Documentary to feature life of ‘Irish Schindler’

Hubert Butler worked to get dozens of Jews get out of Austria in 1938, helping them to escape the Holocaust


A famous Irish writer who saved dozens of Jews from the Nazis is the subject of a documentary set to air on Ireland’s RTE channel on Tuesday night.

The story of Hubert Butler, one of Ireland’s best known essayists, is to be told in The Nuncio and the Writer, which describes his battles with representatives of the Catholic church over their failure to help Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

In 1938, Mr Butler travelled to Vienna in an attempt to rescue Jews. At the time, the Irish government’s policy was to only accept Jews who had converted to Christianity.

Irish antisemitism was also rife at the time. In an infamous speech to the Dail (the Irish parliament), Oliver J Flanagan told the assembled politicians that the Jews “crucified our saviour 1,900 years ago and they have been crucifying us every day of the week”.

Mr Butler wrote in response to such comments: “I was as Irish as Oliver Flanagan and I was determined that Jewish refugees should come to Ireland.”

Fintan O’Toole, a journalist for the Irish Times, discusses in the documentary how Mr Butler managed to “hustle, hassle, manoeuvre and manipulate to get things done”.

Fluent in Serbo-Croat, Mr Butler, in association with Irish Quakers, managed to organise papers via a number of embassies for Austrian Jews, getting them across the Austrian border into what was then Yugoslavia.

They would then travel to England, where they would be met by Peggy Guthrie, Mr Butler’s wife, who would bring them into Ireland illegally.

“He got a lot of people out of Vienna who otherwise would have died,” Mr O’Toole says in the documentary.

“There’s no question of that.”

The Nuncio and the Writer airs on RTE One on August 8 

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