Wednesday 31st August 1960 is a day Dalkey Literary, Historical & Debating Society probably don’t like to mention much. That evening the society, based in one of Dublins most affluent suburbs, had as their guest speaker none other than former Nazi commando Colonel Otto Skorzeny.
Skorzeny, dubbed by the US General Dwight D Eisenhower as “the most dangerous man in Europe”, gained widespread notoriety after he organised and lead the raid that freed Benito Mussolini from captivity in 1943. This had seen Skorzeny glide into a mountain top hotel where Mussolini was being held. This was then followed up in late 1944 with an audacious kidnapping of the son of Hungarian dictator Miklos Horty. The captive was used to force Horthy to cede power to the Nazi symapthisers The Arrow Cross that year. After the defeat of Germany Skorzeny spent 3 years in prison camps before escaping in 1948.
In the following years Skorzeny aided former Nazi’s escape Europe, eventually basing himself in one of the last two remaining fascist country in Europe – General Franco’s Spain. Travelling elsewhere was incredibly difficult for Skorzeny given his high profile Nazi past. In 1950 riots broke out in Paris when Le Figaro serialised Skorzeny’s biography, he was exiled from Germany and banned from entering Canada in July 1959 being deemed as an “undersirable”. Although these events were reported in the Irish press, Skorzeny faced little criticism when he moved to Ireland with his wife in 1959, buying a farm in Co Kildare .
Indeed his reception was anything but hostile, the newspaper of record The Irish Times carried several stories about his arrival focusing on his daring exploits rather than the fact he had been a senior nazi. This changed however in May 1960 when the Austrain Newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung publicly accused Skorzeny of organising the escape of Adolf Eichmann from Europe in 1949. Eichmann had been the Transportation Administrator of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” in the third reich and was the key figure in organising the Holocaust.
Through the summer of 1960 Eichmann was a news sensation after he was captured and taken to Israel after a hunt lasting several years. Reports about Skorzeny (now living in Ireland) having aided Eichmann were carried in Irish papers. Clearly worried Skorzeny responded with the statement printed in The Irish Times in July 1960 denying having ever met Eichmann.
By August 1960 serious questions were being asked of Skorzeny as the world waited the trial of Eichman being held in Jeruslaem. One would imagine his reception in Ireland may have grown slightly frosty but astonishingly it was then that Dalkey Historical Literary and Debating Society invited him to speak. Aside from the fact that they were shamefully one of the first groups to give Skorzeny a platform since the war, they appear to have completely avoided raising any of the serious issues around Skorzeny’s past. From a report in the Irish Times the following day its seems the talk focused on how he rescued Mussolini in 1943. Questions were asked about Hitler’s sanity, the evacuation of Dunkirk and the causes of the war but it appears no one asked him about Eichmann or the holocaust.
The indifference to Skorzeny’s past must surely have caused some embarrassment in the following years as some of the allegations around Skorzeny’s past were confirmed. When Adolf Eichmann went on trial later the following year in Jeruslaem he contradicted Skorzeny’s statement in the Irish Times that the two had never met.
Furthermore two years later indications that Skorzeny was guilty of crimes against humanity himself emerged. In 1963 claims were made that he had invented and tested a gas gun on inmates at a concentration camp. These claims seem to have had legitimacy as the Austrian Government issued an arrest warrant for Skorzeny. Skorzeny refused to return to Austria and never faced prosecution. He died in Spain in 1975 having had perhaps his most receptive public audience outside fascist Spain in Ireland.
(It has since emerged that Skorzeny never gave up his Nazi beliefs. He served as a military advisor to numerous dictatorships. Irish Intelliegnce recorded meeting he had with the ardent nazi Ulrich Hudel, a life long associate of the Nazi Josef Mengele the Auschwitz doctor known as “The Angel of Death” .)*
*O Reilly, T (2008) Hitlers Irishmen Mercier Dublin