In 1938 Austria was invaded by the German army and made part of Hitler's empire. Anti-Semitism led to harsh treatment of the Jews. Many fled, and a number of refugees found their way to Ireland. Christmas holidays 1938 were most exciting. Before my arrival home, Ardmore had featured in all the newspapers with the news that Austrian refugees were coming there. Sir John Keane was loaning them Quarry house, his summer residence, so there we were on the front page of the national newspapers, a noteworthy event in a small village in those days.
We soon got to know the group who were quickly integrated into village life. Mary Odell (the last of the Odell landlord family to live in Ardmore and known as Miss Odell to us young people) was an Irish Red Cross representative and took partial charge and gave English classes to those of the party who needed them. We were greatly amused at "the thirty thousand thrifty theosophists" whom she used to illustrate the pronunciation of TH. Naturally, we taught them some Irish phrases and we learned German ones. It being Christmas time, there was a round of parties in each other's houses and at Quarry House, and the presence of at least four or five personable young men in the group, gave an added fillip to the dances in St. Declan's Hall.
It was a short but memorable period for us all, Austrians and Irish alike, and people were sorry to see them go in February 1939, when they left for Enniskerry in north Co. Wicklow. I was in college in Dublin and visited them on St. Patrick's Day. One of the refugees, Gustav Beisser, a gifted linguist, came in to Enniskerry to meet my friend and myself off the bus and drove us out by pony and trap to the farmhouse in which they lived in Glencree. There was goulash for lunch and afterwards an iced cake with green shamrocks.
It was lonelier for them there, than in Ardmore. "Nothing ever happens here, except sheep are born or calves run away" one of the young men ruefully remarked. They were visited by members of the Red Cross committee and greeted them with an Irish salutation learned in Ardmore, but were told apologetically they were sorry they knew no German.
On the way out we must have been discussing Hitler and his latest peregrinations in Europe, and I remember Gustav's remark, "Soon he will go to the moon and he will say the moon was always German". That had been his pretext for invading various territories around the borders of Germany. It was a momentous period in world history, and that brief interlude, when we made those good Viennese friends, was the first of its repercussions on our placid life in a small village on the rim of Western Europe.
Being able to include the recollections of two of these Austrians in this article is a great pleasure. Fritz Hirsch worked with the Kagran group in Vienna helping Jewish people emigrate and form an agricultural community overseas.
Memories Of Fritz Hirsch
I Still remember vividly arriving in Ardmore on December 13th 1938, with the morning bus from Waterford, where I had arrived early that morning from Fishguard after a rather bad crossing. It was a brilliant and sunny morning - the fields and meadows were green (unbelievable for me coming from winter on the continent where everything was brown and bare). Suddenly the bus stopped and a hunt crossed the road, hounds, horses, and huntsmen. I thought I was in a movie - I had no idea what was going on and there was nobody to explain. On arriving in Ardmore my family and the Strunz family met me at the bus and my life in Ireland began.
For me Ireland was Ardmore of course and although we only stayed there for about two months, it was really one of my saddest days when we had to leave again. This may sound sentimental but it is nevertheless quite true. The kindness and friendliness of you all in Ardmore is not to be believed. You invited us to your houses and made us all feel at home. There were parties and gatherings galore. Singing in the church choir and Christmas carols in the village hall. Perhaps you can remember the dances in the hall? We were supposed to learn about agriculture and some of the Ardmore families took it upon themselves to help us in their kindness. All that helped us to take part in the life of the village and get to know everybody. But of course there was still a time of peace in the world. The war did not start until September 1939. Having come from Austria, which had already been taken over by Germany at that time - the sabres were already rattling in Europe then, the Munich crisis, Sudentenland etc., - Ardmore seemed like heaven. I can still remember the names of most of the families but I would not know where to start to enumerate them.
We all loved Ardmore and I am speaking for all that were there at the time. We often used to speak about it. I am listing the people in our group and what I know of them.
Mr & Mrs Hirsch (Frederick & Maria) and their two grown-up boys Ernest and Fritz. - My parents opened the Old Vienna Club in Dublin which enabled Ernest and myself to get to Dublin and study. Ernest became a vet and I a chemist.
Mr & Mrs Strunz (Erwin & Lisl) and their two small children - Peter aged four years and George about six months old. - Mr Strunz ran the Unicorn Restaurant very successfully in Dublin. His wife Lisl died in 1965 and he is now dead also. Peter Strunz is in Dublin and George is in Canada.
Gustaf Beisser and Ernie Einaugler both joined the British Army. Gustaf died in England in 1970.
Kurt Adler studied medicine and went to Canada.
Dr. Kurt Stiegwart (lawyer) went to Argentina.
Robert Aberach became a photographer in Dublin and his brother Fritz worked as a waiter in England. They were only here briefly, for a week or less.
We did not all arrive at the same time but we left together in February 1939. This is just a short summary, everybody has his own tale to tell, some returned to Austria after the war as far as I know.
Memories of Erwin Strunz
My wife Lisl and our two small sons, Peter four and a half, and George four months old, left Vienna in September 1938 to escape the racial, political and religious persecution under the Nazi regime. It saved our lives that we had good fortune to meet Hubert Butler, the Kilkenny writer in the International Quaker Centre in Vienna on a project to help Christian Jews, Catholics and Protestants to emigrate.
Lisl and I had worked for four months in a labour camp under armed S.A. supervision. To be effective in my work I had to identify myself with them, although I was an Aryan. This was regarded as a crime and the order for my arrest went out. Warned of it I was lucky with the help of American Quakers to escape only with hours to spare. Hubert and Peggy Butler invited us to Ireland. We spent three glorious months in Annaghmakerrig, Newbliss, Co. Monaghan, which belongs to the Guthrie family. Tony Guthrie, the Shakespearean producer and director of the Old Vic in London, was Peggy's brother.
After three months we moved to Ardmore to get some agricultural training which would help us in our further emigration overseas. Sir John Keane offered the use of his summer bungalow. Soon the refugee committee added another eight refugees to our family. They were Marie and Fritz Hirsch, their grown-up sons Fritz and Ernest, Kurt Adler, Ernest Beisser, Paul Wessley and Ernst Einaugler.
We came to Ardmore just before Xmas 1938. The ancient history of the village, its scenic beauty and even more the overwhelming kindness of its people moved us deeply. To all the romantic beauty came the exotic climate of the Waterford coast. In Vienna we would have been tramping through slush and snow, here I could walk lightly dressed and in shirtsleeves over the strand, breathing a tangy, soft-fresh air, the fields were green and the hedges flowered with veronica. To emphasize this almost subtropical character, there were yucca palms around.
Sunday Church was to me as a middle European no lest exotic. Since the church stands close to the strand, it echoed to the cries of seagulls and the solemnity of mass seemed to be increased by the gently swishing noise of the wavelets rolling over sand and pebbles - the sound of the eternal sea mingling with that of the eternal spirit. As I looked around and over the bent heads of the congregation I felt at home with them, although I hardly knew their language.
The day before Xmas Eve Mr Hurley brought us a huge cod, saying "take this, we can only be happy if we know that you are happy here at Xmas and have everything you need."
This was only the beginning of a shower of presents. That was the attitude of the people of Ardmore. I compared it shamefully with that of my own people, who had robbed us of every penny and were after our lives! I wrote a little Xmas play for the children of Ardmore, which was translated by Mary Odell, who also gave us English lessons, but we picked up a few Irish words too. The songs of the day also increased our vocabulary: when Irish Eyes are Smiling, I Like to Whistle, The Lambeth Walk and of course the traditinal songs Danny Boy, In Dublin's Fair City and the Bold Fenian Men.
We made many friends, the Quain family, Guard Cooper and his wife, the lady-owner of the Melrose Hotel, who allowed our boys to play table tennis there. There were so many I can't mention for the lack of space, although they should be thanked also.
We had many visitors like Mr. Frank Fahy, Speaker of the Dail and Chairman of the Refugee Committee, Arland Ussher, the writer; the editor of the Cork Examiner and the reporters of the Irish Times, Independent and Irish Press. People from all around came to visit us. Alas of the fourteen people shown in the photo only four are still alive. A half a century has passed, Baby George in the basket is a successful biochemist in Canadan, in charge of a four provinces research laboratory, besides lecturing at the university. His elder brother Peter is a most successful sales manager in a large Irish firm. Ernest Hirsch became a professor at the Dublin Veterinary College and Fritz Hirsch a well-to-do entrepreneur.
Short as the presence of Austrian refugees was, this little episode in the local history of Ardmore deserves to be chronicled as a monument to the kindness of its people. In a world so strongly marked by inhumanity it is good to remind ourselves that there exists also much love and generosity. In the Ardmore of 1938/1939 the bible word was made true: "I was a stranger and you took me in". Erwin Strunz has since died.
Author: Siobhan Lincoln, T. Mooney, Fritz Hirsch