Dachau to the Dolomites: The Untold Story of the Irishmen, Himmler’s Special Prisoners and the End of WWII


Tom Wall

February 2019

Extraordinary story of Irishmen among a group of prominent hostages taken by Himmler during World War II.


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Dachau to the Dolomites is the dramatic but little-known story of a group of prominent Nazi SS hostages transported from various concentration camps to a remote Alpine valley in the final days of the Third Reich. Five Irishmen were among the 160 prisoners whom Himmler and other SS leaders attempted to use as barter to save the regime or, as a final resort, themselves. As well as eminent international statesmen, aristocrats and clergy, the group contained opposition German generals and civilian relatives of those who had plotted against Hitler, among them the family of Claus von Stauffenberg, who placed the bomb in Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair.

These hostages included a number of RAF officers, survivors of the famous ‘Great Escape’, and also Colonel John McGrath from Roscommon, a World War I veteran who had left his job as manager of Dublin’s Theatre Royal to rejoin the British Army in 1939. They had been held with Russian, Italian and Polish special prisoners as ‘Nacht und Nebel’ – Night and Fog – prisoners, whose existence was a state secret. Although generally treated more favourably than regular prisoners, they lived in constant danger of execution, a fate some did not escape. Theirs is an astonishing and epic tale encompassing heroic endurance, escape, betrayal, tragedy and love.

Table of Contents

The Cast

       Part I: Special Prisoners              

  • Kidnapped at Venlo
  • The Irish Camp
  • The Death of Stalin’s son
  • Traitors
  • Breakout
  • Gates of Hell

       Part II: The Prominenten                                                        

  1. The Bunker Prisoners
  2. The Brothel Prisoners
  3. Old Foes Meet
  4. Hostages for Fortune

       Part III: Alpine Odyssey                                                        

  1. Evacuation
  2. Cook’s Musical Tour
  3. A Troubled Redoubt
  4. Niederdorf
  5. Cuckoos in the Nest
  6. High Noon

       Part IV: Freedom                                                                   

  1. A Death in Shangri-La
  2. Rescue
  3. Sequels

Addenda: Supplementary Tales                                     

I. Colonel John McGrath: Truth and Invention
II. Müller, Bonhoeffer and Niemöller
III. Alexander von Stauffenberg and Fay von Hassell
IV. The Strange Tale of Friedrich Engelke
V. Davide Ferrero and his Patriot Battalion


About the Author

Tom Wall is a retired official of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and is a master’s graduate of UCD. He is a regular contributor of essays and reviews on historical themes for Dublin Review of Books. 

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