‘The Thyssen Dynasty – A Masterclass In The Unacceptable Face Of Capitalism’
Book Review by Dr Erika Abcynski, Dormagen, Germany (translated by Caroline Schmitz):
‘David R L Litchfield has written a book about the Thyssen family from the founding of the Thyssen Concern to its collapse. Litchfield has assembled much interesting information about the Thyssens and thus about German capitalism per se.
As early as the founding of the first Thyssen works in 1870 August Thyssen combined greed, cleverness and sharp practice against his first business partner and brother-in-law as well as the elimination of competitors and the procurement of capital through marriage. Indeed, he concealed from his brother-in-law that he wanted to found his own rolling work in direct competition to him. The company Bechem & Keetman in Duisburg had to produce machinery exclusively for him. In the area surrounding Duisburg nobody but August Thyssen was able to buy machinery for a rolling work.
For the workers of the Thyssen works there was the rule of carrot and stick. “August’s expectations of his workers were very simple and straightforward. He expected them to abide by the ‘Reglement’, work very hard with the minimum of waste in time or materials, and produce as much as their engineer managers could get out of them…..The Meisters were expected to act as sub-contracting entrepreneurs rather than production or workshop supervisors of their respective departments”.
“The workers… remained entrapped by the Thyssens’ policy of supplying, and owning, all the worker’s needs ‘on-site’. The story, baths, canteens and lodging houses were all a man had time to need.” (quoted from David Litchfield, ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie’). People were fired for minute transgressions. In 1928 the Thyssen-brothers Fritz and Heinrich locked out 225,000 workers for one month. Through the ownership of 67,000 workers’ lodgings, pressure could be exerted on the workforce and the government could be blackmailed through the threat of mass redundancies.
The Thyssen balance sheet for 1912 claimed the value of the Concern to be 562,153,182 Reichsmark. Before and during the First World War, there was strong collaboration between Thyssen and the Imperial government. One of August Thyssen’s friends was Hjalmar Schacht, later Hitler’s Economics Minister. Thyssens armaments production for German increased. By 1918, practically the whole enterprise produced for the war. The founding of firms in The Netherlands safeguarded Thyssen assets in case the war would be lost. Furthermore, tricks were used through the Thyssen-owned Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart NV and assets safeguarded. Using the Hungarian citizenship of the Thyssen-son Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, topped by a residency in the Netherlands, the Thyssen fortune was protected from allied confiscation, also after 1945. Heinrich Thyssen had married the daughter of the Hungarian Baron Bornemisza and had had himself adopted by his father-in-law in order to gain the title of Baron.
In 1923 there were the first contacts to Hitler. Fritz Thyssen knew about the plans for the putsch. He donated 100,000 Goldmarks for the National Socialist Party. He liked the fact that Hitler wanted to sort out the workers’ movement once and for all. At the beginning of the 1940s, Fritz Thyssen conceded that he had donated 62 million Reichsmark to the Nazi party over a 12 year period. Göring was one of his friends. In 1933 Fritz Thyssen joined the Nazi party, his wife had done so even earlier.
Tax evasion was an important business tool for the Thyssens. From 1919 to 1939 there were constant investigations by the financial authorities. In 1939 the Tax Directorate in Düsseldorf was able to prove that Fritz Thyssen had committed tax evasion and illegal foreign currency transactions, which Hitler had declared to be a capital offense. A fearful Fritz left for Switzerland on 1. September 1939, then moved to France. All his assets were placed by Göring under the trusteeship of Prussia and managed by joint friends and business partners of the two men. In other words, it was not his enmity against Hitler or any concerns about the mistreatment of Jews that led to Fritz Thyssen’s persecution, but the fact he was lining his own pockets. From the 1930s the Thyssens once again made money from armaments production, but also began simultaneously, just like August Thyssen during WWI, to safeguard their fortune, for instance in the USA and in South America. August Thyssen Hütte had nine POW-camps and seventeen camps for forced labourers. Heinrich Thyssen lived in Switzerland, led the affairs of his firms from there and continued to do business with the Nazis, but not publicly. From 1941 onwards he made his son Heini attend the meetings in Switzerland with the managers of his enterprises, which were also sometimes attended by Baron von Schröder of the Nazi bank Stein in Cologne, who was the trustee for Fritz’s confiscated industrial shares.
The most disgraceful story which members of the Thyssen family were involved in, is the murder of 200 Jews at Rechnitz Castle, where the eldest daughter of Heinrich Thyssen, Margit Batthyany, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, lived with her husband, Count Batthyany, and high-ranking Nazis and SS-officers. During the night of 24 March 1945 the Ortsgruppen-leader Podezin, a Gestapo-official, left a party hosted by Count and Countess Batthyany with guests to shoot the Jews. The victims were 200 half-starved Jews who had been declared unfit for work. Local people said that Podezin had been in the habit of shooting Jews who were locked up in the castle cellars and that the Countess had enjoyed watching these events. After the war neither Margit nor other members of the Thyssen family wanted to know anything about this massacre and they were never prosecuted for it.
Litchfield has also assembled much information about the behaviour of the Americans and the British towards the Thyssens. For fear of the communists the Thyssens were handed back all of their fortune, works, shares and gold, despite their role in the Third Reich.
After 1945, Heinrich Thyssen transferred his role within the Thyssen Bornemisza Group to his son Heini Thyssen. But he did not much care for the Concern. Rather, he spent most of his time with sharing out his fortune. Other than that he had many relationships with glamorous, high society women and with the excesses of alcoholism. As a form of investment he bought many hundreds of paintings which were first exhibited and stored at his father’s villa in Switzerland. August Thyssen had started the art collection by buying works of Rodin, also as an investment. When Heini realised, that the maintenance of his collection was expensive, he searched for another way of handling it. Here he used all of his business acumen and various goods contacts, thus managing to sell about half of his art works to the Spanish state for 350 million dollars, payable free of tax, outside Spain, having first loaned the collection to the Spanish for 5 million dollars a year. The Spanish state met all costs for the use of the Thyssen pictures as a permanent public display.
The facts assembled in this review represent only a tiny fraction of the innumerable data painstakingly collected by Litchfield, which illustrate the greed and corruption of the Thyssens. The book is over 500 pages long and a thrilling read, the part about Heini Thyssen is somewhat too extensive.’
Tags: Adolf Hitler, Alcoholism, Armaments Production, August Thyssen, Auguste Rodin, Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, Bankhaus J. H. Stein, Duisburg, First World War, Forced Labour, Fritz Thyssen, Heini Thyssen, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Hermann Göring, Kurt von Schröder, Margit Batthyany, National Socialist Party, Rechnitz Castle, Second World War, Thyssen Dynasty, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection
Add a Comment Trackback