Posts Tagged ‘Adolf Hitler’

The indispensability of “impertinence” or An explanation to a Berlin book blogger concerning Sacha Batthyany and the Thyssen-Bornemiszas (by Caroline D Schmitz)

The aggressiveness of the reaction of many German-speaking commentators following our article in the Feuilleton of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2007, „The Hostess from Hell“ (previously published in Britain in The Independent under the title „The Killer Countess“), has always shocked me deeply. Here was the powerful Thyssen dynasty, who not just kept quiet about their overwhelming participation in the National Socialist regime, but who had their role pro-actively denied through the propagation of misleading reports. And there were we, an English author and a German researcher, who chance had brought together in England in 1995 and who, through a very small number of outstanding personalities, namely Steven Bentinck, Heini Thyssen, Naim Attallah, George Weidenfeld, Frank Schirrmacher and Ernst Gerlach, were put into the lucky position of being able to pierce the narrative of the corporate-academic-media establishment on the subject of Thyssen and save the truth from being entombed.

From the beginning, we were „impertinent“ in the original sense of the word which is „not being part of (the establishment)“, and our research always took place at the original locations. We did not learn of the Rechnitz massacre on the Internet, but in Rechnitz itself and from Rechnitz people. At the time our article was published in FAZ, we knew nothing of Eduard Erne, who had made a documentary film on the event entitled “Totschweigen” (i.e. “Silencing to Death”) as far back as 1994 (and who currently works for Swiss television), or of Paul Gulda, who in 1991 founded the Rechnitz Refugee and Commemoration Initiative (Refugius). When we met them both at the Rechnitz-symposium at the Burgenland County Museum in Eisenstadt (Austria) in 2008, they too treated us in an unfriendly manner, which we thought could only be because they felt we had ignored their work on purpose. This was not the case and moreover, because of us, their work was now much more prominent than before. So why were they attacking us and protecting the Thyssens and the Batthyanys who had obviously rejected or ignored their work in the past?

Now, a decade later, a sizeable statement by a member of the dynasty, Sacha Batthyany, has been published in Germany in the form of the book „What’s that to do with me?“, and is due to be released in Great Britain by Quercus in March 2017 (translator: Anthea Bell) under the title „A Crime in the Family“, (a line remarkably similar to the cover headline „Shame and scandal in the family“ we used on our book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“, and which was a statement originally made to us by Heini Thyssen himself). Great efforts of promotion are being lavished on Mr Batthyany’s book, which is to be distributed as widely as Israel and the USA.

In his press work, Sacha Batthyany tirelessly pretends that it was „chance“ that he came across the negative sides of his family history and in particular the Rechnitz massacre. He says it was all „unknown“ until one day he started investigating things of which he knew absolutely nothing before, which he says is because he grew up in the „padded“ country of Switzerland, where one knows nothing, for instance, about the Second World War… This from a journalist, whose family was financially supported by the Thyssens’ wartime profiteering organised from Switzerland, who is a member of one of the most influential European (originally Austro-Hungarian) dynasties, has studied in Madrid, has worked for various big international newspapers (e.g. Neue Zürcher Zeitung) and spent a big part of his youth not in Zurich, but in Salzburg (although he admits the latter very exclusively only when he happens to be speaking in the major Austrian towns of Salzburg or Vienna – his press work does not seem to have led him to the Burgenland provinces of Eisenstadt or Rechnitz so far, whose mayor Engelbert Kenyeri, poignantly, does not seem to be too impressed by Batthyany’s book).

Even FAZ (Sandra Kegel), which during its original coverage of our story had to fend off huge ill will from Neue Zürcher Zeitung and others and without whom the German-speaking version of our book would not be available, now withheld mention of our impulse and, as so many others showered by the promotion of the Kiepenheuer & Witsch publishing house, praised Batthyany’s work as a heroic act of self-motivated honesty. And this despite the fact that his book would not exist if FAZ, ten years ago, had not had the courage to allow our „impertinence“, thereby exposing itself to the risk of serious reputational attack at the hands of their rivals in the media.

At the end of May, the Berlin book blogger „Devona“ (, having reviewed 75 works of fiction, decided to review a non-fiction audio book for the first time in her life and chose „What’s that to do with me?“ to do so. In her review, she made statements about the role of Margit Batthyany nee Thyssen-Bornemisza in the Rechnitz massacre, which, according to the rudimentary state of her knowledge about the case, were not hers to make. For instance, she described the fact that Margit covered up for two main perpetrators of the crime after the war as mere „conjecture“. So we wrote a comment to her, pointing out the inaccuracy and coarse fatality of her statement. Even the statement concerning the Rechnitz massacre on the official website of the Batthyany family, which is still far from extensive enough, has been admitting for a few years now that this cover-up did happen. So why should an anonymous person, who is obviously not part of the family, disseminate contradictory information?

Devona reacted at great speed and very angrily to the content of our critical analysis. Then she revised her reaction. Now, it was no longer so much the content of our criticism that angered her, as our manner of expressing it, which she alleged to be „impertinent“. And then the author of „Buchimpressionen“ did something truly astonishing. She first took off the name of the German version of our Thyssen book („Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos“) from her platform, which had been part of our statement. She then accused us of not having provided the German public with a German-speaking version of our work. When she subsequently found out that a German version of our book has existed since 2008, she refused to recognise this fact, because, as she said, „to this day Wikipedia does not refer to a German version“.

The blogger now added that she would „not research to the ends of the Internet after every commentator“. But in truth she had not researched anywhere near the ends of the Internet, she had come to rest at its very first stop. Our book on the Thyssens exists in German, but for Devona it did not exist in German, because on Wikipedia it did not say that it exists in German. This was so indicative of German-speakers’ refusal to engage with the factual content of our book. Was this information handler just too lazy or did she not want to know about the correction? Devona’s statements, in their unfiltered emotionality, were highly revelatory. She had now also stopped addressing me and directed herself exclusively to „Mr Litchfield“, as if the book were the product of an Englishman only and not an English-German co-production.

Wikipedia as a reference point is problematic to us, particularly because FAZ in 2007, during the translation of our article from English to German, carried out several changes to our text, after, amongst other things, conversations with the presumptious head of the ThyssenKrupp archives, Professor Manfred Rasch, and after checking various Wikipedia-pages. The most important one of these changes is this: Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza did not settle permanently in Switzerland in 1932, i.e. one year before Adolf Hitler came to power, but only in 1938, as we found out during our research. The Independent article said 1938, but the FAZ article says 1932. People with adequate historical knowledge know what that means and the roles of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and of Switzerland during the Second World War have been explained at length in our book. To the less experienced we say simply this: it is a swap that might appear tiny, and which yet has a meaning that is both fundamental and monumental.

Devona thought of our comments to her as being „impertinent“, although they were merely strict. And she refused emphatically to look into the matter in a way that was befitting its gravity. The „impertinence“ of the matter, however, does not lie with us. The outrageousness and the aberration lies with the crimes that were committed in the name of the German people during the Second World War. The impertinence lies with the fact that the Thyssens (who had married into and financed parts of the Batthyany family) gave aid to the anti-democratic, grievously inhumane Nazi-regime, that they set the parameters in which the monstrous crimes against above all the Jews, but also against other people, including the crimes against the German people and their honour, could be carried out. It is impertinent that they have remained silent about it for 70 years, have denied their role and glorified their deeds. It is impertinent that they, in short, have misled the general public and that in large parts they continue to do so. It is only because of their behaviour that this book blogger at this time was still able to express her assumption of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen’s guiltlessness.

The families in question enjoy a comfortable supremacy in society, within the public discourse and in the „regard“ of people, based on their membership of both the world of the financially privileged and of the aristocracy. (NB: the latter is strictly long since defunct both in Germany and in Austria and can be accepted in a democracy only if it does behave in an impeccably democratic manner). Furthermore their status is due to the fact that ThyssenKrupp is still one of the major German employers and that the coal and steel industries, which the Thyssens were unfortunately allowed to continue to control after 1945, helped prevent a total collapse of the country following the Second World War (as Herbert Grönemeyer sings in his song „Bochum“: „your pit gold lifted us up again“).

In arch-conservative Austria, the Batthyanys (who Sacha Batthyany obviously considers himself part of and vice-a-versa, as he lets himself be and is pictured in their midst on their homepage – last row, second from right in the big group picture of the younger generation) continue to have a special status which derives from their long feudal history (the current head of the clan, Count Ladislaus Pascal Batthyany-Strattmann, is a Gentleman of the Papal Household!…).

In view of this, the general public continues „pertinently“ to content itself with its submissive role of being recipients of Thyssen and Batthyany misinformation. One member of the dynasty, Sacha Batthyany, has now written a book, which purports to be an honest examination of the past. But not everyone remains convinced (see in particular Thomas Hummitzsch in “Der Freitag”, but also Michael André on Getidan, and even Luzia Braun, Blue Sofa, Leipzig Book Fair).

Most of the commentators of the Rechnitz massacre say they agree that the graves of the victims have to be found. But while local people have claimed they know where the graves are and the original Russian investigations certainly located them, not everyone amongst the more powerful members of the community, both past and present, seem to be equally willing to contribute to such transparency.

While it appears to be utopic to hope that this might change, times have moved on rapidly since 2007, when our book first appeared. Thyssenkrupp is now an ailing colossus, whose name quite possibly might not exist in its present form in the foreseeable future, following a sale or take-over of all or parts. And German legislation concerning the prosecution of Nazi crimes no longer assumes automatic guiltlessness if a direct participation in acts of killing cannot be proven. A presence and role in the overall crime suffices, and an administrative office some distance away from a gas chamber is close enough for its essential contribution to the effectiveness of the killing machine to be proven. The same goes in the case of Rechnitz for the castle (which was requisitioned by the SS but continued to be financed by the Thyssens) and the Rechnitz murder pit of the night of 24/25 March 1945.

Today it is still mainly the small fish that get dragged before the courts, people such as John Demjanjuk, Oskar Gröning and Reinhold Hanning. But the clock of historical honesty is ticking relentlessly for the big fish too, who still are not working through their past voluntarily and comprehensively. Those Thyssens and Batthyanys, who played unsavoury roles during the Second World War, are dead. It is the democratic duty of their descendants finally to cut through the web of misinformation and stick by not only the positive sides of their history but the negative sides too. Only through their confession can the general public learn the last serious lessons from this history. Only then can permanent healing and reconciliation happen.

But the Thyssen-Bornemiszas and Batthyanys, it seems, do not wish this to happen, possibly because a free, enlightened, democratic public can be better controlled through unsettling, divisive manipulation. The history of the Holocaust could be comprehensively settled by now, if these families had not shirked their responsibilities. The German people could finally be released from a continuation of the drip-drip-drip of Aufarbeitung which is so bone-grinding and thereby effectively counter-productive, if these families did now come clean and accepted the fact that our book is an accurate, independent, historical record.

Deep in the souls of the German and Austrian people, the names Thyssen and Batthyany are inextricably linked to the feelings of honour and pride. However, these families (the Thyssen-Bornemiszas through their head Georg Thyssen, board member of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and backer of the series „Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century“ (which so far does not mention the Rechnitz massacre at all) and the Batthyanys through their head Count Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattmann, backer of the tomes „The Batthyany Family. An Austro-Hungarian Dynasty of Magnates from the End of the Middle Ages until Today“, which rejects outright any involvement of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in the Rechnitz massacre!) fail to act honourably by avoiding independent scrutiny and controlling their cooperation in authorised historical publications.

Their shielding leads to a situation where even Germans and Austrians who are anti-Nazi, or purport to be so, cannot recognise the full extent of the Holocaust and thus unwittingly help cover up the true nature of some Nazi crimes, such as the Rechnitz massacre, a process that can all too easily appear to be that of a silent approval.

In the case of Germans and Austrians this is of course particularly devastating. But this kind of dodging is also especially contraindicated for citizens of supposedly „neutral“ countries such as Switzerland, and particularly for Sacha Batthyany. The number of statements he makes in his book and in his press work that are offensive, such as „Marga and Mirta had the Holocaust that they could hold on to. What did I have?“, is also inacceptable.

As long as Sacha Batthyany will continue to claim sympathy rather than guilt for the questionable honesty of his revelations, we will be persistent in this matter. And that is not an „impertinence“. It is our holy duty.

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An admission of the Batthyany-Thyssens’ guilt – served through a revolving door

UND WAS HAT DAS MIT MIR ZU TUN? or ‘What’s That To Do With Me?’ may or may not have literary merit. As far as I am concerned, the point is irrelevant. Sacha Batthyany is, in my considered opinion and by way of fair comment, an arrogant, self-obsessed, duplicitous, redundant Hungarian aristocrat, whose small book struggles to qualify as non-fiction, while his conflict of interest becomes ever more obvious.

I would have to admit to not feeling particularly charitable towards Sacha Batthyany as the result of his criticism of the accuracy of my writing, which he claims to have been the inspiration for his book. It is however noticeable that while I reveal my sources of information, he fails to do so, apart from making much of his reliance on both his grandmother’s diaries (which he mysteriously plans to destroy; after he has revealed their edited contents) and the diaries of one of his family’s Jewish victims.

But as well as admitting to owing Sacha Batthyany a debt of gratitude for confirming that the Rechnitz massacre did indeed take place and that his ‘Aunt’ Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) was indeed involved, I do have to admit to his skill in achieving another, quite remarkable objective. By means of literary alchemy and without any formal qualifications (apart from a diploma in journalism) or reliance on academic research, Sacha Batthyany has turned his rigors of guilt into a burden of condemnation and vilification, that could well result in large sales, behind which he and many like him can hide their aforementioned guilt without the need to any longer rely on the somewhat tired excuse for their forefathers’ crimes as having only been the result of ‘obeying orders’.

Sacha Batthyany also manages to hide what comes close to being displays of anti-Semitism behind his stance on what he claims to be a Jewish involvement in the development of communism. His virulent anti-communism and spectacular demonization of Josef Stalin will find a sympathetic ear amongst those, including many English and Americans, who will agree that Stalin’s crimes against humanity were so much worse than those of Adolf Hitler. But his main bone of contention with the communists appears to be an insistence that they were responsible for the loss of the land, power and glory of the Batthyany family; forgetting to remind his readers that in the case of Rechnitz Castle (nee Batthyany Castle), they had in fact lost the same along with five thousand acres of land to more financially potent owners (and ultimately the Thyssens) well before 1906.

Sacha Batthyany’s coverage of the Rechnitz massacre in 1945 only forms a small part of his book; almost by way of a prologue. He favours the Austrian authorities’ version of events and repeats the familiar claim that the Jews were only killed to prevent the spread of typhoid, and in direct response to a telephone call received at Rechnitz castle from a higher order. He casts doubt over the presence of ‘Aunt’ Margit’s husband, Ivan Batthyany, on the fateful night. He also denies all the evidence given to him by the late Josef Hotwagner, the town’s historian. He repudiates our evidence, ignores the published results of the Russian investigation and accuses the people of Rechnitz of looting the castle rather than accepting the evidence that they were attempting to extinguish the blaze that the fleeing German soldiers had been responsible for starting in order to prevent the building’s use by the invading Red Army (part of the Nero Decree, the local implementation of which would have been the much more likely overall reason for said ‘telephone call’).

This same derogatory attitude towards the local residents of Rechnitz had also been voiced by Christine Batthyany back in 2007 in answer to questioning by the Jewish Chronicle. She denied any complicity in the massacre on the part of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen and claimed that conflicting reports had been ‘spread by resentful villagers’. In light of the fact that prior to the 20th century, the town and the surrounding estate had been a fiefdom, ruled over by the Batthyanys, who were to become, like the Thyssens, Nazi collaborators, it is perhaps understandable that some of the villagers might have lacked a relationship rich in warmth and brotherly love; though Sacha insists that the town’s people were ‘embarrassingly’ deferential to him.

Sacha Batthyany completes his coverage of the Rechnitz massacre with an unsupported claim that he was ‘certain’ that ‘Aunt’ Margit ‘had not been shooting…… She did not kill Jews, as the papers were writing. There is no evidence. There are no witnesses…’. Though of course he can’t be certain. I never claimed that she had personally shot any Jews but, as witnesses had reported her apparent pleasure in watching Jewish forced labourers, who had been kept in the cellars of the castle, being beaten and killed, and as she was trained in the use of fire-arms, it seemed highly likely.

So, having appeased the families’ (both Thyssen and Batthyany) conscience concerning the Rechnitz massacre, but displayed little in the way of apologetic concern for the deaths of one hundred and eighty Jews, or the fact that his branch of the family continued for many years to rely on the profits of the German war machine via ‘Aunt’ Margit, Sacha Batthyany then moved on to address his family’s other crimes against humanity in support of his self-obsessive search for absolution. He should perhaps be reminded that as a result of his great-aunt’s financial support and granting of a safehaven for Sacha’s branch of the family, Margit’s brother Heini Thyssen was of the opinion that they were little more than a bunch of ineffectual scroungers. This somewhat extreme opinion was possibly understandable if, as Heini claimed, one appreciates the fact that Margit’s husband ‘Ivy’ displayed his socially superior attitude towards the Thyssens by having an affair with Heini Thyssen’s first wife, Princess Theresa zu Lippe Bisterfeld Weissenfeld.

Finally, I was somewhat surprised that the beleaguered UBS bank, who admittedly need all the good press they can get, invested sponsorship in this book; as did an ominous Swiss entity called the Goethe Foundation. So far, none of the Thyssens or the Batthyanys (and in particular those branches of the family who did not succumb to a convenient dependency on Thyssen finance) have seen fit to make any statement concerning ‘What’s That To Do With Me?’; particularly in the form of thanking Sacha Batthyany for his presumably much appreciated reassurance concerning the Rechnitz massacre. We await further developments in this direction with interest.

Saint Sacha, replacing the conscience of the guilty with the suffering of the innocent (photo copyright: Maurice Haas)

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Ein Eingeständnis der Schuld der Batthyany-Thyssens – serviert durch eine Drehtür

UND WAS HAT DAS MIT MIR ZU TUN? mag einen literarischen Wert haben, oder auch nicht; insoweit es mich angeht ist dieser Punkt ohne Belang. Im Sinne der sachlichen Kritik, und meiner wohlüberlegten Ansicht nach, ist Sacha Batthyany ein arroganter, ichbesessener, scheinheiliger, überholter ungarischer Adeliger, dessen kleines Buch sich schwer dabei tut, den Stellenwert eines Sachbuchs zu erreichen, während der Interessenkonflikt seines Autors immer offensichtlicher wird.

Ich müsste zugeben, Sacha Batthyany gegenüber nicht besonders nachsichtig eingestellt zu sein, was mit seiner Kritik an der Genauigkeit meiner Arbeit zusammenhängt, von der er behauptet, sie sei der Anlass für sein Buch gewesen. Während ich die Quellen meiner Information offenlege ist es jedoch auffallend, dass er dies seinerseits nicht tut, abgesehen von einem hochstilisierten Zurückgreifen auf die Tagebücher seiner Großmutter (die er seltsamerweise plant zu vernichten, nachdem er deren bearbeiteten Inhalt veröffentlicht hat), sowie auf die Tagebücher eines der jüdischen Opfer seiner Familie.

Doch ausser einer gewissen Dankbarkeit für Sacha Batthyany’s Bestätigung, dass das Rechnitz-Massaker tatsächlich stattgefunden hat, und dass seine “Tante” Margit Batthyany (geborene Thyssen-Bornemisza) tatsächlich beteiligt war, muss ich auch eingestehen, dass er einen weiteren, ganz bemerkenswerten Zweck mit großer Fertigkeit erreicht. Durch eine Art literarische Alchemie und ohne jegliche formale Qualifikation (ausser einem Journalismus-Diplom) oder beruhen auf wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnissen hat Sacha Batthyany die Härte der Schuld (ein selbstauferlegtes Gefühl, welches Scham hervorruft) in eine Last der oktroyierten Verunglimpfung verwandelt (wodurch er Mitleid für sich erweckt). Dies könnte durchaus in großen Verkaufszahlen Ausdruck finden, hinter denen er und weitere Gleichgesinnte ihre erwähnte Schuld verbergen können, ohne weiterhin auf die mittlerweile ausgediente Floskel zurückfallen zu müssen, dass die Verbrechen der Vorfahren nur auf ihrem “Befehlsgehorsam” gründeten.

Es gelingt Sacha Batthyany auch, einige Momente in denen er einer Demonstration von Anti-Semitismus sehr nahe kommt, hinter seiner Haltung gegenüber der von ihm angegebenen jüdischen Rolle in der Entwicklung des Kommunismus zu verbergen. Sein virulenter Anti-Kommunismus und seine spektakuläre Dämonisierung Josef Stalins wird bei denen ein offenes Ohr finden (viele davon auch in England und Amerika), die ebenfalls der Meinung sind, dass Stalins Verbrechen so viel schlimmer waren als die von Adolf Hitler. Aber sein größter Stein des Anstoßes gegenüber den Kommunisten scheint sein Beharren darauf zu sein, sie seien dafür verantwortlich gewesen, dass die Familie Batthyany ihr Land, ihre Macht und ihren Ruhm verlor; wobei er vergisst, seine Leser darauf hinzuweisen, dass im Fall des Rechnitzer Schlosses (ehemals Schloss Batthyany), seine Familie es, zusammen mit fünf tausend Morgen Land, vielmehr weit vor 1906 an finanziell besser situierte Besitzer (und schlussendlich an die Thyssens) abtreten musste.

Sacha Batthyanys Beschäftigung mit dem Rechnitz-Massaker von 1945 bildet nur einen kleinen Teil seines Buches; quasi nichts weiter als einen Prolog. Er bevorzugt die offizielle Version der Geschehnisse durch die österreichischen Behörden und wiederholt die altbekannte Angabe, die Juden seien nur getötet worden, um die Ausbreitung des Fleckfiebers zu unterbinden und als direkte Konsequenz eines Telefonanrufs, der von höherer Stelle im Rechnitzer Schloss einging. Er sät Zweifel an der Anwesenheit von “Tante” Margits Ehemann, Ivan Batthyany, in der verhängnisvollen Nacht. Auch weist er alle Beweise zurück, die ihm vom verstorbenen Historiker des Städtchens, Josef Hotwagner, zur Verfügung gestellt wurden. Er lehnt unsere Beweise ab, ignoriert die veröffentlichten Resultate der russischen Untersuchungen und beschuldigt die Einwohner von Rechnitz, das Schloss geplündert zu haben, statt dass er die Hinweise akzeptiert, dass sie vielmehr versuchten, das Feuer zu löschen, welches die flüchtenden deutschen Soldaten gelegt hatten, um eine Nutzung des Gebäudes durch die herannahende Rote Armee zu verhindern (dies ein Teil des Nero-Befehls, dessen örtlicher Vollzug ein viel wahrscheinlicherer, übergreifender Grund für den erwähnten “Telefonanruf” gewesen sein dürfte).

Die gleiche abwertende Haltung den Einwohnern von Rechnitz gegenüber wurde schon von Christine Batthyany in Beantwortung von Fragen des Jewish Chronicle 2007 an den Tag gelegt. Sie stritt jegliche Teilhaberschaft von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen am Massaker ab und behauptete, dass gegenteilige Angaben von “missgünstigen Dorfbewohnern verbreitet” worden seien. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass Rechnitz mit umliegendem Landbesitz vor dem 20. Jahrhundert ein Lehnsgut war, über das die Batthyanys regierten, die, wie die Thyssens, Nazi Kollaborateure wurden, ist es vielleicht verständlich, dass einige Einwohner nicht unbedingt voll von Wärme und brüderlicher Liebe waren; obschon Sacha Batthyany darauf besteht, dass die Rechnitzer Bürger, die er traf, “peinlich” unterwürfig ihm gegenüber auftraten.

Sacha Batthyany vervollständigt seinen Kommentar zum Rechnitz-Massaker mit einer ungestützten Aussage, dass er “sicher” sei, dass “Tante Margit nicht geschossen hat…..Sie hat keine Juden ermordet, wie die Zeitungen behaupten. Es gibt keine Beweise. Es gibt keine Zeugen.” Obwohl er natürlich nicht sicher sein kann. Ich habe nie behauptet, dass sie persönlich Juden erschossen hat, aber, da Zeugen ausgesagt hatten, dass sie ein offensichtliches Wohlgefallen dabei hatte, zuzuschauen wie jüdische Zwangsarbeiter, die im Keller des Schlosses untergebracht waren, geschlagen und getötet wurden, und da sie in der Benutzung von Feuerwaffen versiert war, war es äusserst wahrscheinlich.

Nachdem er nun das Gewissen von beiden Familien (sowohl Thyssen als auch Batthyany) hinsichtlich des Rechnitz-Massakers beschwichtigt hat, ohne dabei viel an sich entschuldigender Betroffenheit über den Tod von hundert achtzig Juden an den Tag zu legen, (oder angesichts der Tatsache, dass sein Zweig der Familie sich noch viele weitere Jahre auf die Profite der deutschen Kriegsmaschinerie, via “Tante” Margit, verlassen hat), ging Sacha Batthyany dazu über, weitere Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit in seiner Familie anzusprechen, um damit seine ichbesessene Suche nach Absolution zu befriedigen. Man sollte ihn vielleicht daran erinnern, dass die finanzielle Unterstützung seines Zweiges der Familie durch seine Großtante und ihre Bereitstellung eines sicheren Hafens für sie, Margits Bruder Heini Thyssen zu der Äußerung veranlasste, sie seien nichts weiter als eine Bande untauglicher Schmarotzer. Diese etwas extreme Meinung wird möglicherweise verständlich, wenn man sich Heinis Aussage vor Augen hält, dass Margits Ehemann “Ivy” eine Affäre mit Heini Thyssens erster Frau, Prinzessin Theresa zu Lippe Bisterfeld Weissenfeld unterhielt, um seinen gesellschaftlich höher gestellten Rang den Thyssens gegenüber auszudrücken.

Erstaunlich fand ich es letztlich auch, dass die angeschlagene UBS Bank, die natürlich jegliche Werbung gut gebrauchen kann, dieses Buch gesponsort hat; genauso wie eine ominöse schweizer Stiftung mit dem Namen Goethe Stiftung Zurich. Bisher haben weder die Thyssens noch die Batthyanys (vor allem die Zweige der Familie, die sich nicht einer bequemen Abhängigkeit von Thyssenscher Finanzkraft hingegeben haben) “Und Was Hat Das Mit Mir Zu Tun?” in irgend einer Weise kommentiert; zum Beispiel indem sie Sacha Batthyany’s Werk für seine vermutlich geschätzte Beschwichtigung hinsichtlich des Rechnitz-Massakers dankend anerkannt hätten. Wir schauen mit Interesse auf die weiteren Entwicklungen in dieser Hinsicht.

Der Heilige Sacha, beim Umwandeln eines schuldigen Gewissens in eine leidvolle Unschuld (photo copyright: Maurice Haas)

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Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th century – Volume 1: „The United Steelworks under National Socialism, Concern Politics between Market Economy and State Economy“, by Alexander Donges, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2014.

This book begins with the author expressing his „astonishment“ at the fact that the entrepreneurial, Nazi period history of the United Steelworks (Vereinigte Stahlwerke, VSt) – a conglomerate which included Thyssen works – has not so far been properly researched by academia. Obviously, the independent scholarly information contained in our book has not been considered worthy of acknowledgment, regardless of the fact that it was as a direct result of its publication that Dr Donges and his fellow academic authors have been commissioned and funded to rewrite the Thyssens’ history.

Not until half way through the 400-page tome does he finally acknowledge that VSt was massively involved in armaments manufacture, but that, instead of perceiving this adequately, academia until now has rather viewed VSt as a mere raw iron and raw steel producer – in stark contrast to the Krupp-concern.

While it is difficult to know how to react to such obviously manipulated claims, this reviewer wonders whether it might ever occur to Dr Donges that the dimensions of previous mis-representations are such that it takes minimal intelligence to conclude that they must have been the result of intent rather than accident.

Considering that by the onset of Hitler’s dictatorship, the Thyssens, together with the German state, controlled 72,5% of VSt, and VSt’s output was three times the size of that of its biggest competitor, it was always illogical that Alfried Krupp was sentenced to prison at the Nuremberg Trials while the Thyssens got off scot-free. But for many and various reasons, explained at length in our book, they did, and there the myth of their quasi-heroic immaculacy began to be established.

It is apparent that German academia and the German media were prepared to follow this myth instead of, as we did, questioning it. In their defense they might argue that they were not able to view certain archives and that this has hampered their research. But while the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ files have indeed been unavailable to academia until recently, for the past 53 years of their existence the ThyssenKrupp archives – officially at least (the truth is another matter) – have not been subject to such restrictions.

When at some point around 2006/7 Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza created the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation and placed in it his father’s archives (which we had previously viewed in private, first in Madrid and later in Monte Carlo), he effectively placed them under the questionable curatorship of Prof. Manfred Rasch, head archivist of ThyssenKrupp AG, and even, it seems, in the same building as the ThyssenKrupp archives in Duisburg.

This move did the extraordinary thing of symbolically uniting the files of Fritz Thyssen’s side with those of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s side of the family; a momentous act, since it was a crucial element of the Thyssen historical myth that the two sides always pretended to have nothing to do with one another, a myth that the first three books in this series are nonetheless still trying to propagate.

Upon closer inspection of the contents lists, however, curious internal restructurings of files appear to be going on in these two archives. There are important files, which we know used to be in the archives of ThyssenKrupp, such as, surprisingly, the estate of Wilhelm Roelen (main war-time manager of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza) or, unsurprisingly, the estate of Robert Ellscheid (main lawyer of Fritz and Amélie Thyssen), and which are now said to be in the new Thyssen Industrial History Foundation archives.

But what is most noticeable from the footnotes is that time and time again, when reference is made to armaments in particular, the files in question tend to allegedly have been sourced in the archives of the newly created Thyssen Industrial History Foundation, rather than the archives of ThyssenKrupp AG, giving the impression of a possible damage limitation aspect in respect of this already ailing giant of German heavy industry.

In any case, one of the few major admissions made in this book is that Fritz Thyssen’s flight from Germany to Switzerland at the onset of World War Two might have had less to do with heroic opposition to Adolf Hitler and more with the fact that he had contravened foreign exchange regulations and committed tax evasion on a massive scale, as we first revealed (though they say nothing of the other reasons for his flight, including Hitler’s humiliating accusations of self-interest).

While presenting the actual figures of Fritz Thyssen’s misdemeanours, namely 31 million Reichsmark in evaded tax plus 17 million Reichsmark Reich Flight Tax, equalling a total of 48 million RM payable to the German State, Dr Donges quickly attenuates the claim by explaining that the denazification board of 1948 did not come to the conclusion that this had played a role in Fritz Thyssen’s flight. But what he fails to mention – although another author in the same series of books does – is how any genuine Aufarbeitung by these courts stalled once the Cold War began.

It is also noticeable that the author alleges the critical tax investigation into Fritz Thyssen’s affairs to have begun in the late 1920s, when in actual fact it had started almost immediately after the end of World War One.

The book manages to reveal that the retiring Joseph Thyssen branch of the dynasty (deriving from the brother of old August Thyssen) indirectly profited from the persecution of the Jews, as the Reich paid out their 54 million RM shares in VSt after Fritz Thyssen’s flight and the confiscation of his assets, by handing them shares previously owned by Jews and taken from them as part of the Jewish Assets Levy (Judenvermögensabgabe).

But it was Fritz Thyssen, whose anti-semitism was most overt, as he was prominently involved in forcing the Jewish members Paul Silverberg, Jakob Goldschmidt, Kurt Martin Hirschland, Henry Nathan, Georg Solmssen and Ottmar E Strauss to vacate their seats on the supervisory board of VSt in 1933/4. And no matter how often in this series they will try to tell us that Fritz Thyssen “gradually denazified himself” starting in 1934 and that his anti-Semitism was not of the vicious, murderous kind, we need to remember that forcing Jews out of their jobs was the first step in their disenfranchisement and on the road to the Holocaust.

When the Simon Hirschland Bank in Essen was „aryanised“ in 1938 by a banking consortium including Deutsche Bank and Essener National-Bank AG, Fritz Thyssen bought a share of 0.5 million RM, yet his role is said to be „unclear“ and „explained unsatisfactorily by reseachers“, which is the academics’ way of sowing doubt over established facts, especially when these are detrimental to the Thyssens’ image, and especially when they have been funded by Thyssen institutions to rewrite their history.

Of course generally the all important finance and banking side of things remains as much in the dark as it was at the time in question. Dr Donges mentions anonymous holdings in Holland, Switzerland and the USA; the Reich’s camouflaging of armaments financing through Metallurgische Forschungsanstalt; and Faminta AG of Glarus, Switzerland, which he alleges to have been a foreign vessel for Thyssen & Co. rather than for Fritz Thyssen personally. He leaves US bond creditors unnamed and states that „the role of the Finance Ministry within the Third Reich has not been sufficiently studied yet“.

And while on page 28 Dr Donges admits, albeit in the most superficial of ways, that after the death of the patriarch August Thyssen in 1926, Fritz Thyssen had to relinquish “part of the VSt shares” to his brother Heinrich, he does not tell us how long this stock [not just a few shares, but an initial 55 million RM, no less, and for which Fritz received shares in the family’s Dutch bank Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam in return, which was controlled by Heinrich] might have remained under Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s ownership and whether any of it was still in his possession at the time of the confiscation of Fritz’s fortune in 1939/40 (and if so, what happened to it after this date).

Instead the author concentrates on looking at the „use of political, legal and social options to further economic success….during the Nazi period“. He concludes that „entrepreneurial advantages were to be gained from the development of the armaments enterprises“ and that „although the freedom of action was hampered through many restrictions compared to the time of the Weimar Republic, the leadership of VSt could still pursue a long-term investment strategy.“

Thus this work ends with the earth-shattering conclusion that „if one looks at the development lines of the German steel industry in the 20th century, the long-term trend was that the steel manufacturers moved towards further processing. So VSt in the 1930s would probably have chosen that way even under another political regime“.

So presumably that was the main purpose of this book; to save the image of ThyssenKrupp AG and the conscience of surviving members of the Thyssen family, who have profited, and continue to do so, from the part Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG played in the death of 80 million people as a result of World War Two.

It is very difficult to see how Dr Donges’s doctoral thesis could possibly “close the gap” in research on the subject of the history of the United Steelworks during the Nazi period, as has been the claim made at the outset of this series “Family – Enterprise – Public. Thyssen in the 20th century”.

But whether anyone outside his immediate circle of overtly Thyssen-financed researchers will now wake up from their “great unquestioning slumber” and decide to pursue a more forthcoming research on the subject remains to be seen. Academic book reviews so far (by Tobias Birken at Sehepunkte and by Tim Schanetzky at H-Soz-Kult) suggest that they will not. In any case, how dissident academics would be received when knocking on the doors of “Professor Rasch’s archives”, remains an altogether different question.

Political economist (Dr.) Alexander Donges, gaining his title by being a Thyssen academic mercenary at Mannheim University

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Ein Umschreiben der Geschichte – Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert: Immer noch voller Rechtfertigungen und Beschönigungen, mit einer erheblichen Anzahl von offensichtlichen Auslassungen – aber doch auch einigen, manchmal erstaunlichen Eingeständnissen.

Es hat sieben Jahre seit der Veröffentlichung unseres Buches über die Thyssens im Asso Verlag Oberhausen gebraucht, bis die erste Tranche der „offiziellen“ Thyssen Antwort heraus gekommen ist, in der Form der ersten einer Reihe von acht Büchern, die von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung und der neuen Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen finanziert, und vom böswilligen Professor Manfred Rasch, Leiter des ThyssenKrupp Konzernarchivs, orchestriert werden; dessen Voreingenommenheit sich in der Tatsache manifestiert, dass auf unser Buch zwar oft Bezug genommen, es aber nie zitiert wird.

Prof. Rasch schafft es sogar, unsere Existenz zu verleugnen, indem er behauptet, der verstorbene Baron Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza sei zeitlebens mit seinem Vorhaben gescheitert, eine authorisierte Biografie in Auftrag zu geben.

Nach einigen Verzögerungen sind 2014/5 die ersten drei Bücher der Serie erschienen: „Die Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus“; „Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen“ und „Die Thyssens als Kunstsammler“. Wir werden alle drei in den kommenden Wochen rezensieren.

Erstaunlicherweise sind die Autoren der Bücher alle jüngere Akademiker, ohne bzw. mit geringer bisheriger Kenntnis oder praktischer Erfahrung des jeweiligen Themas, und die als „unabhängige Historiker“ beschrieben werden. Es heisst, sie würden „eine Forschungslücke“ in der Geschichte der Thyssen Familie, der ThyssenKrupp AG und der Thyssen-Bornemisza Gruppe „schließen“.

Da diese Autoren jedoch von eben diesen Personen, Unternehmen und assoziierten Stiftungen beauftragt, gesponsort und unterstützt worden sind ist es nicht zutreffend, sie als „unabhängig“ zu beschreiben. Solch eine Aussage ist vielmehr im besten Falle irreführend und im schlimmsten Falle betrügerisch.

Im Falle des herausragenden Investors in diese Arbeiten, die in weiten Teilen nichts anderes als akademische Hagiografien zu sein scheinen, sollte man sich daran erinnern, dass die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung von Amélie Thyssen gegründet wurde, die der NSDAP bereits 1931 – also zwei Jahre vor ihrem Mann Fritz Thyssen – beigetreten war, und die niemals öffentlich bereut oder ihr Bedauern für ihre Unterstützung Adolf Hitler’s zum Ausdruck gebracht hat.

Man muss sich auch fragen, warum nicht erfahrenere Akademiker mit erwiesenem Wissen und Fähigkeiten für dieses wichtige und heikle Program gewonnen werden konnten. Es ist anzunehmen, dass dies entweder darauf basiert, dass die Junioren „formbarer“ sind oder darauf, dass die höher gestellten Wissenschaftler nicht bereit waren, ihren eigenen Ruf zu gefährden, um die trübe Geschichte der Thyssens aufzupolieren.

Hierbei ist für die beaufsichtigenden Projektleiter Prof. Margit Szöllösi-Janze (Universität München) und Prof. Günther Schulz (Universität Bonn) die Übergangslinie hin zur akademischen Hurerei wohl schon sehr verschwommen, da generell in den letzten 55 Jahren so viele akademische Forschungsprojekte in Deutschland von eben dieser Fritz Thyssen Stiftung finanziert worden sind. Es dürfte äusserst schwierig sein, sich von dieser ewiglich betriebsbereiten Stipendien-Pumpe zu emanzipieren.

Demgegenüber beschuldigte uns Manfred Rasch während unseres Besuchs im Archiv der ThyssenKrupp AG 1998 nicht nur, das Empfehlungsschreiben von Heini Thyssen gefälscht zu haben, er war auch extrem unkooperativ und behauptete, mit der Geschichte der Thyssen Familie, von der er in negativen Tönen sprach, nichts zu tun zu haben. „Sein“ Archiv enthalte kein Material über die Thyssen Familie, sagte er. Die Frage lautet also: Was hat sich verändert, dass er nunmehr ein Mitwirkender bei diesem Projekt ist?

Wir nehmen an, es war unsere Publikation “Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos” und die ungünstige Berichterstattung in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, da dies der Zeitpunkt zu sein scheint, an dem das akademische Programm der Schadensbegrenzung von ihm, der Familie und dem Unternehmen in Gang gesetzt wurde.

Guido Knopp, die graue Eminenz der deutschen TV-Geschichts-Dokumentation, hat in einem seiner Programme gesagt, „unsere Generation ist nicht verantwortlich, für das, was unter den Nazis geschehen ist, aber sie ist umso verantwortlicher für das Erinnern daran, was passiert ist.“

Im Licht der Thyssen Geschichte wirft dies die Frage auf: wie sollen wir die Geschichte der Nazi-Ära angemessen recherchieren und daran erinnern, wenn Menschen wie die Thyssens 70 Jahre lang auf den Beweismaterialien sitzen und sie nur einigen Personen unter privilegierten, akademischen Kriterien zur Verfügung stellen und sie so der Wahrnehmung durch die allgemeine Öffentlichkeit entziehen?

Das Resultat solch einer undurchsichtigen Aufarbeitung kann nur eine Beschönigung sein und diese Serie, genauso wie etliche Bücher die in der Vergangenheit von der Thyssen Organisation unterstützt wurden, enthält davon ganz offensichtlich sehr viel. Und wenn nicht in Fakten, dann in Mutmaßungen.

Doch soweit es ersichtlich ist werden in diesen Büchern auch einige wichtige Eingeständnisse gemacht, vermutlich damit ein Mindestmaß an Glaubwürdigkeit eingehalten werden kann, oder vielleicht auf Druck der am meisten voraus denkenden Mitglieder des Teams. Diese Tatsache bestätigt für uns den Wert der Zeit und Anstrengung, die wir darin gesteckt haben, das erste ehrliche Portrait überhaupt der Thyssen Familie und ihrer Aktivitäten zu zeichnen.

Es freut uns, dass wir damit den angestrebten Effekt erzielt haben, nämlich die Organisation dazu zu bewegen, von der alten Version der Geschichte abzurücken, welche sich weigerte überhaupt etwas zuzugeben, das negativ ausgelegt werden konnte und die Thyssens immer nur im Licht eines selbstlosen Heldentums und makellosen Stolzes darstellte, die sich besonders in einer angeblichen Abwendung von den Idealen der Nazis äusserten.

Ein 94 Jahre alter, ehemaliger Auschwitz-Buchhalter, Oskar Gröning, der selbst nie an Tötungen beteiligt war, wurde vor Kurzem zu vier Jahren Haft verurteilt. Er zeigte große Reue und entschuldigte sich für seine Mitwirkung am Massenmord, eine Haltung, die nicht von vielen seiner Mitbeschuldigten gezeigt worden ist, falls überhaupt jemals in dieser Form.

Es fühlte sich an wie eine Äußerung, die abgestimmt war, um ein neues Bild von Aufarbeitung zu präsentieren, eine offenere, ehrlichere Aufarbeitung, die auch mit den Opfern mitfühlend ist. Oder vielleicht ist Herr Gröning nur ein besonders erleuchteter Mensch.

Außer Herrn Gröning’s Äußerung kommentierte der Staatsanwalt dann noch folgendermaßen: Auschwitz hätte nicht nur mit einzelnen Straftaten zu tun gehabt, sondern sei ein „System“ gewesen, und „jeder der zu diesem System beigetragen“ habe, sei „verantwortlich“.

Die Thyssens haben in vielfältiger Weise und sehr viel mehr als viele andere zum Nazi System beigetragen, zum Beispiel indem sie halfen, Hitler’s Truppen so massiv zu bewaffnen, dass in weiten Teilen Europas das Nazi-Terrorregime eingerichtet werden konnte. Ihre Nachfahren, die von den unmoralischen Gewinnen ihrer Ahnen (und Ahninen) profitiert haben, und dies noch tun, haben sehr viel mehr Grund als die allgemeine deutsche Öffentlichkeit heute, sich zu entschuldigen und sicherlich daran zu erinnern, was genau geschah.

Die Frage ist: werden sie je eine ähnliche Äußerung abgeben, wie dies Oskar Gröning getan hat?

Und noch wichtiger: falls nicht, warum nicht?

"Wer die Musik bezahlt bestimmt die Melodie". Amelie Thyssen, die ewige Sponsorin (copyright Fritz Thyssen Stiftung)

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Rewriting History – Thyssen in the 20th century: Still an overall exercise in vindication or whitewash, with a good number of obvious omissions – but admittedly featuring the occasional, important and sometimes puzzling admission.

It has taken seven years since the publication of our crucial book about the Thyssens (in the Asso Verlag publishing company of Oberhausen/Ruhr) for the first instalment of the „official“ Thyssen response to appear, in the form of the first in a series of eight books, co-financed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the newly formed Thyssen Industrial History Foundation; orchestrated by the malevolent Prof. Manfred Rasch, chief archivist of ThyssenKrupp AG, whose prejudice is manifest in the fact that while our book is often referred to, it is never credited.

Prof. Rasch even manages to deny our existence by claiming that the late Baron Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza failed in his ambition to commission an authorised biography.

In 2014/5, following numerous delays, three volumes of the series have appeared: “The United Steelworks under National Socialism”, “Forced Labour at Thyssen” and “The Thyssens as Art Collectors“. We will review all three over the coming weeks.

The authors of the books are all, somewhat surprisingly, junior academics with no or limited previous knowledge or practical experience of their subjects and described as „independent historians“, who are said to be „closing the gaps“ in research concerning the history of the Thyssen Family, ThyssenKrupp AG and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group.

However, as the authors were commissioned, funded and assisted in their research by the same people, commercial organisations and related foundations, there can be no way in which they could be accurately described as „independent“ and such a claim is at best misleading and at worst fraudulent.

In the case of the major investor, in what often appears to be little more than an academic hagiography, it should be remembered that the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung was started by Amélie Thyssen, who had joined the Nazi party in 1931 – two years before her husband Fritz Thyssen – and who never publicly recanted or displayed any regret for her support of Adolf Hitler.

One also wonders why senior academics of proven knowledge and ability were not won over to deal with this important and sensitive program. One has to assume that it was either because the juniors were more „malleable“ or because more senior academics were not prepared to risk damaging their own reputations while polishing the Thyssens’ tarnished history.

Of course for the project’s supervising professors Margit Szöllösi-Janze (Munich University) and Günther Schulz (Bonn University) the lines of academic whoring must be extremely blurred, as so many general academic research projects in Germany in the past 55 years have been funded by this same Fritz Thyssen Foundation. It must be incredibly difficult to emancipate oneself from this ever primed sponsorship pump.

By contrast, when we visited the archives of ThyssenKrupp AG in 1998, not only did Manfred Rasch accuse us of forging our letter of introduction from Heini Thyssen, but he was also offensively un-cooperative and purported to have nothing to do with the history of the Thyssen family, who he spoke of derisively and said that „his“ archive contained no material that related to them. So the question is: what has changed for him to now be a contributor to such a project?

Presumably, it was the publication of „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ and the resulting adverse publicity in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as this appears to be the point in time when his, the family’s and the corporations’ academic program of damage limitation was conceived.

Guido Knopp, the éminence grise of German historiography, has said in one of his popular television programs that „our generation is not responsible for what happened under the Nazis, but we are responsible for keeping the memory alive of what happened“.

In light of the Thyssen story, this begs the question: how are we supposed to adequately research and remember the history of the Nazi period if people like the Thyssens sit on evidence for 70 years and reveal it only to a selected few under privileged, academic criteria, thus keeping it very much outside the perception of the general public?

The result of such an opaque approach to Aufarbeitung can only be an exercise in vindication and in this series, as with so many books supported in the past by the Thyssen organisation, there is plenty of that. And if not in fact, then in conjecture.

But as far as we can see there are also now important admissions being made, presumably in order to retain a modicum of credibility, or perhaps at the insistence of the more forward thinking members of the team. This fact vindicates the time and effort we expended in producing the first honest portrayal of the Thyssen family and its activities.

We are delighted that our book has had the intended effect, namely to force the organisation to depart from the old official version of events which refused to admit anything that could be considered negative and only ever represented the Thyssens in a light of selfless heroism and untarnished pride, particularly manifest in a claimed rejection of Nazi ideals.

Recently a 94-year-old German former Auschwitz camp administrator, Oskar Gröning, who had not been directly involved in the killings, was sentenced to four years in prison. He showed deep remorse and apologised for his involvement, not something often displayed by his co-accused, if ever.

It felt like a concerted effort to present an image of Aufarbeitung which is a new, more open and honest way, and one that is explicitly sympathetic with the victims. Or maybe Mr Gröning is just a very enlightened individual.

In addition to Gröning’s statement, the public prosecutor commented that far from being just about individual crimes, Auschwitz was very much about „a system“, and that „whoever contributed to that system was responsible“.

The Thyssens contributed in many ways and much more than many others to the Nazi system, for instance by helping to arm Hitler’s troops to the point where the Nazi terror regime could be implemented over much of Europe. Their descendants, who have profited and continue to do so, from their forefathers’ (and mothers’) ill-gotten gains, have far more reasons than the German general public today to apologise and certainly to remember.

The question is: will they ever make a comparable statement to the one Oskar Gröning has made?

And more importantly: if not, why not?

"He who pays the piper calls the tune". The eternal sponsor, Amelie Thyssen (copyright Fritz Thyssen Foundation)

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Hitler’s Valkyrie – The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford

I didn’t write this book because I particularly wanted to, but because I was invited to do so. However, this request never assumed the celebrated status of a ‘commission’, for before we got to that stage, it was ‘suggested’ by the publisher that the character that I would be writing about was an unattractive, unintelligent, clumsy lump of a girl who had a romantic crush on Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately this was not the character that had previously been described to me by various friends and relatives; including my own mother. She was, in fact, quite the opposite.

Unity Valkyrie Freeman Mitford was physically attractive, free-spirited, athletic and highly intelligent. She was also a committed fascist who was quite determined to meet and have an affair with Hitler, while enjoying various other sexual adventures on the way. All in all, a far more interesting subject for a biography. So I decided to proceed, with another publisher.

It may seem puzzling that such a book hadn’t already been written because, God knows, there had been no shortage of books concerning the Mitford girls and the family in general. But before the War their Nazi sympathies were not particularly unusual amongst the privileged classes. Afterwards it was a somewhat different story; particularly for ‘Debo’ in her new role as The Duchess of Devonshire and saviour of Chatsworth House.

To this end the Duchess took it upon herself to polish the Mitfords’ tarnished reputation by ‘encouraging’ their portrayal as beautiful and charming eccentrics which reflected everything that was glorious about the English aristocracy. So successful was she in this endeavour that the Mitford girls soon became an icon which those with more social ambition than distinction could aspire to. Some of them even formed a little society and labelled themselves ‘Mitties’. Something that would of course have quite appalled the Mitfords themselves.

In truth they weren’t really a very ‘nice’ family, apart from Jessica; the token black sheep, committed communist and favourite of J K Rowling’s; and perhaps Pamela, once she had become a lesbian and ceased to be mentioned. Otherwise they were outrageous snobs, malicious bullies, and doubtless right-wing fascists who were vehemently committed to Nazi principles. Predictably the ‘Mitties’ do not share my views and reacted to the publication of ‘Hitler’s Valkyrie’ with caustic indignation and vitriolic criticism. But that doesn’t prevent the story of the relationship between Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler remaining quite fascinating.

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The Times They Are A Changin (The Sale of Villa Favorita, Lugano – Part 1), by Caroline D Schmitz

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.

" Crocodile Tears ". (Carmen Cervera aka Tita Thyssen-Bornemisza, photo: El Confidencial - Vanitatis, Spain)

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Why I am angry with the Thyssens (by Caroline D Schmitz)

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“.

Freiburg im Breisgau following a British bombing raid, November 1944

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Warum ich mich über die Thyssens ärgere (von Caroline D Schmitz)

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.

Freiburg im Breisgau nach einem britischen Bombenangriff, November 1944

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