, there is still time for a glance and a gasp at the spectacle of the prime minister of Eire marching solemnly to the German legation to present his government’s condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler while the pious Dr Salazar places the flags of Portugal at halfmast to mourn the passing of the enemy of the human race. If this is neutrality, it is neutrality gone mad—neutrality carried into a diplomatic jungle—where good and evil alike vanish in the red-tape thickets: where conscience flounders helplessly in slogans of protocol, and there is no sustenance for the spirit but mouldy forms of desiccated ceremonies… Obviously, for all the colourless connotations of the word, neutrality can go rancid when it is kept too long.

The Washington Post headlined its editorial ‘Moral myopia’. The paper did not question the ‘correctness’ of de Valera’s action. Concluding that the visit provided an indication of ‘why diplomatic usages have fallen into such disrepute’, it added:

The neutrality which these governments practised throughout the course of the war was dictated by expediency… Now, however, the war in Europe has been won; the neutrals need no longer fear Hitler or the Reich. Can it be that the moral myopia they imposed upon themselves in the face of danger has now blinded them to all ethical values? Or is it merely that a preoccupation with protocol has atrophied their emotions? In sober truth, there could be no real neutrality in this war… Even in death, Hitler forced a choice upon the neutral governments. By their response, they have judged themselves and that judgement in the case of Éire and Portugal is a condemnation in the eyes of all free people.

What de Valera had quickly come to discover was that he appeared, at that time, to be unique in his action among the leaders of the Western democracies. Neither Switzerland nor Sweden had adhered to the protocol. That left the Irish leader in the dubious company of the Iberian dictators, Salazar of Portugal and Franco of Spain. All inquiries by the Department of External Affairs to their envoys abroad yielded the same answer—de Valera was alone in his adherence to the protocol.
Brennan confirmed the gravity of the Irish situation in a telegram on 5 May:
Among general public, incident has attracted more attention than anything else arising from our neutrality. There is considerable adverse criticism among Irish and some defenders… I know how to answer all this…but I am not sure it is wise to have controversy at the present moment and think that I should wait for a few days, subject to your opinion.

That proved to be very solid advice. De Valera’s action was not capable of being understood objectively or sympathetically. It had been indefensible. But to engage in public debate with the leading US newspapers would simply have been foolhardy. The depth of antagonism among certain Irish Americans may be gauged by the following letter from Angela D. Walsh of New York:

Have you seen the motion pictures of the victims of German concentration camps, de Valera? Have you seen the crematoriums? Have you seen the bodies of little children murdered by Nazi hands? Have you seen the flourishing cabbages—cabbages for German food—flourishing because of the fertiliser, human remains of citizens from almost completely Catholic countries like Poland? These were citizens of a conquered country—and ÉIRE might easily have been a conquered country, neutrality or no neutrality. Have you seen the living dead, de Valera? Skin stretched over bone, and too weak to walk?

Angela Walsh was not alone in her condemnation of de Valera. Irish American politicians, many loyal friends of the country, felt obliged to express their outrage at the visit. Those views were shared by their counterparts in Britain where the Irish High Commissioner, John Dulanty, found that his job had become all the more difficult in those early weeks of May 1945. Speaking to an unidentified senior politician [it may also have been a senior civil servant], described only as ‘a mutual friend’, he reported on 15 May that he had ‘shown a rather violent reaction to the visit of the Taoiseach and yourself [Joseph Walshe] to Herr Hempel’. He had been appalled at what struck him as ‘the diplomatic lack of wisdom of the Irish government’s action in regard to the death of Hitler’. The case was outlined in the following pragmatic terms by their ‘mutual friend’:

His point, which he put vehemently, was that England had won the war, that she now had it in her power to make conditions more easy or more difficult for Ireland in the future and that, consequently, it should be one of the first objects of the Irish government to please English opinion so far as it was consistent with its own interests.

While Dulanty attempted to explain the Irish position, the arguments failed to have any impact. The ‘mutual friend’ believed that in the circumstances surrounding the visit there had been no moral issue at all and no principle that mattered a damn:

Protocol was not principle. It was made for man, not man for it. Nor could he see that any question of dignity arose. Even if it did, the practical advantages of doing what our government had done would have seemed to him so immense that he would have brushed aside any question of national amour  propre.

That source then proceeded along the same pragmatic line of argument:

He could understand a policy which, so long as Germany was unbeaten, avoided offending her. But Germany was now beaten. The German State was in dissolution and it was not unlikely that any government of Germany during the future would curse the memory of Hitler. The effect of paying compliments on his death would, unless vigorous counteraction were taken, be to antagonise not only England and America and most of Europe, but antagonise German opinion as well.

Appreciation of the British Union of Fascists

That unnamed British voice said very much what Frederick Boland would have also been telling de Valera in the Department of External Affairs. And, if further proof were needed of the dubious company into which the visit had placed de Valera, it was supplied by Dulanty who sent the original of a letter to Iveagh House on 11 May with a laconic minute, ‘no comment’. From an underground address, came the following missive:

The British Union of Fascists, which is still in existence, although it had to go underground for the time being, have instructed me to write to your Excellency, and to express their deep appreciation of the news that the secretary to the president of Eire has called on the German minister in Dublin to express condolence on behalf of the president on the death of Adolf Hitler. The British Union of Fascists begs of your Excellency to convey its gratitude to the government of Eire for thus honouring the memory of the greatest German in      history.

Bubbling over with excitement, the letter further informed de Valera that the BUF had had ‘wonderful news from our comrades in Norway’ that the ‘Fuehrer is not dead’ but had escaped in a submarine together with other leading Nazis.
Well, with friends like that…! Salazar, Franco and the British Union of Fascists were hardly the company to be keeping in May 1945. But de Valera’s visit had, quite predictably, placed him and the country in their society. He had worked successfully throughout the war to maintain Irish neutrality. He had clandestinely supported the Allies in a very active fashion. Ironically and paradoxically, he had made a decision—perhaps without deep reflection on its wider implications—to visit the German Minister to express his condolences on the death of Hitler. That action—and not his pro-Allied wartime record fixed his place in history for many tens of thousands of people who knew little—and cared less—about the Irish leader. The decision to visit Hempel may have been the first serious evidence that the man who had been born in 1882 and served as Taoiseach since 1932 was losing his diplomatic and political sharpness.
Outside of this country, the arguments about the justification for the visit to the German legation get very short shrift. In Ireland, one finds people who will defend the act. In a review of my book, Ireland and Europe, 1919-1989, the late Brian Lenihan provided this formulation:

The terms ‘idealism’ and ‘realism’ do not tell us, for example whether a given decision is marked by moral integrity, a consideration which I believe was fundamental to de Valera’s thinking. Dev’s visit to the German legation on 2 May 1945, may be questioned, as Dr Keogh questions it, on a certain view of political realism, in a world in which Germans and Germany were at their lowest ebb.Perhaps one day we will all come to see the two world wars as a great European tragedy, and de Valera’s observance of protocol in the case of the German ambassador, Dr Hempel, will be understood as a far-sighted recognition of the inextinguishable rights of the German people, as of any other people, even at their darkest hour.

Perhaps, but for me that day and the dawning of that realisation has not yet come.

Dermot Keogh is Professor of History at University College Cork.

Further reading:

D. Keogh, Ireland and Europe, 1919-1989 (Dublin 1989).

D. Keogh, The Jewish Community and the Irish State (Cork 1997).

R. Fisk, In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the price of neutrality 1939-45 (Dublin 1983).

‘Mr de Valera’s conviction that Hitler would win the war was stupid’

Eamon De Valera on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, London.
Eamon De Valera on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, London.
Image: (PA Archive/Press Association Images)

David Gray became US Minister (Ambassador) to Ireland in 1940. His memoir, written at the age of 89, is published for the first time by the Royal Irish Academy and is a patchwork of top-secret documents, letters to Roosevelt and extracts from his diary.

Gray was born in New York in 1870 and was a journalist and playwright before joining the military and entering politics. He was not well disposed to Irish republicanism. He came to hold Irish society in contempt and despised de Valera, believing that certain Irish officials were collaborating with the Nazis to achieve a British defeat and a 32-county republic. This extract is from 1940. He writes: 

The Taoiseach’s office (pronounced popularly ‘tee shack’) and surroundings were all as they had been so often described by interviewers. He himself was the tall, gaunt figure with the suggestion of Lincoln, and ironically in the corner stood the O’Connor bronze statue of Lincoln which John McCormack, the singer, had given to the Irish government. The office was bare, the flat-topped desk was bare and Mr de Valera was dressed in his invariable black clerical-looking suit with black string tie.

He was always neat and his linen was always fresh. His grave eye trouble excited sympathy. It was said that he suffered from glaucoma. From time to time he removed his spectacles and put his hands over his eyes, and from time to time he showed the appealing smile that I had heard about and the suggestion of his peculiar charm. Why Mr de Valera replied to my English speech in Irish was a question not difficult to answer. Both languages are sanctioned by the new Constitution, but Mr de Valera and his Separatist group were anxious to impress on the outside world that English is only an unfortunate and temporary makeshift and that Irish is the true and natural tongue of the nation, though today only one person in six speaks it. Very few Irish politicians speak Irish except as American High School students learn to ‘speak’ French, but they usually begin their speeches with a paragraph in Irish, which they have memorised, and then continue in English. It is the badge of being ‘Irish’ Irish, like the Gaelicisation of proper names.

1916 leaders turned out in tails and white ties

The official dinner in the state apartments of the Castle that evening was as elaborate and well done as the ceremony in the morning. Food, wines, service, cigars, all were unexceptionable. The de Valera revolution had been to a large extent a ‘social movement’. It appealed to the ‘common man’ and repudiated the symbols of privilege. Mr de Valera banned the ‘topper’ and wore the black ‘cowboy’ hat. He and his Cabinet constituted the surviving nucleus of ‘The Sixteen’ and the left-wing IRA faction that had staged the Civil War. Almost every man present had been condemned to death or jail either by the British government or by the Free State government, yet only eight years after coming to power this new aristocracy had all turned out in tails and white ties in the best London tradition, I had never sat down to dine with so many people who had been ‘martyred’ and thrown into prison, nor with so many politicians, who after having been down and out had ‘come back in’ and stayed ‘in’. It had its embarrassing side. It was like dining in a house in which there has been a highly publicised domestic difficulty.

Just as I would have wanted to ask my host whether he really beat his wife as alleged, I wanted to ask the questions to which every historian of the period was trying to find the answers. I wanted to ask why Mr de Valera had not abided by the majority action of his own parliament; why he appealed to the gun and started a Civil War. How he escaped being shot for rebellion, first by the British and then by the first Irish government ever to be recognised by the comity of nations. I wanted to ask him whether Michael Collins had been the chance victim of an ambush or the designed victim of an assassination; and if he knew who murdered Kevin O’Higgins. Of course I asked none of these questions.

The German Ambassador

Herr Hempel – the German minister to Ireland – had a charming house and garden at Blackrock, a suburb on Dublin harbour. His chancery was an ugly, modern red brick house in Northumberland Road. It was here that I called upon him. Herr Dr Hempel received us with great courtesy. He was somewhat over-civil and did not ring true. He spoke fluent English with little accent. I was conscious of being ill at ease. Hempel might be doing his duty as he saw it but he was serving a Führer whose hands were red with the blood of Jews, Poles and Norwegians, on whose conscience was the annihilation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. I was naive enough at seventy to be shocked by these things.

We exchanged pleasant commonplaces. I was not to re-enter the German legation at 58 Northumberland Road till I took possession of it in the name of the United Nations at the end of the war and found the wires of a radio sending set and other interesting items. The Irish government had seen to it that we did not gain admittance until the files had been destroyed.

Collaboration with the Germans

Mr de Valera’s conviction that Hitler would win the war was stupid in view of the opportunities he enjoyed for obtaining authoritative information as to what was going on in the United States. It was doubtless due to the fact that he knew few if any Americans, only ‘Irish in America’. As a matter of fact he himself never told me that Hitler would win, though he scoffed at the suggestion that the United States would become involved. 

But his deputy Joe Walshe told me. Further, Mr Walshe was confident that at the worst, Hitler would not lose. Cardinal MacRory told me that Hitler would win. Count Plunkett, the patriarch of the IRA, expressed the same opinion. 

We know from the German papers that one of Mr de Valera’s generals was collaborating with Hempel. Belief in German victory was in the Dublin air. At the end of the war a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, ‘Paddy’ Doyle, a very ‘decent’ man, said to me ‘You know, at the beginning we were all sure Germany was going to win’.

A Yankee in De Valera’s Ireland: The Memoir of David Gray is edited by Paul Bew. Paul Bew is a member of the RIA and Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University Belfast. A historical advisor to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, he was appointed an independent cross-bench peer in 2007 and is a member of the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

Extract: How Eamon de Valera & the Irish rebels lived in English prisons>