Robert Briscoe?

kevin mccarthy's picture

Hi everybody,

    Just wondering if anyone out there is interested in the under researched Holocaust experience of Robert Briscoe; a Dublin-born Jew who was the only T.D. (M.P.) in an overwhelmingly Catholic-nationalist 1930s and 1940s Irish political culture. He was a founding member of Eamon de Valera's constitutional nationalist Fianna Fáil party in 1926; this followed a senior role as a an IRA activist in the War of Independence where he was based in Berlin as a gun-runner.

   In his position as a Jewish parliamentarian, Briscoe worked tirelessly with Isaac Herzog the Irish Free State's first Chief Rabbi (later to assume the same position in Palestine-Israel) in a 1930s immigration endeavour to try and secure refugee status for German-Austrian Jews in his homeland. This advocacy was almost universally unsuccessful; forcing Briscoe to conclude that only an external engagement with a Zionist organisation could guarantee the survival of his co-religionists. Within three years Briscoe became a senior member of the Nessuit, and was personally tasked by Jabotinsky to lead Revisionist missions to Poland, America and South Africa.

   His choice of Zionist model, an intense engagement with Jabotinsky's militant Revisionist organisation was very much in keeping with his own revolutionary formation as an IRA activist. He rejected the concilliatory approach of Weizmann and the WZO, believing that just as the Irish Home rule party had been fooled by the British so would Weizmann. 

   His desperation was based not just on a negative political experience in Ireland, but also on a personal family tragedy that reflected the experience of his European co-religionists. This episode saw a much beloved Berlin-based aunt denied an entry visa to Ireland despite his intensive lobbying of government colleagues. After the war's end Briscoe would eventually realise that more than 150 members of his extended family were murdered by the Nazis, including his aunt who was deprted to Auschwitz and immediately dispatched to the gas-chamber. Despite this devastating realisation; Briscoe's level of assimilation was so high that he never uttered a negative word about Fianna Fáil, and more importantly retained a fillial personal devotion to de Valera that bordered on fanaticism.

   Would be really interested to hear any comments from scholars outside of Ireland.

   Kevin McCarthy, University College Cork