Charles Henry Bewley (July 12, 1888, Dublin – 1969, Rome) was raised in a famous Dublin Quaker business family, embraced Irish Republicanism. He was the Irish envoy to Berlin who reportedly thwarted efforts to obtain visas for Jews wanting to leave Nazi Germany in the 1930s and to move to the safety of the Irish Free State.

Family and early life

He was born into a wealthy privileged family, the eldest of four brothers. His mother was Evelyn Pim. Her family owned a large department store in George’s Street, Dublin. His father was a medical doctor. The family operated the successful "Bewley's cafés" chain of coffee houses in Dublin that is still famous today. His mother was Anglican and his father was a Quaker; Charles and his brothers were raised as Quakers.

He was educated at Park House, a boarding school in England. In 1901 he won a scholarship to attend Winchester School. He became a library prefect. This honour was withdrawn when he declared in a debate that “England is not a musical nation” and he ridiculed the anthemGod save the King”. He ‘went up’ to New College, Oxford, where he read Law. In 1910 he won the Newdigate prize for poetry.[1] He completed his training as a barrister at King's Inns, Dublin and in 1914 he was called to the bar.

Charles' brother Kenneth also attended Oxford University. Kenneth was a career civil servant in H.M. Treasury. His younger brothers, Geoffrey and Maurice, studied medicine at Trinity College, Dublin.

Charles Bewley was seen as an ‘enfant terrible’. He rejected his Anglo-Irish heritage and embraced Celtic mythology of the kind popularised by WB Yeats. He spoke against the ‘evils of Anglicization', supported the Boers and converted to Catholicism.[when?] He rejected Unionist politics and supported the Home Rule movement.


At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 he was in Ireland as a defending barrister for many nationalists and republicans. He wrote Seán Mac Eoin’s death-sentence speech. In the 1918 general election he stood, unsuccessfully, as a Sinn Féin candidate. During the Irish civil war, he took the treaty side. As a barrister he prosecuted many anti-Treaty prisoners.

Between the civil war truce and the treaty being signed, he was Irish consul in Berlin with responsibility for trade. He was appointed Irish ambassador to the Vatican (resident minister to the Holy See) in 1929. At that time, Irish diplomatic appointments were meant to be made by the British King. Bewley frequently flouted the diplomatic niceties by ignoring the implications of that. The complaints of H.J. Chilton, the British representative, and of Sir R. Clive, his successor, if anything improved Bewley’s reputation in Ireland .

In July 1933 the British Foreign Office got annoyed when the Pope knighted Bewley into the Order of the Grand Cross of St Gregory the Great, as the King’s agreement had not been sought. They told Bewley, with no effect, that as a King’s representative he was not entitled to wear the decoration without royal permission.

However, the constant bickering between the Irish and British representatives to the Vatican pleased neither Dublin nor London. It paved the way for Bewley to obtain the appointment he really wanted. He went to Berlin in July 1933. President of Germany, Hindenburg, praised his impeccable German.

His reports from Berlin enthusiastically praised National Socialism and Chancellor Hitler. He gave interviews to German papers, which were anti-British. In Berlin he annoyed the British embassy. He ignored the King’s jubilee celebrations in 1935. With the ending of the economic war and the return of the treaty ports, there were good relations between Ireland and Britain. Bewley was then frequently reprimanded by Dublin, who were no longer amused at his anti-British jibes .


Charles Bewley was not an anti-Semite in the sense that Hitler was. He was reasonably disposed to those of Jewish ancestry, though only as long as they did not practise their faith or associate with other Jews. He tried to join the SS security agency, but was refused. He spoke against Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, not because it was anti-Semitic, but because it reflected badly on National Socialism. While he did insult Jews, there is no evidence that he ever personally harmed a Jew. However, his attitude to visa applications and the misinformation he transmitted to Dublin meant than many who could have escaped the Holocaust were unable to do so. His sins against Judaism were sins of omission but he was indirectly responsible for the death of many Jews.

The first indication that Bewley was anti-Semitic was in Berlin in 1921. The new Irish state was not yet formally recognised. Bewley was the Irish consul for trade. Michael Collins sent Robert Briscoe to buy guns. At the time, Briscoe was an IRA quartermaster. In time he would play an important political role and would be the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin. Bewley and Briscoe went to a Jewish-owned music hall in the Tauenzien Palast, where Bewley insulted Judaism and was thrown out. There was a drunken brawl. John Charters, the head of the Irish Bureau, was going to take action, but the Irish Civil War broke out. Briscoe took the anti-Treaty side (which lost), while Bewley returned to Dublin, took the pro-treaty side and prosecuted anti-Treaty prisoners in the courts.[2]

Envoy to Berlin

Bewley was the ‘Irish Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary’ in Berlin in the crucial years from 1933 to 1939. Reading his reports to Dublin during the 1930s gives the impression that German Jews were not threatened; that they were involved in pornography, abortion and “the international white slave traffic”. This was also the man responsible for processing visa applications from Jews wishing to leave Germany for Ireland. He explained the Nuremberg Laws ‘As the Chancellor pointed out, it amounts to the making of the Jews into a national minority; and as they themselves claim to be a separate race, they should have nothing to complain of.’ He reports that he had no knowledge of any ‘deliberate cruelty on the part of the [German] Government ... towards the Jews’. He criticised Irish refugee policy as ‘inordinately liberal, and facilitating the entry of the ‘wrong class’ of people’ (meaning Jews). The Irish legation in Berlin consisted of two people, Bewley and a German secretary called Frau Kamberg. This German lady appeared more concerned than Bewley. [3] Fewer than a hundred Jews obtained Irish visas between 1933 and 1939.

Taoiseach Éamon de Valera was a close friend of Isaac Herzog, then Chief Rabbi of Ireland. During the Irish War of Independence, the Rabbi hid de Valera in his own home when he was a fugitive from the Black and Tans. De Valera consulted with the Rabbi before drawing up the new constitution. As well as recognising other religions, the constitution asserted Jewish civil rights so that no succeeding government could easily abolish them, as the Nazis had done in Germany. De Valera also hoped for reunion with, mainly Protestant, Northern Ireland. But in the atmosphere of 1937 Europe, it made an important statement. [4]. De Valera finally dismissed Bewley in August 1939.

In 1942, Rabbi Herzog told de Valera of the Holocaust. He sought help for a group of German Jews, who had hoped to go to South America, being held at Vittel in Vichy France. The Irish ministers in Berlin, Vichy and the Vatican were instructed to assist them and Irish visas were issued. There was a mistaken belief that Jews with Irish visas might be imprisoned, but would not be sent to the death camps, a belief the Vittel episode destroyed. Later other efforts were made to help Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Slovakian Jews, all without success. In no case were the Nazis willing to let such groups depart for Ireland or leave occupied Europe under Irish auspices.

Professor Keogh points out that de Valera, although willing to help, was reactive rather than proactive and he was often hindered by his own civil service.

Later Years

Bewley was dismissed just as World War II was breaking out, and never received a pension. However, Josef Goebbels gave him a job writing propaganda. For a time he worked for a Swedish news agency, which was part of Goebbels' propaganda machine.

We next hear of him, at the war’s end, being held by British troops. He was picked up in Meran, Northern Italy in May 1945 and held in Terni. He was carrying Irish diplomatic papers identifying him as the Irish minister to Berlin and to the Vatican. Joseph Walshe, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs and Sir John Maffey the British diplomatic representative in Ireland, decided on a most appropriate solution, given Bewley’s ego.[5]

At that time, passports had an entry “trade or profession”. Charles Bewley was issued with a new Irish passport, which had, for that entry “a person of no importance”. At the end of the war, checkpoints were frequent. It was necessary to produce passports. He never produced this passport. He was released in Rome, and apparently never left. He wrote some newspaper articles and a biography of Hermann Göring 1956.

In his final years he and Mgr Hugh O'Flaherty, ‘the Vatican Pimpernel’ who had rescued thousands of Jews and escaped POWs from the Nazis, became great friends. Charles Henry Bewley died unmarried in Rome in 1969.

Bewley's Oriental Cafés

Unlike Charles Bewley, the rest of his family were very supportive of the Jewish refugees who did make it to Ireland. Many first appeared at the Irish Red Cross offices in Merrion Square. They were brought to Bewley's of Grafton Street, where they ate a full breakfast, gratis.


  1. Charles Bewley Won the Newdigate Prize 1910 for "Atlantis". 1910-1913: Winter in Ireland; A Girl's Song on Her Lover, Paidin, Ruadh [1]
  2. According to the late Professor Dan Binchy, Seán T. O'Kelly held that against him afterwards.
  3. Escaping the Holocaust to an Irish safe haven [2]
  4. Keogh, 1988, citing oral sources
  5. Gray, Tony (1997). The Lost Years. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 242. ISBN 0316881899. "It was decided - between Joseph Walsh, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs and Sir John Maffey - that the best punishment for Bewley would be to demonstrate how unimportant he was by releasing him with a kick in the pants" 

Further reading

  • C. Bewley, Memoirs of a Wild Goose, edited by W.J. McCormack, Dublin 1989,
  • D. Keogh, Jews in 20th-Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, Cork 1998,
  • Mervyn O'Driscoll Ireland, Germany and the Nazis: politics and diplomacy, 1919-1939 Four Courts Press, Dublin 2004
  • Robert Tracy, The Jews of Ireland Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought. Summer, 1999
  • Andreas Roth, Mr Bewley in Berlin – Aspects of the Career of an Irish Diplomat, 1933-1939 Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2000
  • Lost report reveals our man in Berlin was Nazi apologist — Sunday Independent newspaper article by Andrew Bushe, 26 November 2006

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