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Sean Russell and the Nazis


Mick Hall • 31 January 2005

I found the media furore which broke out after the statue in Dublin of former IRA chief of Staff Seán Russell was damaged very interesting. Basically the media's anger became directed not at the individual who damaged the Statue, allegedly an anti racist, but at its subject and the organisation he at one time led. The main accusation was that the IRA of the late 1930’s early 40’s were willing accomplices of the Hitlerite Nazis, and that Russell and his travelling companion Frank Ryan were all but collaborators when they attempted to return to Ireland in 1940 on a German submarine, their one-way ‘tickets’ for the journey having been provided by the German Army's intelligence service, the Abwehr. The submarine failed to reach its destination, due to Russell becoming ill on route and dying from a stomach ailment/appendicitis on the journey. It was ironic that Russell's fellow passenger on the submarine was Frank Ryan, but more about him later. Safe to say the proof that he was a mere passenger on the U-boat, there on the sufferance of Russell, was clearly demonstrated by the decision of the boats captain H-J von Stockhausen, who after Russell's death, having discussed the matter with Ryan, decided to abort his mission rather than carry on and disembark Ryan in Ireland, as he was ordered to do with Russell. As far as the Captain was concerned and more importantly his superiors back at Abwehr Headquarters, no Russell, no mission. So it was back to Germany for Ryan, who was never to set foot on Irish soil again in his lifetime.

Bar the odd small article and letter in defence of Russell, which has been published in An Phoblacht/Republican News (AP/RN), as far as PRM is concerned, the accusations made against these two men and the movement one of them headed is, it seems, a case of the less said the better. And this in the year Sinn Fein is celebrating the centenary of its birth as a political party, despite the fact that little more than a year ago, on the 17th of August 2003, a senior member of PIRA was designated to make the main speech at the Russell statue, at a ceremony which celebrated Russell's life and alongside him stood an up and coming member of Sinn Fein. Although looking back at this event and taking into account that Sean Russell personified the pure physical force mentality of Irish republicanism and was known to be contemptuous of politics, the presence of Brian Keenan may well have been an attempt to shore up the peace process and keep all thought of a split from the minds of volunteers.

In a way it is a great pity we have not heard from the leadership of SF on this matter, as it would have allowed the PRM to explain the attitude it now takes to the IRA's involvement with Nazi Germany during World War Two, as involved they undoubtedly were. The fact they have chosen not to do so tells one a great deal about how they cherry-pick what they feel should be placed before the general public and how they seem incapable of acknowledging that as far as strategy is concerned, the IRA and its leadership are not always infallible. Few would surely feel it would be a sin for a leading member of the PRM to have come forward and answered the criticism by stating the war-time strategy of the IRA and Russell's part in drawing it up had been a grave error which could have had grave consequences for the Irish people. For if the Nazis had won WW2, far from honouring any agreement Russell may have made with them, in all probability he and those he commanded would have been the first to be put up against the wall, with the likes of General Eoin O’Duffy leading the firing party, followed by the absolute oppression and serfdom of the Irish people as was experienced by all those who suffered under the yoke of the Nazi jackboot in occupied Europe during WW2

And do not be confused into believing that this is a movement which hesitates about putting pen to paper if the need arises. Indeed they have their own newspaper group or to be fair one that is very close to them, The Andersonstown News Group, that intends launching a new daily newspaper which will cover the whole of the island of Ireland. One would have thought, for a Chief of Staff of the IRA to be publicly portrayed throughout much of the Irish media as a Nazi collaborator in the period leading up to the 60 anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death and concentration camp would be enough to bring forth someone from the leadership in his defence. If, that is, any defence is possible?

Whilst after SF commemorated Sean Russell in 2003 its more than probable that someone who opposes SF may have concluded that any Media campaign to denigrate Russell as a Nazi collaborator would have legs and could be used to attack SF during it anniversary year. However this in no way negates the truth of the IRAs contact with the Nazis during WW2. In a letter published in the 27/01/05 issue of AP/RN, a correspondent writes the following.

“How very sad that the desecration of Seán Russell's statue in Dublin has prompted some people to denounce him as pro-Nazi. The most prominent images evoked by use of the word Nazi will forever be of the holocaust and Hitler's death camps, images seared into the collective unconscious of most of the world. But when Russell asked for German help in 1939 he, along with the rest of the world, could not possibly have known these horrors were going to occur. Britain and its allies fought the Germans to prevent fulfilment of German expansionist and invasion plans, not to prevent a holocaust they didn't know was going to happen. This year, we commemorate the discovery and liberation of Hitler's death camps in 1945. In 1939, they had not even been designed.”

The above quotation from the letter is historical nonsense. Whilst it is true that the decision on the Final Solution would not be made until 1942 at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, concentration camps sprung up in Germany almost immediately after Hitler came to power. For example, Dachau concentration camp was erected in March 1933. By the mid thirties these camps were holding large numbers of the Nazis' political opponents who refused to cease all political activity inside Germany, along with others whom the Nazis considered undesirables, like religious opponents of the regime, homosexuals and gypsies. Also during the 1930s a system of euthanasia for mentally disabled people was brought into practice; all that was needed to end the life of these unfortunate souls was the signature of two doctors.

In 1935, the Laws of Nuremberg became the law of the land throughout Germany; Jews were refused German citizenship and any marriage between Jews and Germans was forbidden. On the night November 9, 1938, which became known throughout the world as Crystal Night, Jewish business were destroyed and synagogues burnt to the ground. Plus for good measure, as often happens in this type of situation, then and now, the victims were blamed and some 30,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps.

In 1936, Austria, which had been an independent Nation for a thousand years, was unified with Germany by force of arms, deceit and blatant fraud. The elected Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg, soon after was replaced by a Nazi satrap, Seyss-Inquart. Czechoslovakia was occupied in 1938 by much the same means, and the very State annulled, becoming a Protectorate of the nation which had just raped and plundered the gallant little Czech State. In democratic Spain, in its support for Franco, the Nazi war machine was having a trial run out, the end result of which was a Fascist dictatorship which was to suppress the Spanish people for the next thirty odd years.

Far from any of this being a secret, the Nazis' propagandised about carrying out these criminal tasks. They did so because they were proud of their handiwork. Indeed the hatred, fear and contempt that was felt against the Nazis throughout much of the world at this time was one of the main reasons that thousands of people left the comfort of their hearth and home to join the International Brigades, to take up arms in defence of the Spanish Republic. Hundreds of Irishmen, many of them former members of the IRA, joined these Brigades. Thus there was no way a senior Republican of the time could not know what was going on within Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe, as the subject of how to defeat fascism was a hot issue within the ranks of the IRA.

Indeed it became one of the issues that separated those who remained in the IRA like Sean Russell, from their former comrades such as his travelling companion on his last journey, Frank Ryan. Ryan, having resigned from the IRA earlier in the 1930s, had played a leading role in recruiting Irish Republicans into the International Brigades. Indeed it was after he returned to Spain from Ireland in 1938, after a period convalescing from wounds received whilst fighting in the International Brigades, that the Spanish insurgents Army captured him. (He was actually captured on 30th March 1939 by Italian Fascist Troops fighting alongside the Francoite Rebel Army. In Red and Green, by Adrian Hoar pp 243.) He had returned to Spain against all advice, as he saw it as his duty to bring home safely as many as he could of the Irish members of the Brigades who were still alive, as it seemed to Ryan the end of the war and defeat for the Spanish Republic was near. On capture he was sentenced to death and transported between a number of Spanish prisons, all the time expecting the sentence to be carried out. Despite a campaign mounted in Ireland, which was supported by De Valera who was then in government, General Franco would not budge on a pardon for Ryan, even though he had agreed to the repatriation of all other members of the International Brigades held by his government.

Eventually, for a host of reasons too complicated to go into here due to lack of space, Franco agreed on Ryan, by sleight of hand, being given into the custody of the German Army's Abwehr department, who spirited him to Paris and then Germany, where he was reintroduced to Sean Russell, who broke the news to him that he was returning to Ireland the following day and if Ryan wished to accompany him, there was a birth on the boat for him (In Red and Green, by Adrian Hoar pp 243). Thus it was one generous act of an Irishman to another who was in need of getting home; it really was that simple. What other parties may have had in mind, as far as Ryan was concerned were neither here nor there.

The whole point about most statues is they are symbolic for those who erect them the purpose is often far more than to honour the individual whose likeness the statue is crafted of. The statue of Russell was no exception. Before the PRM decide to sponsor the recrafting of it, perhaps they should pause and consider if it is appropriate at this time to honour a physical force, apolitical Republican whose strategy in the late 1930s early 40’s, if it had come to fruition, may have had disastrous consequences for the Irish people. In saying this, I in no way wish to denigrate Russell's contribution to Republicanism; he was without doubt a dedicated and tireless soldier of Ireland. But he would have been the first admit that he lacked political direction beyond the 'Brits out' mentality, his attitude being drive the Brits out, then it's down to the politicians. The whole problem with a broad church is that it can so very easily become one of three things: a dictatorship, a sludgy mess in the middle, or an active democracy in which all opinions are tolerated within the parameters of the party's historic purpose. On the Russell statue, SF has an opportunity to prove they are moving in the latter direction. Whether they take it or not is another matter.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

9 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Oderint dum Metuant
Anthony McIntyre

Life Amongst the Proveau Riche
Brian Mór

Can Republicans Succeed Without Upholding National Sovereignty?
Francis Mackey

The Party or the Process
Dr John Coulter

Sean Russell and the Nazis
Mick Hall

Counting the Bodies
Liam O Ruairc

Elections' Aftermath
Ghali Hassan

What did Aeschylus write in "Daughters of Danaus"?
Toni Solo

4 February 2005

Burdens Unbearable
Anthony McIntyre

The Generals' Dance
Mick Hall

One Year After the Kelly's Incident: Bobby Tohill Speaks
Liam O Ruairc

Loyalist Elements Feuding with UVF - Blamed for Attacks at Unity Walk
Sean Mc Aughey

The Possibilities With Brown
Dr John Coulter

Report of Bloody Sunday Commemoration in Glasgow
Seamus Reader

Uniting Against Radicalism
Harun Yahya



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