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When Ireland Rejected Jewish Orphans Fleeing Nazis, He Saved Dozens

Hubert Butler (Photo: courtesy)

While we use this weekly feature to point out the many heroes who did aid the Jewish people during the Holocaust, there were many more who ignored the Jewish plight. This week, The Times of Israel's Robert Philpot tells us about one Advocate and Ally of the Jewish people, Irishman Hubert Butler, who not only stood up against his country and the Catholic Church, but also saved more than 100 Jewish lives:

But not all of the people were willing to toe the official line of cold indifference mandated by the Irish state. None more so than Hubert Butler, the great Irish essayist and writer who has been described as “Ireland’s George Orwell.”

Recently, Irish television screened a one-hour documentary, “The Nuncio and the Writer.”

The film tracked Butler’s pre-war efforts on behalf of Viennese Jews and his post-war fight to expose some dark secrets which both his own country, and the Catholic Church that held such great sway over it, were determined should remain buried.

A devout Irish nationalist, Butler was also a European and an adventurer. After studying at Oxford, he taught English in post-revolutionary Leningrad, and later developed an abiding love of, and fascination with, the Balkans. Witnessing Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s, he traveled to Vienna shortly after the Anschluss.

He volunteered with the Quakers, working alongside the American Quaker activist Emma Cadbury to help rescue Jews from the Nazis’ ever-tightening vice. Butler secured exit visas, while his wife, Peggy Guthrie, would meet the refugees in London and accompany them on to Ireland. Some stayed at the Butlers’ home in Bennettsbridge. Friends were pressed into housing others.

Over time, and with the Butlers’ assistance, the refugees traveled on to America; Irish law did not allow them to remain in the country.

Butler later described his work in Vienna as the happiest time of his life. The exact number of Jews the Butlers rescued will never be known, but it is believed to exceed 100; many times more than those legally admitted to Ireland by its government. For O’Toole, Butler’s actions “to some extent rescued Ireland from eternal shame...”

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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