How much would Sean Russell have known about the Nazis in 1940 whenever he sought their help for the Irish cause?
Some historians would say there was plenty of evidence by that time of Hitler's evil intention to conquer the World. Equally, any interested person would not have found it difficult to see through the diabolical ideology that had the Jews marked out for extermination. Main Kampf was full of insights into Hitler's racist philosophy.
Kristallnacht, Night Of Broken Glass, the name given to an orgy of vandalism and destruction of Jewish businesses, signposted what was to come. Any Jews with the wherewithal fled the country in order to escape the coming catastrophe. But few of them could have predicted the sheer scale and savagery of what was euphemistically called the Final Solution. In short, the Nazis motivated by thoughts of Aryan supremacy attempted to eradicate European Jewry by mass murder.
Intelligence about what was happening in the concentration camps was leaking out from as early as 1940. Dachau was first opened in 1933 for political prisoners opposed to the Nazi regime. It housed Communists, Socialists and Liberals, any and all who had the courage to oppose the Third Reich.
A whole network of work camps grew up all over Germany as the years progressed. Although tens of thousands died in the work camps from torture and starvation, these were not the extermination centers of the near future. What intelligence the Allies had was largely ignored because of pressing concerns such as winning the War.
All this is known to me because of history, but how much of it would have been known to Sean Russell at the extant time?
Fascism had many supporters outside of Germany. In Ireland the Blue Shirts, a proto-Fascist organisation made up from former IRA Volunteers, supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Other IRA men like Frank Ryan and Peadar O'Donnell fought to defend the Spanish Republic. However, another cohort including Russell remained ideologically neutral and focused on the Irish national question.
Sean Russell was a republican purist. Whereas many other dipped their toes into European politics, men like Russell had one interest only. Certainly, he was not apolitical as an Irish Republican, but he did not fit into the ideological dichotomy of right and left. Russell was was straight as an arrow, so to speak. He stood on the firm ground of the Irish Republic.
The old Fenians believed that England's difficult was Ireland's opportunity. In fact, this attitude predated the Fenians in Irish history. There are many examples of European alliances between the Irish, Spanish and French all of whom sought to destroy England for one reason or another. The Irish never paid much attention to politics or ideology when they made alliances with other countries. Opportunity and a shared enemy were the only common denominators.
Finally, some on the left will find it impossible to forgive Sean Russell for his flirtation with Nazism. Others will afford him the benefit of the doubt believing he was motivated by a singular thought. If we are to accept his own spoken words the time, he was unequivocal and he disavowed Fascism. Even the Germans knew that Russell was not a Nazi sympathiser as was stated in intelligence files at the time.
So, we must make up our own minds about this subject having regard to the scant historical record. We have Sean Russell's own words to a confidant, and intelligence assessments of his demeanor towards the regime. There is nothing else exists that speak to the matter. A painful and lonely death on German U-Boat meant that Sean Russell departed without a self-justification.