|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).
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