Tags: 1970 Margaux Grand Cru, art collection, BMW M3 convertible, bodyguards, Chevrolet, Dodge, General Motors, Geneva, Gibson acoustic, Lake Lugano, Lugano, Mercedes 600 Pullman, Milan, Noel Coward, Packard, Prince Charles, Puccini, Rijksmuseum, Sandor Berkes, Simon Levie, Switzerland, The Swiss Cowboy, The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Villa Favorita
|The lack of a fair distribution of assets in the world has reached a stage where the wealthiest 1% own more than the remaining 99% of the population, according to Credit Suisse. The Thyssens are a prime example of how a fortune, created through the dilligence of a few founding fathers and generations of their plants’ workforce, has multiplied exponentially through the use of financial instruments, multiple citizenships, political lobbying, press manipulation and, most of all, tax avoidance. It was the last great Thyssen himself, Hans Heinrich („Heini“) Thyssen-Bornemisza, who told us: „I am a tax evader by profession. If you wanted to be correct, I should be in jail“. Villa Favorita in Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland, the closest the Thyssen-Bornemiszas ever got to a family seat, has been the symbol of their often rapacious attitude – hidden behind the veneer of their famous art collection – which has until recently gone unquestioned, accepted and even admired by the wider public.
Even before the First World War, Heini`s grandfather August, whose power base were the German steel mills and coal fields of the Ruhr, created a family bank in Rotterdam, the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart (BVHS), as an offshore bank for the Thyssen industrial empire. Heini’s father Heinrich, who had gained Hungarian nationality and a contrived aristocratic status through marriage, settled in Holland, took charge of the bank and fended off the post-war allied reparation claims, as well as the spiralling early 1920s hyperinflation. His Dutch lawyers created further financial instruments such as Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor and Holland American Investment (respectively Trading) Corporations. This situation later allowed Heini to consequently deny the family`s German connections while they continued well into the 1980s to draw their profits from the country.
The Thyssens were very well connected on the highest political level. They hosted Adolf Hitler several times at their residences in Holland and Germany during the Weimar Republic and, amongst other contributions, made a loan of 350,000 Reichsmark through BVHS to finance the Brown House in Munich. After August’s death in 1926, and on the advice of Heinrich`s social and financial mentor Eduard von der Heydt, the Thyssens began to orientate themselves towards Switzerland. Heinrich started buying works of art to reinforce his „gentlemanly“ image but mainly, according to Heini, „as an investment and a way of moving money“. The 530 paintings he acquired between 1928 and 1938, though of questionable quality and provenance in many cases, and earning negative reviews when the first 428 were exhibited as „Schloss Rohoncz Collection“ in Munich in 1930, laid the foundation of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection now housed in Spain.
In 1926 and 1931, in the Swiss canton of Schwyz, Heinrich`s advisors created the Kaszony and Rohoncz Collection Family Foundations to hold and protect his inherited corporate assets and his art purchases respectively. Then, in 1932, he purchased 50,000 m² of Lake Lugano shoreline, comprising sub-tropical gardens and 12 buildings, a plot which had once been a whole quarter of noble villas, the most important being Villa Favorita. As Heinrich had bought the main residence complete with all furnishings in order to immerse himself in the style of the former princely owner, Leopold of Prussia, from 1936 to 1940 he had another building erected to house his art. But the exact logistics of the transfer of the paintings from their various points of purchase into Switzerland has remained shrouded in secrecy (its move out of Switzerland to Madrid half a century later was almost celebratory by comparison!).
In 1937, Heinrich’s Lugano lawyer Roberto van Aken, achieved a most favourable tax deal for his client with the Ticino authorities, as well as a Swiss foreigner’s passport, on the understanding that the collection be opened to the public. But while that same year his curator Rudolf Heinemann produced the first Lugano-based catalogue, the collection remained closed. Presumably neither side thought it wise to draw attention to the fact that this German tycoon was sheltering in Switzerland as his businesses supported Hitler’s genocidal war of aggression and exploited industrial slave labour – even though Helvetia profited from coal imports out of Heinrich’s Walsum mine through the Swiss Bank Corporation in Zurich. His German managers regularly visited him there, including the director of the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin, which organised funds for the world-wide German counter-espionage through Switzerland.
After 1945, this mutually beneficial Swiss safehaven arrangement guaranteed that Heinrich, who was initially named on the list of war criminals to be judged at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, entirely escaped allied retribution. He died at Villa Favorita in 1947, untouched by public controversy, though ravaged by his long-standing, advanced alcoholism. The public myth of the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ untainted background could now fully develop.
His main heir Heini sorted out the vast inheritance and negotiated a new tax deal with the Swiss authorities by promising in 1948 to open the collection to the public. And so, Heini Thyssen, who had only ever possessed questionable Hungarian identity papers extended him by his step-father, Janos Wettstein, from the Hungarian embassies in The Hague and Berne, in 1950, after several attempts and with American assistance, gained full Swiss citizenship. Having become a founding member of the jet set and polished his image with the help of his British, third wife Fiona, in the early 1960s Heini turned to buying art to distance himself from the shadows of the family history. Through Eric Pfaff, an international trust lawyer, working out of offices in Luxembourg and the Isle of Man, he discovered Bermuda and had his first financial instruments created there, while many of his art purchases were made tax-efficiently through Liechtenstein-based instruments such as Art Council Establishment and Internationale Finanz- und Kunsthandel AG.
Then, in the mid-1970s, the first light breeze of change started wafting in as the Ticino authorities introduced more rigorous tax laws. But far from agreeing a compromise, Heini Thyssen responded by moving his official residence first to Monaco and later on to the United Kingdom. When he also threatened to close the gallery at Villa Favorita – by then one of the town’s and canton’s main tourist attractions – his Lugano lawyer, Dr Franco Masoni, managed to push through an extension of his client’s advantageous Swiss tax deal. Clearly it was in Heini’s power to pressurise the city fathers by inviting them to „consider the detrimental effect [this closure would have] on suppliers and employees“ and adding with sarcastic irony that he felt sure his „leaving the canton could be achieved without any publicity“…
Despite the continuous Swiss incubation of the fortune of Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza, who, in his 60s, by now had three ex-wives and four children, it was in Bermuda, under British law, that his advisors created, in 1983, two family trusts to protect his Thyssen Bornemisza Group (TBG) and his collection of paintings and artefacts from possible feuds over inheritance. The latter had by now trippled in size to over 1,500 works of art and its value was being promoted through auction houses, international travelling exhibitions and a lavish, Sotheby’s-promoted „catalogisation“ programme.
Shortly after his final marriage in 1985, in England, to the Spanish fire-cracker Carmen Cervera (who, it is thought, may already have enjoyed Swiss citizenship as a result of her 1960s marriage to Lex Barker), she too began, with Thyssen money, to buy art and, immediately, instruments, such as Nautilus Trustees Limited in the south-Pacific Cook Islands, were created for her use. It was not least at her instigation, in the early 1990s, that Heini Thyssen sold half his collection to Spain for 350 million dollars (plus a similar cost in housing and complex administration fees) and divided the net proceeds, as well as the other half of the collection between his heirs, through further, tax-free Bermudan sub-trusts. Now Carmen, with Heini’s help, could turn to creating and advertising her own Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, thus spinning the money machine ad infinitum, while simultaneously creating a new, higher-quality personal image for herself.
Considering the depth of gratitude the Thyssens should have felt towards Switzerland for shielding them from revelations of Nazi collaboration and profiteering, this end to the Villa Favorita public gallery was more than ignominious. Heini topped his arrogant attitude by denying the generous offer that the Swiss had actually made him, in 1986, for keeping his collection in Lugano. His daughter Francesca continued to keep the gallery alive for a while with a few exhibitions, but some fifteen years ago it closed its doors for the last time. It is difficult to understand, apart from their greed, why the Thyssens did not have the grace to leave an endowment of a small „starter“ selection of paintings, plus the villa and grounds as a gift to the town. Considering the size of their fortune, they could easily have done so (and one day it might turn out that it would have been a wise thing to have done). But presumably, having achieved an advantageous tax deal in Spain, based on their collection, such a gift would have caused…….. a tax problem!? It was Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza’s charming lawyer Jaime Rotondo, who in 2013 confirmed to the Spanish press outlet El Confidencial/(in collaboration with the Consorcio Internacional de Periodistas de Investigacion), in a somewhat questionable quote, that „the contracts of technical and cultural assistance she has signed with Spain [for the cession of over 700 paintings of her private collection to various museums means that Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza can live in Spain all the time she wants without having to pay tax on her patrimony there]“.
In 2002, Heini Thyssen died and his widow Carmen inherited his 60 million dollar TBG dividend shortfall and a 132 million dollar share in his private estate, also several houses including the „Dynasty-que“ seat of Villa Favorita. When a year later she submitted to the Lugano building authorities a pre-project for the erection of four modern villas on its grounds, Swiss alarm bells started ringing. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung urged the authorities to „save this Swiss national cultural treasure“ and added that the Swiss Homeland Security Authority (Heimatschutz) had asked the communal, cantonal and federal authorities to act. Even a purchase by all three levels jointly was suggested. But while the paper went to great lengths to accuse officials of „stubborn desinterest“, it failed to mention the asking price, which was only revealed a decade later as being over 100 million Swiss Francs.
Then, in 2004, Swiss Info reported that cantonal levels were finally awakening from their „lethargy“ and negotiating with Tita Thyssen over Villa Favorita. The mayor of Lugano said that the lakeside area was placed under the protection of the Ticino cantonal commission of cultural assets and the Swiss federal commission for the protection of historical monuments and landscapes. Tita had renounced building on this area in return for a permit to build behind the gallery. Suddenly, town and canton were in a great hurry to achieve a deal. But still the canton did not wish to make any gifts to Tita, who, a decade ago, was said to have left the place „slamming the door with her collection under her arm“, while Pascal Couchepin, Swiss Minister of the Interior, was quoted as saying he doubted a sale to a private entity could be achieved. A wealthy Lugano municipal councillor then put one million Swiss Francs on the table to help the commune and canton enter negotiations.
While in 2010 it became known that Tita Thyssen had sold the last building plot of the grounds for 30 million Euros for the completion of eight Herzog & Meuron-designed luxury apartments by early 2015, negotiations for the sale of the main estate went quiet again. During that time, on the back-drop of a global financial crisis leaving her homeland Spain with a heavy debt burden and big (especially youth) unemployment rate, Tita adopted two surrogate children in California, her son Borja married and had four children and the two started mud-slinging very publicly over inheritance issues. In 2013, it was reported that a court judgment in Bermuda had revealed one of the trusts, which Borja has a 35% entitlement in, alone to be worth 1 billion Swiss Francs. But despite the crisis, the Spanish media at first still treated scenes such as CCTV pictures of Borja breaking into Tita`s office at La Moraleja, Madrid, to gain financial information, or Tita’s very public insistence on paternity testing for Borja’s children as fun entertainment. Later the mood began to change and the Spanish press slowly dropped its tolerant approach, particularly when Offshore-Leaks (via SonntagsZeitung, Spiegel Online, Huffington Post and others) publicised the extent of Carmen Thyssen’s art handling tax avoidance schemes and King Juan Carlos abdicated amidst allegations of widespread corruption amongst the Spanish elite. Suddenly her turning up for board meetings at the Madrid museum in her Rolls Royce Phantom (something her late husband would never have had the bad taste to have done) was said to „leave employees and visitors open-mouthed“.
By 2012, while the Swiss business magazine Bilanz was still ranking her as 7th richest woman in Switzerland, in Spain Tita was claiming on a somewhat theatrical level, via Vanitatis, to be going through her own liquidity crisis, which she said was caused by „800 million Euros worth [a non-binding valuation by Sotheby’s] of art loaned free of charge by myself to the state of Spain for 13 years“. She could hardly hide her frustration at the Spanish still not having bought her paintings from her, as they had once done with her husband’s collection. But with the precarious state of the monarchy adding to the economic crisis, she should perhaps have been grateful that they did not hand her collection back, for her to fund its maintenance, insurance, exhibition etc. Carmen Thyssen was left with no option but to sell a Constable (The Lock) – apparently through Omicron Collections Limited in the Cayman Islands - allegedly for 20 million pounds sterling (doubling the purchase price of a suspiciously high 10 million pounds in 1990) and further humiliated in the summer of 2014 when the Spanish tax authorities carried out a very public raid on her yacht “Mata Mua” in Ibiza, while she was on board (as reported by El Mundo). In her immediate rage she threatened to leave Spain and move back to Villa Favorita with her two adopted girls in tow. Not the first time she had issued such a warning.
So the news in December 2014 that Tita Thyssen has sold Villa Favorita to the Italian cheese-making family Invernizzi, for 65 million Euros, was understandably picked up with huge interest by the Spanish media. The 28 days in which Heini`s children had the right to match the sale price and retain the villa in the family have elapsed, and the sale is now final. One presumes Tita will be paying a little parting gift of tax on this deal in Switzerland, regardless of which trust or foundation the ownership of the villa is held in, as she waves good-bye to the country and brings to a close 83 years of a colourful relationship between the Thyssen-Bornemisza family and Ticino. It will be interesting to see how the Swiss will treat their memory of this family now that they have no reason to remain diplomatic, and equally so to see how the Spanish will treat Carmen Thyssen as she can no longer threaten them with a „cultural exodus in reverse“. There is one thing that could be almost guaranteed: that the opportunity once open to Heini Thyssen to play off one country against another, in their eagerness to host his fortune, will not be inherited by his successors.
p.s.: At our time of going to press, the Spanish press outlet Economia Digital reveals that Carmen Thyssen has this week bought two properties, for herself and her son Borja, in Andorra, for a total of 10 million Euros and comments: “Tita Cervera has Swiss nationality and since her youth her fiscal residence has been there. But for the last 20 years she has been a habitual resident of the Principality of Andorra. Sources knowledgeable about the aristocrat`s movements have signalled to this paper that she would be finalising a change in her tributary situation according to the double taxation agreements which Andorra holds with different countries and that it will permit her to also transfer her fiscal residence to the country where she actually lives.”
With the “99%” of the population of Spain increasingly taking to the streets to complain about the austerity policies, one wonders how much longer these shenanigans of the residual “1%” will last.
Tags: 1920s hyperinflation, Adolf Hitler, Alcoholism, allied reparation claims, allied retribution, Andorra, art collection, Art Council Establishment, August Thyssen, August Thyssen Bank, Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, Berlin, Bermuda, Berne, Bilanz, Borja Thyssen-Bornemisza, Brown House Munich, California, Carmen Cervera, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Cayman Islands, CCTV, coal mine, Consorcio Internacional de Periodistas de Investigacion, contrived aristocratic status, Cook Islands, Credit Suisse, double taxation agreement, Dr Franco Masoni, Dutch lawyers, Economia Digital, Eduard von der Heydt, El Confidencial, El Mundo, Eric Pfaff, fair distribution of assets, financial instruments, Fiona Campbell-Walter, Fiona Thyssen-Bornemisza, First World War, fiscal residence, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, German counter-espionage, Germany, global financial crisis, habitual resident, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Heimatschutz, Heini Thyssen, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Helvetia, Herzog & de Meuron, Holland, Holland American Investment Corporation, Holland American Trading Corporation, Huffington Post, Hungarian embassies, Hungarian nationality, Ibiza, industrial slave labour, inheritance, Internationale Finanz- und Kunsthandel AG, Invernizzi Family, Isle of Man, Jaime Rotondo, Janos Wettstein, jet set, John Constable, Kaszony Family Foundation, King Juan Carlos, La Moraleja, Leopold of Prussia, Lex Barker, Liechtenstein, list of war criminals, Lugano, Luxembourg, Monaco, multiple citizenships, Nautilus Trustees Limited, Nazi collaboration, Nazi profiteering, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Nuremberg war crimes trials, offshore bank, Offshore-Leaks, Omicron Collections Limited, Pascal Couchepin, political lobbying, press manipulation, Principality of Andorra, questionable Hungarian identity papers, Roberto van Aken, Rohoncz Collection Family Foundation, Rolls Royce Phantom, Vanitatis, Yacht "Mata Mua"
|While both ThyssenKrupp and the Thyssen Bornemisza Group continue to pay academics and charitable foundations to rewrite their past, one member of the family has additionally been funding scholarship in order to buy an exalted academic identity for himself; with wealth polluted by the same tarnished history.
Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza was born in Switzerland to the Scottish fashion model Fiona Campbell-Walter, who by the time of his birth was already separated from Lorne’s legal father, the Hungarian, Dutch, Swiss, German, Catholic, industrialist and art collector, Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza; a man with his own identity problems, for whom Fiona had been his third wife.
As his second son, Lorne was also encouraged to adopt the ‘theatrical’ Austro-Hungarian title of ‘Baron’, despite the fact that in Switzerland (where waiters refer to him as ‘Mr Baron’), Austria and Hungary, the title has no legal status and Heini claimed his adopted son’s biological father was actually the American, Jewish, TV producer Sheldon Reynolds. But that didn’t stop Heini from accepting Lorne as a legal heir and supplying him with a dangerously generous allowance.
Lorne was educated at Le Rosey, a cosmopolitan, Swiss school that is perhaps better known for the wealth of its students’ parents than their off-springs’ academic achievement and from where he was expelled prior to completion of his International Baccalaureate studies. However, he did subsequently complete his basic Swiss Military Service while displaying less enthusiasm for gainful employment at the Thyssen Bornemisza Group´s corporate headquarters in Monaco.
Having adopted English as his first language, Lorne then established his colourful and extravagant social presence in London before endeavouring to read politics and philosophy at Edinburgh University. But as a result of the social distractions afforded him by his generous allowance, he failed to devote sufficient time to his studies and was obliged to abandon his academic ambitions.
He then moved to New York where he attended acting classes and even achieved some small measure of success in an off-Broadway Shakespeare play before moving on to Paris and from there to Beirut; where he acted in, and directed, a multi-million dollar, Thyssen-Bornemisza funded movie. He also adopted Muslim faith and became involved in Islamic mysticism, via the Sufi movement; whose funds he contributed to.
By now it must have begun to occur to Lorne that he could ‘procure’ academic status without the time-consuming inconvenience of having to study or take exams.
Heini had also taught him that cultural status could be obtained by the simple expedient of loaning out parts of his inherited art collection. A policy that would save on the cost of art storage and insurance.
So it was that he chose to loan his inherited collection of Muslim carpets to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; which resulted in a considerable enhancement of his standing amongst Germany’s cultural elite.
Considering the amount of time and effort that the Thyssen-Bornemiszas had invested in avoiding being considered German and denying their historic connections with the country, particularly during World War II, Berlin was, despite being the recognised centre of oriental carpet dealing, an extremely strange choice of location. Presumably it was an attempt to enhance his profile in Germany while his adopted family history was coming under academic scrutiny.
But given that Lorne wanted to achieve academic status in the UK, his choice of Oxford was logical, entirely predictable and possibly offered tax advantages to both parties. Given the Thyssens’ history of support for the Reich, use of industrial slave labour, involvement in violent anti-Semitism, profits from arms manufacturing in two World Wars, avoidance of reparations and retrieval of German assets by means of manipulated nationality and use of covert international banking, Lorne’s acceptance as an Honorary Fellow by the Wolfson College, Oxford University, in return for setting up the ‘Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics’, was nauseating; particularly as the College was originally founded and funded by Isaac Wolfson, a devout orthodox Jew and committed Zionist.
This was certainly not the first time that the Thyssens had used philanthropy to enhance their academic status while hiding the less palatable details of their past, which doubtless led to great aunt Amelie Thyssen’s creation of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and aunt Gaby (Gabrielle Bentinck nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) giving money to Tel Aviv University via Lord George Weidenfeld, who developed a masterly skill in brokering such philanthropic deals. This process may also have encouraged Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Commemoration, Documentation, Research and Education Centre) to overlook the Thyssens´ involvement in the slaughter of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave workers as after dinner entertainment at their castle in Rechnitz, Burgenland, Austria, on 24./25.03.1945. For one of the unfortunate by-products of academic philanthropy is that in protecting their benefactors, seats of learning are often encouraged to participate in historical amnesia.
Subsequently, Lorne’s freshly-minted academic status may have awarded his recently opened Kallos Gallery in London’s Mayfair some additional degree of credibility in its sale of his ancient Greek artefacts; if only he had resisted having the temerity to announce that he had signed up to ‘read’ Classical Studies with the Open University (having first presented the OU with ‘two fully funded MA scholarships…made possible through the generosity of Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza. The scholarships will provide the full fees for two year part-time MA studentships in Classical Studies at the Open University’) presumably in an attempt to acquire some small measure of legitimate, academic achievement.
Though I doubt that professional image builders would have encouraged such a revelation, as it could only serve to demote his elevated status as a ‘Fellow’ and ‘Honorary Fellow’ elsewhere.
I admire the Open University and used to respect Oxford University as what I believe I should expect it to be; an incorruptible seat of learning. But I don’t admire or respect academic whoring. There is too much of it about and, in this case, it is in clear contradiction of the old Latin adage, ‘Pecunia non olet.’
(p.s.: Lorne Thyssen is also a Fellow of The Royal Numismatic Society. At its 2012 International Congress held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem he acted as a chairperson with presentations given by members of Staatliche Museen Berlin, Tel Aviv University and Oxford University – thus closing the circle of – what we have the right to consider – duplicity).
Tags: academia, academic philanthropy, academic status, Amelie Thyssen, anti-Semitism, Austria, avoidance of reparations, Baron Thyssen MA Scholarship, Beirut, Berlin, Broadway, Burgenland, charitable foundations, Classical Studies, Cogito Scholarship Foundation, covert international banking, Edinburgh University, Fiona Campbell-Walter, Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Gabrielle Bentinck, Germany, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Holocaust, Holocaust Commemoration, Holocaust Documentation, Holocaust Education, Holocaust Research, Honorary Fellow, Hungary, international baccalaureate, international banking, Isaac Wolfson, islamic mysticism, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Kallos Gallery, Le Rosey, London, Lord George Weidenfeld, Lorne Thyssen, Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics, Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza, manipulated nationality, Mayfair, Monaco, Muslim carpets, Muslim faith, New York, Open University, oriental carpet dealing, orthodox Judaism, Oxford, Oxford University, Paris, pecunia non olet, philanthropy, Rechnitz, Rechnitz Massacre, retrieval of German assets, scholarship, Shakespeare, Sheldon Reynolds, slave labour, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Sufi movement, Swiss military service, Switzerland, Tel Aviv University, The Royal Numismatic Society, Thyssen Bornemisza Group, Thyssen Petroleum, ThyssenKrupp, Wolfson College, World War II, Yad Vashem, Zionism
|When I left Germany to live in England in 1992, my fatherland was only just beginning to get over the end of the Cold War, during which the Aufarbeitung of the Nazi era had been put on hold. In England, I got the amazing opportunity to work with David Litchfield on a biography of the Thyssen family which took us 14 years to complete and publish in England, Spain and Germany.
Now I am back in Germany and am delighted to see that a new wind is blowing as far as the renewed Aufarbeitung is concerned. But still it meets with opposition from those scrutinised. And yet, the time really is over-ripe for the descendants of those once in power to come clean and say „yes, what happened was terrible, and our families are admitting exactly what important role they played in it, and we are sorry“.
Instead, the Thyssen family in particular is still spending vast sums to produce sanitised versions of their history and this is particularly hurtful for me as a German whose family members were soldiers in Hitler`s war, who died or were maimed and never ever received any support whatsoever to cope with their horrific wartime experiences. This tragedy has had an overarching and enduring negative effect on German society. And this is why I am so angry with the way the Thyssens are behaving.
Heini Thyssen`s widow Carmen Cervera this year brought out his „memoirs“ in Spain, which is mostly theatrical nonsense but has a few unintended, highly interesting pieces of information, which we will present on this website in the new year. In particular, we will contrast her „effort“ with the other big Thyssen Whitewash Project that has seen the first fruits ripen in 2014.
As our manuscript was circulating in 2006, Heini`s son Georg Thyssen set up the „Thyssen Industrial History Foundation“ and later teamed up with the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the ThyssenKrupp Archives under Manfred Rasch. They commissioned more than a dozen German academics under Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Günther Schulz and Hans Günter Hockerts to write a series of books on the Thyssens in the 20th century. So far, two volumes have appeared: „The United Steelworks under National Socialism“ by Alexander Donges and „Slave Labour at Thyssen“ by Thomas Urban. A third volume, “The Thyssens as Art Collectors” by Johannes Gramlich, is set to appear in March 2015 and some five more volumes thereafter.
Although these books do contain a number of admissions, the overall theme is still a denial of any wrong-doing on the side of the Thyssens. The smoke-and-mirror style convolutedness of the project`s mission statement can be seen from the summary of a conference held at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in June 2014.
Based on our research and in the interest of historical truth, we will in the coming months and years on this website provide our readers with a detailed critical analysis of this Thyssen-financed „Aufarbeitung“.
Tags: Adolf Hitler, Alexander Donges, Aufarbeitung, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Carmen Cervera, Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Georg Thyssen, Günther Schulz, Hans Günter Hockerts, Heini Thyssen, Johannes Gramlich, Manfred Rasch, Margit Szöllösi-Janze, national socialism, slave labour, slave labour at Thyssen, The Thyssens in the 20th century, Thomas Urban, Thyssen Industrial History Foundation, ThyssenKrupp, United Steelworks, United Steelworks under National Socialism
|Als ich 1992 Deutschland verließ und nach England zog hatte mein Vaterland gerade erst begonnen, den Kalten Krieg, während dessen die Aufarbeitung der Nazi Vergangenheit zum Erliegen kam, hinter sich zu lassen. In England hatte ich die unfassbare Gelegenheit mit David Litchfield an einer Biographie der Thyssen Familie zu arbeiten, für deren Vervollständigung und Publikation in England, Spanien und Deutschland wir 14 Jahre benötigten.
Jetzt bin ich zurück in Deutschland und freue mich zu sehen, dass ein neuer Wind in Sachen Aufarbeitung weht. Aber dem stehen die Hinterfragten teils immer noch mit erheblichem Widerstand entgegen. Dabei ist die Zeit nunmehr überreif für die Abkömmlinge derer, die damals in verantwortlichen Positionen waren, zu sagen „Ja, was passierte war schrecklich, und unsere Familien geben zu, was genau ihre Rolle dabei war und wir bekennen, dass es uns leid tut“.
Statt dessen geben speziell die Thyssens immer noch große Summen aus, um geklitterte Versionen ihrer Geschichte zu produzieren. Das ist besonders schmerzhaft für Leute wie mich, da meine Familienmitglieder Soldaten in Hitler`s Krieg waren, getötet wurden oder verletzt, und sie zu keinem Zeitpunkt auch nur die geringste Unterstützung erhielten, um mit ihren höchst traumatischen Kriegserlebnissen zu Rande zu kommen. Das ist eine Tragödie, die einen überwältigenden Langzeiteffekt auf die deutsche Gesellschaft hat. Und darum ärgere ich mich so über das Verhalten der Thyssens.
Heini Thyssen`s Witwe, Carmen Cervera, hat dieses Jahr in Spanien seine „Memoiren“ veröffentlicht. Das Meiste davon ist theatralischer Unfug, aber das Buch enthält auch einige, unbeabsichtigte interessante Informationen, die wir im neuen Jahr auf dieser Webseite vorstellen werden. Besonders konstrastieren werden wir dieses „Werk“ mit einem anderen, größeren Thyssen Weisswasch-Projekt, welches 2014 die ersten Früchte getragen hat.
Als unser Manuskript 2006 zirkulierte gründete Heini`s Sohn Georg Thyssen die „Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen“ und schloss sich später mit der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung und dem ThyssenKrupp Archiv unter Manfred Rasch zusammen. Sie beauftragten über ein Dutzend Akademiker unter der Leitung von Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Günther Schulz und Hans Günter Hockerts, um eine Reihe von Büchern über „Die Thyssens im 20. Jahrhundert“ zu schreiben. Bisher sind zwei Bände veröffentlicht worden: „Die Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus“ von Alexander Donges und „Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen“ von Thomas Urban. Ein dritter Band, “Die Thyssens als Kunstsammler” von Johannes Gramlich, soll im März 2015 erscheinen und danach mindestens fünf weitere Bände.
Obwohl diese Bücher in der Tat einige Eingeständnisse enthalten, so ist der überwiegende Tenor jedoch, dass eine direkte Verantwortung der Thyssens weiterhin nicht akzeptiert wird. Die verschleiernden Verschachtelungen der Missionsaussage können der Zusammenfassung einer Tagung entnommen werden, die zu diesem Projekt im Juni 2014 in der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften stattfand.
In den kommenden Monaten und Jahren werden wir, basierend auf unseren Forschungen und im Interesse der historischen Wahrheitsfindung, unseren Lesern auf dieser Webseite eine detaillierte, kritische Analyse dieser Thyssen-finanzierten „Aufarbeitung“ zur Verfügung stellen.
Tags: Adolf Hitler, Alexander Donges, Aufarbeitung, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Carmen Cervera, Die Thyssens im 20. Jahrhundert, Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Georg Thyssen, Günther Schulz, Hans Günter Hockerts, Heini Thyssen, Johannes Gramlich, Manfred Rasch, Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Nationalsozialismus, Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen, Thomas Urban, ThyssenKrupp, Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG, Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus, Zwangsarbeit, Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen
The most recent event in Tita’s endless odyssey of contradictions followed her sale of The Lock, the inherited Constable painting which she claimed only to be selling due to her shortage of liquidity resulting from Spain’s refusal to pay her for the ‘magnanimous’ loan of her pictures to the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. Presumably she assumed the threatened sale of such an iconic, if rather boring painting would loosen Spain’s purse strings. However, the Spanish government remained steadfast. But Tita soon forgot her claimed liquidity crisis and long before the cash from the sale could possibly have arrived in her coffers, was soon celebrating her financial sponsorship of an archaeological project in Costa Rica and rebranding of herself as, would you believe, a philanthropist!
The sale itself was in fact rather a damp squib. For after much pre-publicity on the part of Christies to convince everyone that collectors would be falling over themselves to bid the paintings price up to stratospheric levels, there turned out to be only one buyer and the only reason it went for the ‘claimed’ £20 million (hammer price) was that according to the auction house, the work was guaranteed to sell courtesy of a third party ‘irrevocable bidder’ that dealers identified as one of Christie’s Russian clients and the UK press refused to mention. Newsweek proved more honest and even quoted Richard L Feigen, the NY based dealer as saying ‘The Constable sold for the price of a second-tier Warhol. It’s ridiculous!’ (A Rothko asking price at Basle Art Fair was $78 million while the Munch pastel drawing on paper went for $120 million at auction.)
Beatrice B Shoemaker gave a more informed, if damming explanation: ‘Third-party guarantees have been distorting the market for some time – conflict of interest being an unknown concept in these parts. The Constable actually sold on its putative reserve. Although Christies boasted this as the best ever Old Master Painting sale, the actual results show that over 50% of the lots sold (hammer price) at or below the low estimate…Current estimates reflect vendors aspirations. The 25% buyers premium is included in the published price, distorting perception, since the vendor gets the hammer price minus whatever fees he managed to negotiate (10/20%)…So next time around, at the time of the resale, the collector naturally wants to recoup his original costs within the reserve. Result: ever higher figures but (with a few spectacular exceptions) illusory profitability for the punters. Cheers!!!!’… In my book Heini Thyssen is quoted as saying: ‘The art business is the dirtiest business in the world.’
Francesca (Habsburg nee Thyssen) criticised Tita for selling the picture but didn’t feel sufficiently concerned to make a bid, while Norman Rosenthal pretended it was the reason he was resigning from The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum board. The more likely reason was in fact the loss of the museums sponsor, Caja Madrid and its lack of any replacement.
Meanwhile, back in Germany ThyssenKrupp’s shares continued their relentless downhill slide as steel demand slumped and their Brazilian and North American plant ‘investments’ spiralled. Rumours of buyers came and went while the organisation finally admitted it was considering withdrawing from the steel business altogether. Their share price fell even faster following the news that ThyssenKrupp, having forgotten one of the first rules of business and ‘shat in their own nest’, had been found guilty of the price fixing of railway lines in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Presumably these were the same railway lines that had been found to contain hairline cracks and had to be replaced by a cheaper and better quality Polish equivalent.
Down the road in Monaco the family firm was suffering from less tangible problems. ‘Baron’ Heini Junior’s Asset Management lost 350 million Euros via Bernie Madoff but more importantly having made the same mistake as ThyssenKrupp by also shitting in his own nest, Georg had accepted 34 million Euros in Monogasque investment in Bernie’s little financial pyramid. Well it turns out that he did so without the appropriate license which not only means that he will be obliged to pay the money back, presumably with interest but could also face five years in the Monaco slammer.
All this appears to have had a positive effect on sales of my book, in both the UK and Germany. And Spain? Well Spain is Spain and much as I love it and the Spanish people, working with the publisher Groupo Planeta has not been easy and I thus find it somewhat predictable to discover that they had been under considerable pressure from Tita to curtail pulication of our book and replace it with hers. As this is the publishing company whose other Thyssen book ‘Carmen Cevera La Baronesa’ accused her mother of being a madam and Tita’s sexual status being perhaps more professional than amateur one presumes that will also shortly be ‘out of print’. All this without even a hint of litigation. Anyway the latest news is that they are scheduled to be bringing out yet another Thyssen book in October which is, according to Tita, Heini’s official memoirs. Well it was certainly not something that he wrote himself, so God knows who did.
And finally, ever since I pointed out to a very grumpy and highly dismissive Francesca that some of my family heirlooms were decorated with a coat of arms that bore an uncanny resemblance to that of the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s, the historian, Rosemary Thorburn has continued to research my family history. Well I can now reveal that the Hungarian Baroness Ottilie von Schossberger was my great (step) grandmother and that the Schossberger girls married into both the Bornemisza and Batthyany families. The former being where both my and the Thyssen’s coat of arms came from. It also gives me as much right (if any such thing actually exits) as any of the existing Thyssen-Bornemiszas to adopt the title of ‘Baron’ David R L Litchfield. If only this family history had been known in 1939 things might have turned out somewhat differently for the Bornemiszas, Batthyanys and Thyssens, for the Schossberger’s were Jewish!
So finally her museum has opened in Malaga. The international public don’t seem particularly interested despite the initial free entry and guest appearances of thirty pictures from Tita’s Madrid collection. But the most important event was the subsequent signing of the contract, which should of course have taken place prior to the pictures’ arrival and the museum opening. The spokesman for the United Left in Malaga’s city council, Mr Pedro Moreno Brenes, even went as far as stating that the signature only happened once the town council had agreed to supply yet further millions to cover running costs.
According to an article in Diariosur Newspaper it also appears that Mrs Thyssen has the right to remove 10% of the pictures permanently and another 15% for up to nine months. So what the Andalucians believe they have invested more than 36 million Euros in may not be quite what they end up with. Already there seems to be some doubt as to the museum’s potential profitability as six million euros of the investment is infact a subsidy for the running of the museum for the next two and a half years. After which the museum is expecting to be able to self-finance – but only fifty percent of the running costs -, which basically means the council will probably have to invest at least another fifteen to twenty million for the full fifteen-year loan, from which Tita claims she will not receive a penny.
At the signing of the agreement a small but vocal group of protesters made their opposition to such extravagance obvious. They were members of a recently formed national group of protesters who are unofficially known as Los Indignados.
There is still no news as to why Tomas Llorens and his assistant, Maria Lopez, left the Carmen Thyssen Museum Malaga in such a hurry. One can only presume it was something they considered financially or legally advisable, or possibly both, while Tita must now be somewhat embarrassed by the fact that Llorens remains on the board of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. It is also rather confusing that the current director of the Madrid museum, Guillermo Solana, continues to promote Tita’s collections despite the fact that the Spanish government has apparently already succeeded in a legal action regarding the passing-off of the Thyssen-Bornemisza “brand”, obgliging her to call her museum Museo Carmen Thyssen rather than Museo Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. God knows how much that cost her to defend or who paid the legal bill for her Malaga venture, considering the tax complications involved with pictures owned by three different offshore trusts!
Anyway, Carmen Thyssen has finally confirmed the rumours that she, like Spain itself, is experiencing financial difficulties. She has even warned the Malaga city council that while she is at present loaning her pictures for ‘nothing’ she will eventually, of course, have to receive some form of recompense. There have also been accusations that she has failed to show-up for a number of museum-related, social events. Hopefully because she was busy with more profitable pursuits.
Drawing by Alagram at STATE Magazine (www.state-media.com)
Tags: Alagram, Carmen Thyssen, Carmen Thyssen Museum, Diariosur Newspaper, Guillermo Solana, Los Indignados, Malaga, Pedro Moreno Brenes, State Magazine, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Tomas Llorens, United Left
|Back in June 2010 we predicted that Germany was due to be subjected to a whitewash documentary about The Thyssen Dynasty; made by Broadway TV for transmission by ARD. We hoped our prediction would be proved wrong, but not a bit of it. In fact the program was even more of a ‘hagiography’ than we had foreseen. It appeared to have been yet another attempt by ThyssenKrupp, doubtless with the assistance and encouragement of The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, to clean-up their past, mainly by omissions rather than lies. Even the members of the Thyssen-Bornemisza main branch of the dynasty were obviously too embarrassed by the whole ghastly project to want to take part. The only exception was Francesca Habsburg who appeared in support of the accusations against Tita Cervera and charges of her responsibility for attempting to steal the family fortune and polute the Thyssens’ ‘noble’ reputation.
Meanwhile the same old historical myths were reheated and served up yet again. We were encouraged to believe that Fritz Thyssen had seen the error of his early support of Hitler and the Reich and paid a heavy price for his resistance. No mention was made concerning his tax evasion and illegal foreign currency transactions. They also claimed him to be considered a German hero for opposing the Versailles Treaty, the allied occupation of The Ruhr and the stringent reparation payments imposed by the allies. This was of course hardly something that could be considered unique. In fact Germany as a nation has been ‘somewhat remiss’ in paying their debts for either World Wars. We were also asked to believe that Fritz had really rather liked Jews and even had some as personal friends.
At the same time, Heini’s father Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza was treated with a great deal less generosity, presumably because, following our revelations, they were obliged to admit that throughout the war he had continued to profit from his industrial contribution in supplying armament for the Reich. It was also made to sound like an activity entirely independent of the Thyssen organisation. Predictably, no mention was made of his banking and financial contribution. They even got Federico Zichy-Thyssen to claim that his uncle’s behaviour had rubbed off on Heini and that his grand-mother had warned him ‘never to do business with Heini’. He didn’t mention that the same grandmother had joined the Nazi party three years before her husband and returned from South America after the war to take charge of the Thyssen organisation and found The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. But he did remind us how much unhappiness his fortune had brought him and how his children constantly fought over their inheritance; which must have sounded familiar to Francesca.
Then the story moved on to the Rechnitz Massacre for which the program makers wheeled in none other than Wolfgang Benz, the retired professor of antisemitism research at Berlin University; the same Wolfgang Benz who originally reacted to my feature in FAZ by denying that the massacre had ever taken place. Making no mention of his original claim, or why he had changed his mind. In an effort to eliminate Margit Batthyany-Thyssen as a suspect he insisted that only uniformed Nazis had been involved in the massacre, though he gave no evidence to support his claim. The program even claimed that Margit hadn’t known about the massacre until she was told the following morning. Paul Gulda, of all people, then insisted that Franz Podezin, one of the main perpetrator, had only been ‘following orders’! He even mentioned the ficticious telephone call that so many apologists claim to have instructed Margit’s lover to shoot the Jews. But the fact that she had helped two of the guilty to escape justice was ignored. I was mentioned as the author of ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ which was dismissed by the program as being inaccurate and disregarded by ‘experts’. They also claimed that I had accused Margit of actually shooting some of the victims of the massacre herself, which I didn’t, despite being quite convinced she did, but unable to prove such an accusation. They insisted it was not a book that should be taken seriously, without giving any reason why they were mentioning it in the first place.
Broadview TV then moved on to more recent times by claiming that Heini, who Simon de Pury described as the best collector of his time, had ‘donated’ his art collection to Spain, while Francesca insisted that the only reason why the Bermudan court case had collapsed was because his children had withdrawn all charges so that their father could die a happy man, despite Tita’s attempts to get her hands on all his money.
Finally the program makers brought ThyssenKrupp back into focus by getting its long-time Chief Executive Dieter Spethmann to say what a deeply wonderful company it was and how much it had contributed to Germany’s wealth, well-being and economic miracle. Since the documentary was shown, the company has announced plans to cut its global workforce by some 25% and admitted that the recent sale of shares was an effort to reduce its enormous debts.
It is doubtfull that even such a misleading documentary could have any effect on the fortunes of ThyssenKrupp or the Thyssen families (either Zichy or Bornemisza) but if the program had been more accurate and less misleading at least, ThyssenKrupp, The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, ARD and Germany’s academia may have retained some degree of credibility.
Tags: ARD, Berlin University, Broadway TV, Dieter Spethmann, Federico Zichy-Thyssen, Francesca Habsburg, Franz Podezin, Fritz Thyssen, Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, Paul Gulda, Rechnitz Massacre, Simon de Pury, ThyssenKrupp, Tita Cervera, Wolfgang Benz
+ + + + + RECHNITZ MASSACRE BURIAL SITE FINALLY REVEALED + + + + + GRABSTELLE DES MASSAKERS VON RECHNITZ ENDLICH PREISGEGEBEN + + +
|At 17:00 hours on Sunday, 20 March 2011, one week before the sixty-sixth anniversary of the massacre of 180 Jewish slave workers by guests at a party given by Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza, I received a telephone call.
The caller, a resident of Rechnitz, informed me that the location of the victims´ burial was ´to the left (north-east) of the town´s Catholic cemetery´.
Apparently, after the war, following the relocation of the military war heroes cemetery, a decision was made to refill their empty, unmarked graves with the remains of the Jewish victims. The decision had been made by the local authorities who had arranged for the temporary release from jail of Hildegard Stadler, one of the perpetrators of the atrocity, who then led them to the site of the original burial.
Despite previous denials, it now seems reasonable to assume that the local authorities, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, some members of the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Batthyany families and many residents of Rechnitz have always been aware of these facts.
If the residents of Rechnitz are now admitting the truth, hopefully the Austrian authorities and the two families involved will follow their example.
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Um 17 Uhr am Sonntag, 20. März 2011, eine Woche vor dem 66. Jahrestag des Massakers an 180 jüdischen Zwangsarbeitern während eines von Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza gegebenen Festes, bekam ich einen Telefonanruf.
Der Anrufer, ein Einwohner von Rechnitz, teilte mir mit, dass die Grabstelle der Opfer sich ´links (nord-östlich) vom katholischen Friedhof´ befinde.
Anscheinend wurde nach dem Krieg, nach der Überführung des Heldenfriedhofs, die Entscheidung getroffen, dessen leere, unmarkierte Gräber mit den Überresten der jüdischen Opfer aufzufüllen. Die Entscheidung wurde durch die örtlichen Behörden getätigt, die kurzzeitig Hildegard Stadler, eine der Akteure des Massakers, auf freien Boden setzten, um von ihr zur ursprünglichen Grabstelle geführt zu werden.
Trotz bisheriger Leugnungen scheint es also, als dürfe man annehmen, dass die örtlichen Behörden, das österreichische Innenministerium, manche Mitglieder der Familien Thyssen-Bornemisza und Batthyany und viele Einwohner von Rechnitz sich dieser Fakten schon immer bewusst waren.
Wenn die Einwohner von Rechnitz nunmehr die Wahrheit zugeben, dann werden die österreichischen Behörden und die beiden Familien hoffentlich ihrem Beispiel folgen.
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Kommentar am 23.03.2011 von Herrn Dieter Szorger, Abteilung 7 – Kultur, Wissenschaft, Bildung – Burgenländische Landesregierung, A-Eisenstadt:
Sehr geehrter Herr Litchfield
Ich würde mir wünschen, dass die im Artikel skizzierten Fakten stimmen und dass das Grab endgültig gefunden wird. Vielleicht sogar im Zuge der Grabungsarbeiten, die am Gelände um den Kreuzstadl in den nächsten Monaten starten werden, wenn das Open-Air-Museum des Vereins Refugius eröffnet wird.
Bezüglich des Wahrheitsgehalts der oben skizzierten These bin ich aber eher skeptisch, muss aber zugeben, dass ich die örtlichen Rahmenbedingungen dafür zu wenig kenne.
Comment on 23.03.2011 by Mr Dieter Szorger, Department 7 – Culture, Science, Education – Burgenland County Government, A-Eisenstadt:
Dear Mr Litchfield
I would hope that the facts sketched in the article were true and that the grave can finally be found. Perhaps even during the excavations, which will begin within the next few months in the area around Kreuzstadl, when the open air museum of the Refugius society will be opened.
As to whether the above sketched thesis contains any truth, I remain somewhat sceptical, although I have to admit to not being familiar enough with the specific local conditions.
Silvia Hl, Madrid: ´Hopefully the massacred Jewish will find justice after all. Hopefully the assassins will also find themselves in front of that same justice.´
Eva Dabara, Tel Aviv: ´Startling, staggering story you´ve brought here, David´.
Michel van Rijn, Western Cape: ´Great work, David. What a story!´
Tags: Austrian Ministry of the Interior, Batthyany, Burgenland County Government, Burgenländische Landesregierung, Dieter Szorger, Eisenstadt, Heldenfriedhof, Hildegard Stadler, Jewish slave workers, jüdische Zwangsarbeiter, katholischer Friedhof Rechnitz, Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza, military war heroes cemetery, österreichisches Innenministerium, Rechnitz Catholic cemetery, Rechnitz Massacre