Eduard Hempel (6 June 1887, Pirna – 12 November 1972, Gundelfingen) was a German diplomat. He was the Nazi German Minister to Ireland between 1937 and 1945 — in the buildup to and during The Emergency (Second World War). When he was first appointed to the post he was not a Nazi party member, but a short while after his appointment, the Berlin regime put him under extreme pressure to join.
Prior to his appointment, the Irish External Affairs ministry had specified that they did not want a Nazi party member as diplomatic representative; the solution to this requirement appears to have been to appoint a person who was not a member of the party, but made to join the following year, his NSDAP card being dated 1 July 1938.
Eduard Hempel was the son of a Privy Governing Councillor. He attended the gymnasium (grammar school) in Bautzen and the Fridericianum in Davos and graduated from high school in Wertheim. He completed a law degree from the University of Leipzig. Following compulsory military service he joined the judicial service of Kingdom of Saxony but was conscripted at the start of World War I. During the war he served as a lieutenant on the administrative staff, including in the military administration of occupied Romania.
Hempel joined the foreign service of Saxony in 1920, which was absorbed into the German diplomatic service. Hempel was posted to Oslo in 1928. He returned to Berlin to work in the Foreign Office. In 1928 he joined the German People's Party (DVP). He was posted as Minister to Ireland in 1937 and pressured into joining the Nazi party in 1938.
De Valera granted Hempel asylum at the end of the war. He returned to Germany in 1949 and was denazified, Hempel was employed in the West German foreign service from 1950 until retiring in 1951
In the Irish Times Correspondence of 10 March 2011, the late Charles Acton is quoted, ' Dr Hempel was I am convinced an old fashioned, career civil service diplomat, caught in the terrible dilemma of his times. Loving his country but hating the regime that had taken control of it, he felt he could do more good in the long run and mitigate the harm of the regime by remaining Minister and pursuing a course of utter correctness, than by resigning and thereby risking the Legation being run by a real Nazi.'
Michael Drury, on 25 February 2011 in a letter to the Irish Times wrote, "Official circles in Ireland recognised that Dr Hempel behaved correctly throughout his mission, given the narrow limits of his position. For example, he respected Ireland’s neutrality better than the American minister did. If he were regarded as having been “Hitler’s man”, I would not have been instructed, as an official of the Irish Embassy in Bonn, to attend his funeral in 1972." In further correspondence on 8 March 2011 he wrote, 'I agree that Dr Hempel ought to have resigned when pressured to join the Nazi party, but not all of us are endowed with heroic virtues. He had no need to use the “classical excuse” that he followed orders: he was not accused of war crimes.'
Drury's assessment of Hempel was however challenged by several other Irish Times readers, who pointed to evidence of the German minister's pro-Hitler, pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic outlook.
Hempel's time in Ireland is particularly noted for the incident at the end of his term of office when the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera and Joe Walshe, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, paid a visit to his home in Dún Laoghaire on 2 May 1945 to express their official condolences on the death of German dictator Adolf Hitler. Hempel was described as being distraught at the news, wringing his hands in anguish, although after his death his wife, Eva, accounted for the incident by saying that he was suffering from eczema. According to official papers released in 2005, President Hyde also visited Hempel, the following day.
In his eight years in post, Hempel sent thousands of reports to Berlin by telegraph and shortwave radio (the latter until he surrendered his radio transmitter in December 1943 at the insistence of the Department of External Affairs, and under pressure from the United States and United Kingdom). Some historians have stated that Hempel was involved in undermining the 1942 allied raid on Dieppe to failure by reporting Canadian troop movements on the south coast of England although this charge has been disputed.
In a 'Documents on Irish Foreign Policy 1941-1945' a letter from de Valera is quoted defending his contentious visit to Hempel following the death of Hitler. He wrote,"So long as we retained our diplomatic relations with Germany, to have failed to call upon the German representative would have been an act of unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel," he said in a letter.