National Library of Wales row over SS man's legacy

Louis Feutren, from a wartime photo Louis Feutren, from a wartime photo

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The National Library of Wales has been criticised for accepting a bequest of £300,000 from a Frenchman who served in the Waffen SS in World War II.

Louis Feutren was a member of the Bezen Perrot (Perrot Unit) from Brittany which fought with the Nazis.

Heritage Minister Huw Lewis said he was disappointed the library had accepted the bequest, which includes "material of significant historical importance".

The library said it had followed expert legal advice in coming to its decision.

It said some of the money would be used on projects associated with the destructive effects of war and fascism.

'Notable collection'

The SS, a notorious wing of Adolf Hitler's army, acted as the Nazi leader's bodyguard, a fighting force and ran death camps during World War II.

As well as German soldiers, it had a number of foreign volunteers and conscripts from nations such as France and the Netherlands.

After the war, Mr Feutren fled his native France and travelled through Wales, eventually settling in the Republic of Ireland, where he married. He died last year.

Brittany and Wales share close cultural links, and there are similarities between the native languages.

Start Quote

Though I utterly condemn his political leanings and activities during the war, we had no right, as board members, to allow our feelings to interfere with our decision”

End Quote Lord Wigley National Library of Wales president

The National Library of Wales said Louis Feutren's archive, which includes a collection of papers and tapes, sheds light on the life of a Breton who was a member of the region's nationalist group "Gwenn-ha-Du" (white and black), and the Bezen Perrot movements during the war.

The library's retiring president Lord Wigley said its board members, who agreed to accept the bequest, had no right to allow "our feelings to interfere with our decision".

"This is a notable collection that includes material of significant historical importance," he said.

"Though I utterly condemn his political leanings and activities during the war, we had no right, as board members, to allow our feelings to interfere with our decision."

The archive and the financial donation worth £300,000 have been received in accordance with the Royal Charter and the library's collection policy, which identify the need to collect, and ensure public access to, material of Celtic interest.

The library said its board had also acted in accordance with the Charity Commission and followed expert legal advice in coming to its decision.

The National Library of Wales says it had no choice other than to accept the bequest

A portion of the funds received will also be allocated towards projects associated with the "destructive effects of war and fascism".

Andrew Green, librarian at the National Library of Wales said the board had taken a lot of advice from its lawyers, held several meetings - including in public - and undertaken considerable historical research before making its decision.

"Had Louis Feutren brought all this money from France or got it from illegal means that would be different, but all evidence is that he arrived in Ireland after the war penniless," he told BBC Radio Wales.

But Heritage Minister Huw Lewis said he was disappointed, but it was a decision for the library's trustees to take.

"However, the Welsh government was approached about this matter and our view was sought," he said.

'Nazi collaborator'

"I made our position perfectly clear that we felt the acceptance of this bequest could affect the reputation of the National Library of Wales, one of our most respected cultural institutions.

"Louis Feutren was a Nazi collaborator and a member of the SS. That is an abhorrent fact of history.

"I am therefore disappointed by the decision of the National Library to accept these funds and do not believe that anyone in Wales would have challenged them if they had chosen not to accept the bequest.

"I now very much hope that this legacy can be used in a suitable fashion.

"I feel that the creation of an educational resource for children in Wales that will highlight the terrible impact of war, intolerance and fascism would be an appropriate use for this funding."

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