Hans Möller



When we consider the First and Second World Wars, the sheer scale of the human carnage tends to numb our senses. It is estimated that some 40 million people, military and civilian, were killed in the First World War and a further 75 million in the Second World War, a combined death toll of 115 million human lives brutally wiped out. It is a level of human carnage that is almost impossible for us to emotionally absorb. It is, perhaps, only when we focus on the impact of war on individual lives that we can emotionally relate to the tragic consequences of human conflict. Each and every one of the millions of people who had their life prematurely taken from them by an act of war had a childhood, a family, friends. Each and every one of them had hopes and dreams for their life. Each and every one of them had a unique personal life-story. Today, I want to tell the story of one such person, Hans Möller.
          Germany in 1938 was a dangerous place for Jews. The Nazi Government had embarked on a programme of Jewish persecution. Hundreds of Jewish synagogues were burned down. Jewish businesses and homes were looted. Jewish people were being openly attacked on the streets. All Jews were obliged to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing. And then, on 10th November 1938 over 30,000 German males were summarily rounded up and transported to concentration camps. It was the start of the Holocaust. As word of the round-up spread in the north-western German city of Bremen, 27yrs old Hans Möller, a young Jewish man, bid a hasty farewell to his parents, whom he would never see again, and fled.
          Hans made haste towards the Dutch border some 250 kilometers away, and from there to Belgium, from where he made his way to England. He got employment at Turnbull & Asser, shirtmakers, in Jermyn Street in London. There he met and fell in love with an English girl, Dora Lucas. In 1939, the young couple got engaged and moved into a rented flat at 83 Iffley Road, in Hammersmith. Life was good for Hans and Dora, and they had every reason to look forward to a long, happy life together.
          On 3rd September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany following the German invasion of Poland. In November 1939, the British government decided to round-up and intern as enemy aliens, some 27,000 German, Austrian and Italian male citizens living in Britain. Many of these people had lived their entire lives in Britain and considered themselves to be British. They had no sympathy with Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. When this was drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, he replied “No exceptions – collar the lot”. And so, it was that Hans Möller, a Jew, having fled from the Nazis in fear of his life, now found himself arrested as a possible Nazi sympathiser and interned as prisoner number 43206.
          Dozens of Holiday Camps throughout Britain were commandeered and turned into internment camps. Hans was interned in Warners, a former holiday camp at Seaton on the Devon coast near Lyme Regis. Such was the difficulty in finding suitable locations for internment camps that it was decided to send some internees overseas to Canada.
          At the outbreak of the war, the Blue Line cruise ship, Arandora Star, was commandeered by the British Merchant Navy. The ship, which was originally painted white, was repainted battleship grey and put into service. On June 7th 1940, the Arandora Star evacuated 1,600 British, French and Polish troops from Harsted in Norway. On June 16th the ship evacuated some 300 people from Saint Nazaire in France. Some days later, the Arandora Star set sail on an urgent mission to Saint-Jean-de-Luz in Southern France. En-route she rescued over 500 people adrift in an overloaded small ship off the French coast near Bayonne. She then proceeded to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where Polish troops were encircled by the German army. Over 1,700 troops, including the Polish army high command, were successfully evacuated. It would have been evident by then to the German navy that the Arandora Star was being used by Britain as a troop ship and was, therefore, regarded by them as a legitimate target.
          At 4.00am on 1st July 1940 the Arandora Star left Liverpool for St John’s, Newfoundland. Designed to carry 500 passengers, the ship was crammed with 1,300 German and Italian civilian internees plus their military guards. Among those on board was Hans Möller. Hans would probably have been happy to be going to Canada. In Canada he would be further removed from the Nazis and, in his mind, he might have contemplated the possibility of being able to start a new life and also re-uniting with Dora.
          The Arandora Star began her Atlantic crossing during what U-boat crews called ‘the Happy Time’, when U-boats sank Allied ships with impunity off the Irish coast. Sailing at a cruise speed of 15 knots without escort and painted battleship grey, the Arandora Star zigzagged to avoid U-boats as it set out on its six-day voyage to Canada. Captain Edward Moulton knew that his unescorted ship was a sitting target. Given its known role as a troop ship, the Arandora Star would be seen by German U-boats as a legitimate target. Captain Moulton strongly protested before setting sail “If the ship is torpedoed’, he said, ‘we shall be drowned like rats”. His objections were overruled.
          The upper deck of the ship was encircled with barbed wire to deter the internees from attempting to escape. However, this also had the disastrous effect of hindering those on board from getting to the lifeboats. During that first day, the internees were confined to their very cramped and humid quarters below deck. In groups of about 50, they were allowed up on deck in rotation to exercise for about 30 minutes. Most of the internees on board did not get a turn on deck on that first day before they were locked-in below decks to sleep for the night. No emergency drill had been carried out on that first day to show people what to do in the event of an emergency.
          At 6.15am the following morning, 75 miles north-west of Bloody Foreland, Co. Donegal, a torpedo from U- boat 47 scored a direct hit on the Arandora Star’s engine room. Water poured into the ship. All the lights on board went out. According to one survivor ‘indescribable panic’ broke out as 1,300 internees struggled to get to the upper deck, in complete darkness, through narrow and unfamiliar gangways. Those who did succeed in getting to the upper deck were confronted by a barrier of barbed wire that stood between them and the lifeboats. Many internees were severely injured in their frantic efforts to get through the barbed wire to the lifeboats. At 7.05am, 50 minutes after the torpedo struck, the bow of the ship rose steeply and the ship sank, stern first with hundreds of internees still trapped below deck.
          470 Italians and 243 Germans drowned, as did 37 guards and crew, a combined death toll of 805 from a total of 1,673 on board. Captain Edward Moulton went down with his ship. Seven hours after the sinking, 868 survivors were picked up by the Canadian destroyer HMCS St Laurent. It was later revealed that U-boat 47 had been returning to base with just one torpedo left – the one that sank the Arandora Star.
          Over the following weeks, many bodies were washed-up on the northern coastline of Co. Donegal. Most were badly decomposed and un-identifiable. On the morning of 29th July, a badly decomposed male body, wearing a life jacket, was found on Maghery beach at Dungloe in Co. Donegal. Gardaí found in the man’s wallet, a sheet of headed notepaper from Turnbull & Asser, shirtmakers, Jermyn Street London. They also found a songbook, ironically titled Holiday Songs and inscribed ‘In memory of many a sing-song whilst making nets in hut D21, Warner’s Camp, Seaton, 7/4/1940’. The body was buried in an unmarked grave at a remote little cemetery at Termon, Maghery, Co. Donegal.
          Through the London Metropolitan Police, who visited the shop of Turnbull and Asser in London, Gardaí discovered that Hans Möller’s fiancée, Dora Lucas, worked at the Jermyn Street shop. Dora confirmed that she and Hans had lived together in Hammersmith before he was interned in November 1939. An appeal she had made to the authorities, following his arrest, for his release from internment had been turned down. It was on the basis of Dora’s statement that the body found on Maghery beach was confirmed as that of Hans Möller. Having confirmed to the police that he had no next-of-kin living in England, Dora asked for his effects to be returned to her. The Irish Department of External Affairs did not honour Dora’s request to be given Hans’ effects. Instead, they sent his few possessions to the German Ambassador in Ireland, Edouard Hempel. Hans Möller was officially a German national. The Department of External Affairs cared little about his personal life. It is not known if Dora ever visited his grave.
          Throughout the Second World War the remains of many German sailors and airmen were buried in remote graveyards throughout Ireland. The exact locations of these burials were in many cases dependant on local knowledge and likely to be forgotten as time passed. After the war, the German Embassy in Dublin received many requests from German citizens seeking information on the final resting place of their dead military relatives. In 1958, permission was sought from the Irish Government to exhume the bodies of German servicemen buried throughout Ireland and re-inter them in a single military cemetery. After some reluctance, the Irish authorities gave approval with the stipulation that the cemetery should be remotely located because there was a fear that a German military cemetery could become a focal point for rallies by fascist sympathisers. After a prolonged search, a disused quarry at Glencree in the Wicklow Mountains was identified as a suitable location for the German Military Cemetery.


At 4.00am on 1st July 1940 the Arandora Star left Liverpool for St John’s, Newfoundland. Designed to carry 500 passengers, the ship was crammed with 1,300 German and Italian civilian internees plus their military guards. Among those on board was Hans Möller. Hans would probably have been happy to be going to Canada. In Canada he would be further removed from the Nazis and, in his mind, he might have contemplated the possibility of being able to start a new life and also re-uniting with Dora.
          During 1959 and 1960 a major exercise was undertaken by the German War Graves Commission to locate and exhume the remains of German servicemen buried in Ireland. A total of 87 remains were located, 81 from the Second World War and 6 from the First World War. An additional 47 remains of German civilians from the Arandora Star were also located in remote graveyards in Co. Donegal. It was decided that although those on board the Arandora Star were not military personnel, they had been killed in an act of war and should, therefore, be buried in the Military Cemetery in Glencree.
          And so, twenty years after he was laid to rest in a remote little cemetery in Co. Donegal, the body of Hans Möller, the young German Jew who had harmed nobody and who had done everything in his power to flee from Nazi Germany, was exhumed and re-intered, on 2nd December 1960, in the German Military Cemetery in Glencree. It is, without question, the last place on earth that Hans Möller would have wanted to be buried. When Hans fled from Nazi Germany in 1938, he could never, in his wildest dreams, have anticipated that he would ultimately end up buried in a German Military Cemetery at Glencree in Ireland.
          This year, 2020, will be the eightieth anniversary of Hans Möller’s death and the sixtieth anniversary of his re-burial in the German Military Cemetery in Glencree. Perhaps sometime when you are in Co. Wicklow you might consider paying a visit to the German Military Cemetery in Glencree. Seek out grave number 56, Hans Möller, and pause there to reflect on the cruel tragedy that befell this misfortunate young man who only wished to live in peace.
          And while you are there, perhaps you might also take some time to pause and reflect on the countless millions of ordinary men, women and children whose lives, over past millennia, were tragically ended by the grotesque, brutal savagery of organised armed conflict between human beings that we euphemistically call war.

Today, we remember them all.

May they rest in peace.

©Frank Tracy
Dublin Unitarian Church