How Censorship Shielded the Neutral Irish from Knowledge of the Holocaust

Joe Carroll, in the Irish Times (1-26-05):

[Joe Carroll is the author of Ireland in the War Years 1939-1945 and is former Washington correspondent of The Irish Times.]

The mass extermination of Jews revealed as concentration camps such as Auschwitz were liberated could not be reported in Irish newspapers until after the war. Despite photographic evidence, such horrific scenes were regarded as "propaganda" and banned under the official censorship system.

When the censorship was lifted after the German surrender in May 1945, many Irish people found it hard to grasp the scale of the atrocities they had been shielded from during what was officially described as the "Emergency". Some still clung to the belief that it was Allied propaganda at work. A newspaper reader in Kilkenny wrote that the British had faked the newsreel showing victims of Belsen by using "starving Indians".

The censorship of newspapers, radio and films brought into force in September 1939 to protect Ireland's neutrality was so strict that by the end of the war the censors were sounding like parodies of themselves. The chief censor, Thomas Coyne, was writing in May 1945 as the Nazi death camps were being revealed to the world: "The publication of atrocity stories, whether true or false, can do this country no good and may do it much harm." When an Irish Jesuit publication tried to publish an account of how hospitals in the Pacific area were being bombed by the Japanese, the editor was told by the Irish censor that "the Censorship does not allow hospitals to be shelled or bombed in our press by either side whatever the facts may be".

This was the logic of the censorship system carried to Orwellian lengths by bureaucrats with enthusiastic support from the minister responsible, Frank Aiken. He frequently censored war reports himself and fought with The Irish Times and other newspapers as they tried to give their readers a coherent account of the struggle of the Allied powers against dictators in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo.

When I interviewed Aiken years later for my book on Irish neutrality, he brushed aside the charge that he prevented the Irish public from judging which side was in the right by suppressing reports of German and Japanese atrocities. "One side was as bad as the other," he said....

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