Posts Tagged ‘antisemitism’

The valkyrie who rode with the SS, by Jacinto Anton, in El Pais, August 2018

Jacinto Anton (photo: copyright El Pais)

(Translated from Spanish by Caroline Schmitz – Original article: ‘La Valkiria que cabalgaba con los SS’ in the El Pais newspaper in Spain and Brazil on 11/15 August 2018)

I would not say that I heard them ride from when I was a child, as they said Wagner did, but since my earliest memories, I have always had a weakness for valkyries; and for amazons: in fact for all wild and war-like women. Brunhilde, Sigrún, Waltraute (named after the Rhine wine), Skuld, Gunr, Orlind or Göndul are some of those supernatural maidens, who ‘assign death and hand over victory’ and who, in nordic mythology, gather a battle’s most valient fallen, taking them to Valhalla, where they are installed by Odin in Vingölf’s famous hall of 540 doors, to assist him once Ragnarök makes his entry at the end of time.

In modern times, the most notable valkyrie, operatic versions apart, has been Valkyrie Mitford, the fifth of the six famous, aristocratic Mitford Girls, those celebrities (before the term was coined) who seemed to have sprung from the feather of Evelyn Waugh or Noël Coward and who, in the 1930s, and later, caught the imagination of the British as representatives of their country’s upper class. Sister of the famous Nancy, Diana and Deborah (who became the Duchess of Devonshire, a great friend of and letter writer to Patrick Fermor Leigh, who, in turn, was a friend of mine, which would have given me a direct link with the Mitfords, had they not all been dead by then). Since her baptism and even before, as her parents said she was conceived in the village of Swastika in Ontario, Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford (1914-1948) – this was her full name – seemed destined to cause a big mess.

And thus it happened: ferocious germanophile since childhood, Valkyrie (her name was given to her because of a friendship of her grand-father with Richard Wagner) became a crafty Nazi, a furious anti-semite, and managed, at twenty years of age, not only to meet Adolf Hitler but to form part of his intimate nucleus of friends, a detestable group in which she was never out of place (she never failed to denounce those who questioned the regime and installed herself in a flat requisitioned from a Jewish couple, which she started redecorating while the evicted coupled were still packing up their belongings). The infamous Julius Streicher let her speak at his gatherings and write articles in his antisemitic newspaper. Eva Braun was jealous of her.

I thought that the young Brit, whom they called Bobo, was nothing more than an eccentric rebel, naive, with little brains and considerable psychological imbalances. I thought that through her bad girl behaviour she had tried to gain notoriety and to scandalise her family and British society (including giving the Hitler salute when out in Chelsea and giving public speeches to say she would kill the Jews). It is true that the girl, the black sheep of the Mitford family – although there were quite a few – was very close to Hitler, whom she called by the familiar ‘you’ and who showed his appreciation of her (in his singular way of showing appreciation) by installing her in a flat. But I believed that there was much fantasy in what she recounted of her experiences and what she said about herself. In other words, I thought Unity was a kind of ‘narrow-gauge’ valkyrie.

However, after reading the biography Hitler’s Valkyrie. The uncensored biography of Unity Mitford (The History Press), by the writer, journalist and documentary film maker David R. L. Litchfield, I was left stunned. The author, who had access to new documentation, partly for family reasons as his mother and grand-mother knew Unity, traces a completely different portrait from the one I had formed for myself of this young woman. And one which is, without the shadow of a doubt, a much more interesting one.

He explains that, far from being stupid and innocent, Unity was an avid reader of William Blake and had an outstanding gift for drawing nude, copulating figures (she said they were ‘fallen angels’), if nothing else. And so it is that her biography, which is very well written and speckled with bitingly stimulating passages and an irony worthy of Truman Capote or Terenci Moix, starts with a description of one of the orgies which she held as valkyrie with members of the SS whom she called familiarly storms, for ‘Sturmführer’. Litchfield explains how Unity took six SS-men to her flat in pre-war Munich, let herself be bound to the bed surrounded by Nazi flags, her eyes bound with a swastika ribbon, and was taken by them while the Horst Wessel Song, the iconic Nazi hymn, played in the background. As we can see, this was no ‘narrow-gauge’ valkyrie at all. Rather it seemed we were in the days leading up to Salon Kitty or The Night Porter, but Litchfield assures us that the erotic painting of the ‘Sturms and Drang’, which he says was repeated frequently, was absolutely real and witnessed by Unity’s sister, Diana (another ‘brown’ Mitford: she too admired Hitler and married Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Nazi Party), who surprised her one time in flagranti. Diana not only did not reproach her younger sister for her behaviour, but had SS lovers herself, ‘though only one at a time’.

The promiscuous valkyrie, who liked to dress up all in black, played out these acts as a form of mystical ceremony of surrender to people ranked between her and her adored Führer, Adolf Hitler. The biographer affirms that Hitler himself knew of these parties with a happy ending and took them as an exciting compliment. It has always been debated whether Hitler and Unity, who had a strong and healthy appearance of an aryan woman with bright blue eyes as favoured by the Nazi leaders, ever got down to the business (even a love child was rumoured to exist, who was said to be living in Britain today). Litchfield does not think they ever did but that their relationship stayed on a purely platonic-morbid level. For Unity, who venerated Hitler, it was practically impossible to consummate her love with him as he represented for her a divinity. Hitler himself, though the aristocracy favoured him, was aware of the political problems if he were to engage with a British woman, even though she was extremely Nazi – and even more so with one who had been to bed with half the Leibstandarte SS. It seems that there was nevertheless one instance when Adolf decided to have a go; he invited Unity for an intimate rendez-vous to the chancellery where she discovered her beloved Führer had prepared a bottle of champagne for them on a table.

Finally, the relationship entered a more pathological and ‘necromantic’ stage when she decided to die for him and Hitler convinced her that her mission was to be a ‘personal valkyrie’ for him, and wait for him on the other side.

There was nothing banal or posed about the coming together of Unity and Hitler. Rather it was planned meticulously. After abandoning the heavily attended 1933 party rally, at which, as for other party events, the Mitford family occupied VIP seats, she spent months hanging out at the favourite places he frequented, until finally one day, he invited her to his table at the Osteria Bavaria in Munich. It was the 9th of February 1935 (‘the happiest day of my life’, as she wrote). Thus began their relationship. They met on at least 140 separate occasions, including, obviously, at the Bayreuth Music Festival, to which he invited her, giving her tickets to very good seats.

In the end, on 3 September 1939, Unity shot herself in the head with a small calibre Walther in the Englischer Garten when she heard that Great Britain had declared war on Germany. It is curious how many women around Hitler shot themselves: his niece Geli, Eva Braun, Magda Goebbels. Unity Valkyrie did not die (the whole incident is surrounded by conspiracy theories and rumours) and Hitler arranged for her to be transferred to her country, where she lived, mystifyingly without being sentenced as a traitor or even investigated, until she died in 1948, due to the late effects of the wound she had sustained (but not before she had seduced an RAF pilot). It appears that the news of Hitler’s suicide pained her much, as she felt she had let him down in her role as his personal valkyrie.

There are some revelations in the biography which I had difficulty believing, such as Unity losing her virginity to her brother-in-law Mosley on a billard table. But of course it is suggestive. The best thing is that Litchfield takes one on a voyage far away from here where the snobbish Mitfords await us, especially their mother, Lady Redesdale, a malicious witch whose ambition, he says, was to marry off her daughter to Hitler. He calls them the ‘first family of fascism in Great Britain’. He insists that Unity was not an exception (with Diana), as they said afterwards, but the product of a way of thinking that they all had (only the youngest, the communist Jessica, was different), which was the characteristic of the British aristocracy at the time, whose offspring were keen on the Nazi uniforms and what was inside of them. Antisemitism was rife in this class, as was the idea of racial hygiene, although, according to Litchfield with his customary sarcasm, they stopped short of demanding the sterilisation of alcoholics, as this would have decimated their own families.

It is unsurprising that a veil of silence and oblivion descended on this period after the war and that the image of this valkyrie was turned into that of an ugly duckling, eccentric and ideologically ghastly, even if with time they came to call her out more as a goose.

Practising auto-erotic asphyxiation with the brother of ‘the English patient’

Through the magnificent biography of Lászlo Almásy, the real person who inspired the novel and film The English Patient, by John Bierman, I already knew of the intimate relationship between Unity Mitford and the elder brother of the explorer, Janos Almásy, a corrupt man and associate of the Nazis. But Litchfield discovers morbid aspects of this relationship, so for instance that the valkyrie and the lord of Bernstein Castle (the Almásy family castle on the border of Austria and Hungary), astrologer and satanist of repute, officiated necromantic rites in the castle and engaged in sado-masochist practices, including the auto-asphyxiation using a silk cord, which Unity wittily called ‘my little gaspers’. The young Brit got to know Janos as he, a bisexual, had had a relationship with her brother Tom, another Mitford jewel, who was also an admirer of the Nazis and refused to fight them in Europe. They sent him to fight the Japanese instead and a sniper shot him dead in Burma. Having visited Bernstein Castle I can vouchsafe for its strange atmosphere – including certified ghosts – and of its rich library of occult books. Unfortunately I was then more interested in Count Almásy and his experiences in the desert than in his brother’s adventures with Unity. Who knows what other secrets I could have discovered during that long night within the walls of the Almásys’ castle where the valkyrie’s little gaspers must still resonate.

(Jacinto Antón – El Pais Spain/Brazil- August 2018)

   

 

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Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 3: “The Thyssens as Art Collectors. Investment and Symbolic Capital (1900-1970)”, by Johannes Gramlich, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2015

After the ducking and diving and profiteering from other peoples’ death and misery, we will now be looking at the „shinier“ side of the medal, which is the so-called „artistic effort“ alleged to have been made by the Thyssen family. This had more to do with capital flight, the circumvention of foreign exchange controls and the avoidance of paying tax (art collections being described by Gramlich as „a valid means of decreasing tax duties as they are difficult to control“), short-term speculation, capital protection and profit maximisation than it did with any serious appreciation, let alone creation, of art.

Significantly, not a single review of this third book in the series „Thyssen in the 20th Century: The Thyssens as Art Collectors“, which once again constitutes nothing more than the shortened version (at 400 pages!) of a doctoral thesis – this time at the University of Munich – has been posted. Not a single suggestion that this student of history, german and music might not know what he is talking about, since he does not seem to have any previous knowledge of art history or obvious personal talents in the visual arts. Or about the fact that way too much of the art bought by the Thyssens was rubbish. Or that the Thyssens pretended to be Hungarian when they wanted something from Hungary, Swiss when they wanted something from Switzerland, or Dutch when they wanted something from the Netherlands.

In fact if there is one overall message this book appears to propagate it is this: that it is the ultimate achievement to cheat persistently, and as long as you are rich and powerful and immoral enough to continue cheating and myth-making all through your life, you will be just fine. Not least because you can then leave enough money in an endowment to continue to facilitate the burnishing of your reputation, so that the myth-making can continue on your behalf, posthumously. And if by any chance you can take advantage of another person’s distress along the way, so much the better – as Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is said to have done from the Jewish collections of Herbert Gutmann and Max Alsberg and Fritz Thyssen from those of Julius Kien and Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild.

But: does anybody find this message acceptable?!

Mysteriously, this book also contains some very derogatory descriptions of the Thyssens’ true characters. Fritz Thyssen is described (in a quote by Christian Nebenhay) as „not very impressive“ and „meaningless“. His brother Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is said to have been „difficult“, „unpleasant“, „avaricious“, „not always straight in his payment behaviour“ and somebody who „could not find the understanding for needs and aspirations of people who were in a relationship of dependency from him“. Amelie Thyssen is said to have tried to get the historical record bent very seriously as far her husband’s alleged distancing from Nazism was concerned and to have lied about the date of art purchases to avoid the payment of tax.

Fortunately, we did not know any of these second-generation Thyssens personally. But we did know Heini Thyssen, the last directly descended male Thyssen heir, and very well at that. Over the period of some 25 years (Litchfield more than Schmitz) we were lucky enough to be able to spend altogether many months in his company. We both liked and miss him greatly. He was a delightful man with a great sense of humour and sparkling intelligence. What was most astonishing about him, considering his family’s general sense of superiority, was his total lack of arrogance.

Heini Thyssen described the art business to us as „the dirtiest business in the world“. He knew of the secret-mongering of dealers, the hyperboles of auction houses and the dishonesties of experts. It was a choppy sea that he navigated with just the right combination of caution and bravado to be successful. But of course, he also used the art business outrageously in order to invent a new image for himself. The reason why, contrary to his father and uncle, he was extremely successful in this endeavour, was precisely because he was such a likeable man.

But this did not make Heini Thyssen a moral man. He continued to cheat about his nationality, the source and extent of his fortune, his responsibilities and his loyalties just as his father, uncle and aunt (and to some extent his grand-father) had done before him. And now, this series of books continues to perpetuate the very same old myths which have always been necessary to cover the tracks of these robber barons for as long as the modern-day German nation state has existed. The size and claimed value of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection also persuaded many members of the international art community and of the general public to accept this duplicity.

The all important Thyssen-owned dutch Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, for instance, is repeatedly said to have been founded in 1918, when the real date is most likely to have been 1910. This is important because the bank was the primary offshore tool used by the Thyssens to camouflage their German assets and protect their concern and fortune from allied retribution after the first lost war. But the information is precarious because it also implies a massive disloyalty of the Thyssens towards Germany, the country that was, is and always will be the sole original source of their fortune.

And again Heinrich and Heini Thyssen are said to have been Hungarian nationals, presumably because it is meant to excuse why, despite supporting the Nazi war machine that made possible some of the worst atrocities in human history, the Thyssen-Bornemiszas entirely avoided allied retribution after the second lost war also. In reality, Heinrich Thyssen’s Hungarian nationality was highly questionable, for several reasons: because it was originally „bought“, was not maintained through regular visits to the abandoned country, extension papers were issued by Thyssen-sponsored friends and relatives in diplomatic positions and because Heinrich actually maintained his German nationality. In Heini’s case, his status depended entirely on the fact that his mother’s second husband worked at the Hungarian embassy in Berne and procured him the necessary identity papers (a fact that will be plagiarised from our work by „Junior Research Group Leader“ Simone Derix in her forthcoming book on the Thyssens’ fortune and identity, which is based on her habilitation thesis (!) and as such already available – Strangely, despite being volume 4 in the series, her book is now said to be published only following volume 5). To call those Hungarian nationalities legitimate is plainly wrong. And it matters greatly.

When Philip Hendy at the London National Gallery put on an exhibition of paintings from Heini Thyssen’s collection in 1961, Heini apparently told Hendy he could not possibly be showing during the same year as Emil Bührle, because “As you know Bührle was a real German armament king who became Swiss, so it would be very bad for me to get linked up with German armament“. But this was not, as this book makes it sound, because Heini Thyssen did not have anything to do with German armament himself, but precisely because he did! Since this partial source of the Thyssen wealth has now been admitted by both Alexander Donges and Thomas Urban, it is highly questionable that Johannes Gramlich fails to acknowledge this adequately in his work.

Then there are new acknowledgments such as the fact that August Thyssen and Auguste Rodin did not have a close friendship as described in all relevant books so far, but that their relationship was terrible, because of monetary squabbles, artistic incomprehension and public relations opportunism. The only problem with this admission is that, once again, we were the first to establish this reality. Now this book is committing shameless plagiarism on our investigative effort and, under the veil of disallowing us as not pertaining to the „academic“ circle, is claiming the „academic merit“ of being the first to reveal this information for itself.

Another one of our revelations, which is being confirmed in this book, is that the 1930 Munich exhibition of Heinrich’s collection was a disaster, because so many of the works shown were discovered to be fraudulent. Luitpold Dussler in the Bayerischer Kurier and Kunstwart art magazine; Wilhelm Pinder at the Munich Art Historical Society; Rudolf Berliner; Leo Planiscig; Armand Lowengard at Duveen Brothers and Hans Tietze all made very derogatory assessments of the Baron’s collection as „expensive hobby“, „with obviously wrong attributions“, containing „over 100 forgeries, falsified paintings and impossible artist names“, where „the Baron could throw away half the objects“, „400 paintings none of which you should buy today“, „backward looking collection“, „off-putting designations“, „misleading“, „rubbish“, etc. etc. etc. The Baron retaliated by getting the „right-wing press“ (!) in particular to write positive articles about his so-called artistic endeavours, patriotic deed and philanthropic largesse, an altruistic attitude which was not based on fact but solely on Thyssen-financed public relations inputs.

The book almost completely leaves out Heini Thyssen’s art activities which is puzzling since he was by far the most important collector within the dynasty. Instead, a lot of information is relayed which has nothing whatsoever to do with art, such as the fact that Fritz Thyssen bought Schloss Puchhof estate and that it was run by Willi Grünberg. In the words of Gramlich: „Fritz Thyssen advised (Grünberg) to get the maximum out of the farm without consideration for sustainability. As a consequence the land was totally depleted afterwards. The denazification court however came to the conclusion that these methods of exhaustive cultivation were due mainly to the manager who was doing it to get more profit for himself“. Apparently Grünberg also abused at least 100 POWs there during the war but, after a short period of post-war examination, was reinstated as estate manager by Fritz Thyssen. This gives an indication not only of the failings of the denazification proceedings, but also of Thyssen’s concepts of human rights and the non-applicability of general laws to people of his standing.

One is also left wondering why Fritz Thyssen would be said to have bought the biggest estate in Bavaria in 1938, for an over-priced 2 million RM, specifically for his daughter Anita Zichy-Thyssen and son-in-law Gabor Zichy to live in, when Heini Thyssen and his cousin Barbara Stengel told us very specifically that the Zichy-Thyssens, with the help of Hermann Göring, for whom Anita had worked as his personal secretary, left Germany to live in Argentina in 1938, being transported there aboard a German naval vessel. After repeating the old myth that Anita’s family was with her parents when they fled Germany on the eve of World War Two, this book now makes the additional „revelation“ that Anita and her family arrived in Argentina in February 1940, without, however, explaining where they might have been in the meantime, while Fritz and Amelie Thyssen were taken back to Germany by the Gestapo. Of course February 1940 is also the date when Fritz and Amelie, of whom Anita would inherit, were stripped of their German citizenship, a fact that was to become crucial in them being able to regain their German assets after the war.

The defensive attitude of this book is also revealed when Eduard von der Heydt, another Nazi banker, war profiteer and close art investment advisor to the Thyssens, is said to be „still deeply rooted and present in (the Ruhr) in positive connotations, despite all protest and difficulties“. This has to refer not least to the fact – but for some reason does not spell it out – that some Germans, mindful of his role as a Nazi banker, have managed to get the name of the cultural prize of the town of Wuppertal-Elberfeld, where the von der Heydt Museum stands, changed from Eduard von der Heydt Prize to Von der Heydt Prize. Clearly because Willi Grünberg was but a foot soldier and Eduard von der Heydt a wealthy cosmopolitan, Grünberg gets the bad press while von der Heydt receives the diplomatic treatment, in the same way as book 2 of the series (on forced labour) blames managers and foremen and practically exonerates the Thyssens. It is a distorting way of working through Nazi history which should no longer be happening. Meanwhile, Johannes Gramlich is allowed to reveal that in view of revolutionary turmoils in Germany in 1931, Fritz Thyssen sent his collection to Switzerland only for it to be brought back to Germany in the summer of 1933 – as if a stronger indication could possibly be had for his deep satisfaction with Hitler’s ascent to power.

In the same period, Heinrich, after his disastrous 1930 Munich exhibition, teased the Düsseldorf Museum with a „non-committal prospect“ to loan them his collection for a number of years. It is also said that he planned to build an „August Thyssen House“ in Düsseldorf to house his collection permanently. Considering the time and huge effort Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza spent during his entire life and beyond on not being considered a German, it is strange that Johannes Gramlich does not qualify this venture as being either a fake plan or proof of Heinrich’s hidden teutonic loyalties. In view of the dismal quality of Heinrich’s art there was of course no real collection worth being shown at the Düsseldorf Museum at all, which did not, however, stop its Director Dr Karl Koetschau from lobbying for it for years. He was disappointed at Heinrich’s behaviour of stringing them along, which is an episode that leaves even Gramlich to concede: „(the Baron) accepted all benefits and gave nothing in return“. While the „Schloss Rohoncz Collection“ is said to have arrived at his private residence in Lugano from 1934, this book still fails to inform us of the precise timing and logistics of the transfer (some 500 paintings), a grave omission for which there is no excuse. It is also worth remembering that 1934 was the year Switzerland implemented its bank secrecy law, which would have been the ultimate reason why Heinrich chose Lugano as final seat of his „art collection“.

The many painfully obvious omissions in this book are revealing, particularly in the case of Heini Thyssen having a bust made of himself by the artist Nison Tregor when the fact that he also had one made by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favourite sculptor, is left out. But they become utterly inacceptable in the case of the silence about the „aryanisation“ of the Erlenhof stud farm in 1933 (from Oppenheimer to Thyssen-Bornemisza) or the involvement of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, together with her SS-lovers, in the atrocity on 180 Jewish slave labourers at the SS-requisitioned but Thyssen-funded Rechnitz castle estate in March 1945. Both matters continue to remain persistently unmentioned and thus form cases of Holocaust denial which are akin to the efforts of one David Irving.

It is also astonishing how the author seems to have a desperate need for mystifying the question of the financing of Heinrich Thyssen’s collection, when Heini Thyssen told us very clearly that his father did this through a loan from his own bank, Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart. This fact is very straightforward, yet Johannes Gramlich makes it sound so complicated that one can only think this must be because he wants to make it appear like Thyssen had money available in some kind of holy grail-like golden pot somewhere that had nothing to do with Thyssen companies and confirmed that he really was descended from some ancient, aristocratic line as he would have liked (and in his own head believed!) to have done.

The equally unlikely fact is purported that all the details of every single one of the several thousand pieces of art purchased by the Thyssens has been entered by „the team“ into a huge database containing a sophisticated network of cross-referenced information. Yet, in the whole of this book, the author mentions only a handful of the actual contents of Thyssen pictures. Time and time again the reader is left with the burning question: why, as the subject was so important to the Thyssens, did they leave it to such an unenlightened man rather than an experienced art historian to write about it? Is it because it is easier to get such a person to write statements such as “personal documents (of Fritz Thyssen) were destroyed during the confiscation of his fortune by the National Socialists and his business documents were mainly destroyed by WWII bombing“, because the organisation does not want to publish the true details of Fritz and Amelie’s wartime life? (one small tip: the bad bad Nazis threw them in a concentration camp and left them to rot is definitely not what happened). Or because he is prepared to write: „The correspondence of Hans Heinrich (Heini Thyssen) referring to art has been transmitted systematically from 1960 onwards“ and „for lack of sources, it is not possible to establish who was responsible for the movements in the collection inventory during the 1950s“ , because for a man whose assets are alleged to have been expropriated until 1955, it would be difficult to explain why he was able to buy and deal with expensive art before then?

Was Dr Gramlich commissioned because a man with his lack of experience can write about „APC“ being an American company that Heini Thyssen’s company was “negotiating with”, because he does not know that the letters stand for „Alien Property Custodian“? Or because time and time and time again he will praise the „outstanding quality“ of the Thyssens’ collections, despite the fact that far too many pictures, including Heinrich’s „Vermeer“ and „Dürer“ or Fritz’s „Rembrandt“ and „Fragonard“ turned out to be fakes? The Lost Art Coordination Point in Magdeburg, by the way, describes this Fragonard as having been missing since 1945 from Marburg. But Gramlich says it has been missing since 1965 from the Fritz Thyssen Collection in Munich, when it was “only valued at 3.000 Deutschmarks any longer, because its originality was now questioned”.

At one point, Gramlich writes about the „two paintings by Albrecht Dürer“ in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection without naming either of them. He describes that one of them was sold by Heini Thyssen in 1948. It went to the American art collector Samuel H Kress and finally to the Washington National Gallery. What Gramlich does not say is that this was in fact “Madonna with Child“. The other one remained in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and can still be viewed at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid to this day under the title „Jesus among the Scribes“. Only, it has received a highly damning appraisal by one of the world’s foremost Dürer experts, Dr Thomas Schauerte; Johannes Gramlich does not tell his readers about this.

The truth in all this is that no matter how many books and articles (and there have been many!) are financed by Thyssen money to tell us that Heini Thyssen bought German expressionist art in order to show how „anti-Nazi“ he was, such a thing is not actually possible and is not even believable after the Nazi period. It is ludicrous to say that August Thyssen saw Kaiser Wilhelm II as „Germany’s downfall“, since he had the Kaiser’s picture on his wall and started buying into the Bremer Vulkan submarine- producing shipyard in 1916, specifically in order to profit from the Kaiser’s war. And it is not believable, in view of Fritz Thyssen’s deeply-held antisemitism, to say he helped Jakob Goldschmidt to take some of his art out of Germany in 1934, because he was such a loyal friend of this Jewish man. Fritz Thyssen helped Jakob Goldschmidt despite him being Jewish and only because Goldschmidt was an incredibly well-connected and thus indispensable international banker – who in turn helped the Thyssens save their assets from allied retribution after WWII.

All the Thyssens have ever done with art – and this book, despite aiming to do the contrary, does in fact confirm it – is to have used art in order to camouflage not just their taxable assets, but themselves as well. They have used art to hide the problematic source of parts of their fortune, as well as the fact they were simple parvenus. In the same way as Professor Manfred Rasch is not an independent historian but only a Thyssen filing clerk (the way he repeatedly gets his „academic“ underlings to include disrespectful remarks about us in their work is highly unprofessional), so the Thyssens are not, never have been and never will be „autodidactic“ „connoisseurs“. And that is because art does not happen on a cheque book signature line but is, in its very essence, the exact opposite of just about anything the Thyssens, with a few exceptions, have ever stood for.

As Max Friedländer summarised it, their kind of attitude was that of: „the vain desire, social ambition, speculation for rise in value….of ostentatiously presenting one’s assets…..so that this admiration of the assets reflects back on the owner himself“. Despite the best efforts of the Thyssen machine to present a favourable academic evaluation of the Thyssens’ art collecting jaunts, in view of their infinitely immoral standards, the assurances of both the aesthetic qualities and investment value of their „art collections“, as mentioned so nauseatingly frequently in this book, are of no consequence whatsoever. The only thing that is relevant is that the extent of the family’s industrial wealth was so vast, that the pool of pretence for both them and their art was limitless. Thus their intended camouflage through culture failed and the second-generation Thyssens in particular ended up being exposed as Philistines.

Johannes Gramlich

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