Damian Corless reports on how one Carlow man helped to alter the course of history
There’s a memorable scene in the WWII movie Schindler’s List where grateful Jewish workers thank their Nazi boss Oskar Schindler with the words: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”
Did Michael Keogh Save Hitler?
Michael Keogh claims to have saved Hitlers life before he became ‘Führer’ – Could this be true? Could a Carlow man who lived a life of disguise, conspiracy and war have had such an impact on modern history?
But what if in saving one life you inadvertently plunged the world into the most catastrophic horror of all time? What if you saved the life of Adolf Hitler just as he was taking his first baby steps to becoming the most evil monster in history?
Carlow man Michael Keogh wrestled with that “what if” for decades up to his death in 1964. Because Keogh, from the village of Tullow, saved Hitler from being ripped apart by an ugly mob.
The remarkable life of Michael Keogh is the subject of an RTE documentary screened on April 2.
Michael Keogh was a Carlow man, who left home at 16, and amazingly fought both for and against the English and the Germans during World War I – and even more amazingly was awarded bravery medals by the two opposing armies. His was a life of pseudonyms, disguises, conspiracy and war.
Prior to the Great War, Michael spent some time in America and at one point found himself fighting the rebels down south in Mexico!
For about 30 years, Michael wrote daily – keeping a journal of his adventures in life and war. He treasured these journals – guarded them with his life and kept them close at all times. Michael believed that one day, his memoirs would be recognised in the patheon of history.
However, on his death bed in Blanchardstown Hospital, Dublin in the mid 1960’s – his journals were taken from under his pillow as he slept. Distraught at the loss, he died 2 days later.
For 40 years these journals were missing. Then, in 2008, his grandson Kevin unexpectedly discovered them online and recovered them through the archives in University College Dublin. The family eventually published these writings in mid 2010. The contents of these journals told of a life only few of us could dream of.
Forced to flee Nazi Germany at the onset of World War Two, Michael returned to Ireland where he was shunned and ignored by the new State.
He was a founder member of Casement’s Irish Brigade; set up to fight for Germany against Britain. At one point in his military career he joined the 16th Bavarian Division, the same regiment as Adolf Hitler.
In his journals, Keogh claims to have met Hitler on a number of occasions.
On one of these occasions, in Munich in 1919, he records how he saved the future Fuhrer’s life. Historians are skeptical about some of Michael Keogh’s claims. This documentary meets with Michael Keogh’s two sons, his daughter in law, his grandson and history experts. This story attempts to establish the truth; did Michael Keogh really save Hitler’s life?
Compiled and narrated by Joe Kearney.
Production Supervision by Liam O’Brien
Sound supervision is by Anton Timoney.
‘With Casement’s Irish Brigade’, is written by Michael Keogh and compiled by Kevin Keogh. Its available from Choice Publishing Ltd, Drogheda, Co. Louth.
Patrick Dunne performs the voice of Michael Keogh.
About Patrick Dunne:
Patrick has been performing in Dublin, Wicklow and Liverpool for many years. Theatre credits include Blithe Spirit, A View From The Bridge and Oedipus, and Patrick can regularly be found performing with Milshogue, the Irish After-Dinner Theatre Show.
He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
First broadcast Saturday 2nd April 2011.
Keogh was a maverick adventurer from a long line of maverick adventurers.
His ancestors fought in the 1798 Rebellion. His great uncle Myles fought and died as second-in-command to Custer at Little Big Horn. His Fenian uncle Jack tried without much success to blow up Westminster Bridge.
So it surprised no-one when the 16-year-old headed for the US in 1907 in search of glory and mischief.
He joined the IRB group Clan Na Gael in New York but soon found himself in Texas fighting with US troops against Mexican banditos. Shot in the midriff, he returned to Ireland.
In 1913 he joined the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army. A lowly private, he lectured his officers and spent a month behind bars after a court martial for voicing his strong republican views.
Despite these views, a fight was a fight, so he fought in the trenches until he landed in a German POW camp. Keogh had befriended Roger Casement in the US years earlier, and Casement now sought him out to head an Irish Brigade of prisoners willing to switch sides.
Privately the Germans treated Casement’s Brigade as an Irish joke, but they were happy to play him along for the nuisance value he could deliver back in Ireland. But Casement’s career as a gun runner was short-lived and after his execution in 1916 the Irish Brigade was effectively shelved by the Germans.
Keogh joined the German Army proper, where he rose to the rank of Field Lieutenant. In his regiment he met a fiery Lance Corporal called Adolf Hitler.
After the war, Germany descended into chaos as rival factions vied to fill the void left by the collapse of the old order. Keogh joined the proto-fascist Freikorps, who were sworn to smash Communism.
When Marxists attempted to set up a Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich, the Friekorps wiped them out with shocking brutality. Peace had no sooner been restored than it was shattered by the noisiest man in Germany.
Keogh ordered his men to fire a salvo over the heads of the mob. It did the trick. He dragged the two victims out of the gym “cut, bleeding and in need of the doctor”.
It was a measure of Hitler’s madness that he had entered the hall to provoke a reaction from 200 troops, by hectoring them with views that were already openly hateful.
As Keogh dragged him off to the guardroom for his own safety, the future fuhrer continued to spew angry comments.