Posts Tagged ‘art collection’

The Thyssen Art of Tax Avoidance . . . and Philanthropic Feudalism

During our research for ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, we became witnesses to the art of what is now being called ‘aggressive’ tax avoidance, as a result of our participation in a lengthy masterclass with one of the world’s leading exponents. It was Heini Thyssen himself who admitted to us that his primary mission in life had not been the collecting of art or the maintenance of an industrial fortune, but the avoidance of paying tax. Indeed on page 319 of our book we quoted his astonishingly frank statement word for word: ‘I am a tax evader by profession. If you wanted to be correct, I should be in jail’.

The most intensive part of this masterclass came when Heini chose to take his son Heini Junior (Georg Thyssen) to court, in order to break up a Bermudan trust and regain control of the family fortune. This was not only a structure that had been designed to make such disassembly as difficult as possible and thus protect the fortune from alimony claims, irresponsible siblings and, in Heini’s case, his own extravagance, but it was also meant to minimise its exposure to tax liabilities.

I was astonished that, considering the financial importance of this process to the Thyssen-Bornemiszas, the cost of which, one way or another, they would all be contributing to, not one member of the family displayed any interest in visiting the island, to see if their legal and financial representatives were handling the task with due diligence; a process that would eventually result in a legal bill of some $150,000,000. So I offered to go on their behalf, in the knowledge that the very rich rarely do anything for themselves, even collect art; preferring to have others do things on their behalf.

It was in Bermuda that Caroline and I got to know Heini’s barristers, Queen’s Counsellors Michael Crystal and Robert Ham and their local solicitors, Appleby Spurling & Kempe; experts in tax efficient, financial logistics – and in whose gardens we would complete each day’s activities with refreshing bottles of chilled champagne. Then, more recently, I was reminded once again of their existence when a vast cache of their highly privileged clients’ records were mysteriously leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from the offices of what had now been rebranded as simply Appleby. This resulted in a spectacular media exposure which has come to be known as the ‘Paradise Papers’.

Around the same time that this financial pasta was beginning to slide off the edge of the plate, the less financially privileged were starting to realise just how iniquitous the super rich really can be. There is increasingly a perceived imbalance reminiscent of feudal conditions, which seem to be favoured not least by those whose marriage has led them to co-opt scions of defunct aristocratic dynasties. The highly paid advisors, meanwhile, had started putting strategies into place in order to meet the PR-challenges of the forced increase in transparency now being applied to offshore financial instruments and their wealthy users.

With this backdrop, Heini Thyssen’s daughter, ’The Archduchess’ Francesca von Habsburg, whose name featured prominently in the ‘Paradise Papers’, wasted no time in announcing to the world her own seemingly admirable ‘mission statement’. This was to use part of her estimated $350,000,000 personal fortune, – inherited from her father, some of which was provided by the Spanish tax payers, when he sold them half his art collection – to save the world’s oceans from pollution.

She also began referring to herself as an ‘executive producer’ and ‘agent of change’.

Soon her London-based organisation TBA21-Academy was said to be ‘curating a top level conference at the Bonn Art Museum’ (a publicly funded organisation!) at the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But in truth this was but a one-day coming together of some of the privileged recipients of her ‘altruism’.

In order to assist her in such an intellectually complex activity, she had recruited the services of a major Broadway-based public relations organisation called Resnicow and Associates, which specialises in ‘online strategy’, ‘core missions’ and ‘sponsorship“; though considering her exceptional wealth one would not have thought that Francesca Habsburg-Thyssen needed the latter. But I know from my own experience that she has invariably asked others to contribute financially to her various socio-cultural activities over the years. And this has also included those in control of public funds.

Meanwhile, I noticed that she still had her British Virgin Islands-based Fragonard art sub-trust in place, into which her inherited Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection share had been placed in 1993 and which was said to have engendered a presumably Cayman Islands-based trust with the assistance of Appleby Trust Cayman Limited in 2008. Then there is the Alligator Head Foundation Jamaica. She also continues to enjoy the amenities of Thyssen Bornemisza Group (TBG) AG Zurich, TBG Holdings Limited Bermuda, Favorita Investment Limited Malta and other such tax-efficient facilities.

The apple seemed not to have fallen far from the tree and her father’s influence possibly continued to affect Francesca Thyssen’s exposure – or not, as the case may be – to tax in Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Jamaica or anywhere else she may see fit to lay her head.

And it looks as if even a supra-national entity such as the United Nations may be ‘endorsing’ her enterprise in philanthropic feudalism, which would be viewed with a distinct lack of sympathy by polemicists, such as myself and my collaborator. Indeed the latter told me: ‘Aggressively avoiding the payment of tax can hardly be considered helpful to governmental agencies who are responsible for the protection of the environment. Using tax payers’ money to fund one’s own, indulgent self-promotion is even less so’.

But presumably Resnicow is intending to garner sufficient public enthusiasm for Francesca Habsburg’s cultural endeavours in the months ahead to successfully persuade those who care, that should she indeed be aggressively minimising her exposure to the payment of tax, she will nevertheless be perceived as a true philanthropist, acting only in the public’s cultural and environmental interests.

And Resnicow will surely be able to help with disaster management advice, if German academia and the media is ever obliged to accept the truth of our account of where Francesca Thyssen’s fortune comes from. Or if she is held accountable for fulfilling her promise of assisting in locating the graves of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave labourers put to death by the SS ‘guests’ of her Aunt Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in the grounds of the family’s Rechnitz castle in 1945.

Meanwhile, one should perhaps be reminded that the last time there was a Thyssen financial interest on Broadway was during the Second World War, when it was the location of the Thyssen family’s Union Banking Corporation in which they and, so it was rumoured, a number of prominent Nazi party members kept a few million emergency dollars, and Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W Bush, was a director!

 

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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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Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 2: “Forced Labour at Thyssen. United Steelworks and Baron-Concern during World War Two”, by Thomas Urban, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2014.

 

If there is one subject within this series of academic treatises on the Thyssens’ companies, politics, personal wealth, public relations and art collection(s), where sensitivity and openness would have been essential, it is this particular one, as the appalling conditions under which foreigners (Soviet nationals, French, Dutch, Belgians, etc.) were forced to work in Thyssen industries during WWII, and in the manufacture of arms and ordnance particularly, reflect so clearly the inhuman excesses of Nazism. In view of its importance we make no apology for the length of this review.

30 years after Ulrich Herbert’s ground-breaking work on forced labour and seven years after the publication of our book, the Thyssen family has until now remained one of only a few adamantly refusing to address this part of their history. Instead, it has always claimed to have remained largely uninvolved in the manufacture of arms and ordnance and the use of forced labour. It has also claimed not to have supported Hitler or to have stopped supporting him at some point. It has even gone as far as putting itself on one level with the victims of the regime, by saying that it too had been persecuted and expropriated.

Additionally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza branch of the family claimed to be Hungarian and thus have nothing whatsoever to do with Germany. But those were all fake claims designed simply to divert attention away from the facts. And macabrely it was this „cosmopolitan“ side of the dynasty which was particularly supportive of the Nazis, through finance and banking, the construction of submarines and V-rocket-parts and a personal relationship with the SS and high-ranking Nazis. Over 1,000 concentration camp prisoners died in Bremen, building the „Valentin“ bunker where Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan shipyard was planning to increase production to 14 submarines per month to secure a desperate final German victory in view of Hitler’s looming defeat.

In view of their overarching industrial and financial power and privilege, Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had an overwhelming responsibility to behave with due respect towards their fellow men. In this we believe they failed as a result of their relentless greed, financial opportunism and amoral arrogance. Of all the Thyssen heirs, only one, GEORG THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA, is now seemingly agreeing to admit responsibility by supporting this project. But these flimsy 170 pages with their incomplete index (only personal, not corporate, which makes it so difficult to examine and analyse) only go a small way in rectifying the official record, and do not meet the standards of an international perspective.

Thomas Urban refuses to accept the legitimacy of our book and still sees fit to state that until the beginning of the 21st century forced labour within the Thyssen history remained „unnoticed“. In reality the subject appears to have been hidden intentionally, as far as possible, in order to fend off unwelcome publicity and possible compensation claims alike. It is also why the Thyssen-Bornemisza side of the family was hidden from academic research (the extent of which Dr Urban describes as „surprising“), until the publication of our book in 2007.

When Michael Kanther wrote on forced labour specifically for August Thyssen Hütte in 1991 it seems he could not publish until 2004, and then for the series “Duisburger Forschungen”. And ten years later, of the great plethora of Thyssen enterprises, only a handful are now admitted to have been guilty, namely the shipyards Bremer Vulkan and Flensburger Schiffsbau-Gesellschaft, the Walsum coal mine and the August Thyssen Hütte smelting works.

Press- and Rolling Works Reisholz and Oberbilker Steelworks are mentioned only furtively but not their involvement in the building of V-rockets or any co-operation with MABAG (Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG) of Nordhausen, where Heinrich’s son Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza worked with the SS and some 20,000 concentration camp victims died. It is noteworthy, however, that the technical director of Press- and Rolling Works Reisholz, Wilhelm Martin, is said to have installed, „in his function as counter-intelligence commissioner“, a „political combat patrol“ out of Thyssen staff, which „in case of unrest amongst the staff was to be put into action using so-called manslayers“ – apparently its only known occurence in the whole of the Nazi armament economy – which is an astonishing admission to make.

As German workers were sent off to be soldiers, they were replaced by a total of 14 million foreign workers, including women and children, over the period of the war, and, at Thyssen enterprises, these worked at ratios of between one and an astonishing two thirds (at Walsum mine, as we first reported) of total staff. According to the size of the Thyssen enterprises, in all anything up to several tens of thousands of forced labourers would have been working there, yet Dr Urban does not even attempt to put a total figure on it. Instead, the pathetic blame game to the detriment of Krupp continues to the point where the description „forced labour“, as used continuously in this book, suddenly turns into „slave labour“ as soon as the name Krupp is mentioned. Meanwhile, the fact that at Thyssen in Hamborn they are now said to have produced much bigger quantities of grenade steel than at the Krupp works in Rheinhausen is lost in the small print.

At August Thyssen Hütte and the Mülheim Thyssen works, belonging more to the Fritz Thyssen sphere of influence, whose power was not as obliterated by his privileged wartime captivity as these official Thyssen publications still want to have us believe, a „high mortality“ amongst Soviet POWs is said to have existed. But actual figures do not go beyond eight or less deceased in each of a few events described by Dr Urban.

Because of race ideology, apart from concentration camp prisoners, Soviet POWs were treated worst, even to the point where, in view of the high risk of sabotage, according to Dr Urban, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan shipyard kept them at first in a barbed wire cage where others looked upon them „as on apes in a zoo“. (This information came from a 1980 Bremen school project and was acquired by Dr Urban from Dr Rolf Keller of the Lower Saxony Memorial Sites Foundation in Celle). Yet despite such disturbing manifestations of racist extremism, acts of humanity by the local population towards prisoners had taken place, as our editor Ulli Langenbrinck at Asso Verlag Oberhausen told us many years ago, for the simple reason that they had to work together under dangerous circumstances (in mines and on blast furnaces for instance) and therefore it was better to be considerate towards men on whom your life may depend.

Sadly, Thomas Urban has the nerve to suggest such recollections could be mere reflections of post-dated convenience and one wonders whether he has ever stopped to imagine what it would have been like to work under such conditions of racial, ideological and national discrimination, aggravating the already challenging tasks. Conditions that were in place because of the directives of megalomaniac politicians and equally megalomaniac industrialists, and yet which the people on the ground could plainly see were self-defeating. Surely it did not take the sight of actual concentration camp prisoners to get demoralised, as Dr Urban says was suggested at the time, and of which he argues only 75 are certified to have worked at Bremer Vulkan proper (this being a more palatable figure than the 1,000 fatalities mentioned above). The alienation of having to speculate about the fate of your own members of the „masterrace“ fighting in a distant land while the „subhuman“ enemies produced their weapons and amunition back home would have been an insane situation that was quite demoralising enough – and for both sides!

At the other end of the scale, the Thyssens, who in the past have been very „economical“ with their historic record, are getting nothing short of kid glove treatment, revealing a continued mentality of sympathy and subservience that goes beyond anything to be expected from a so-called independent academic commission. Even a reviewer from Duisburg-Essen University, Jana Scholz, seems to question why the right thing has not been done, namely to lay the responsibility solidly at the Thyssens’ feet. Instead, camp guards, foremen and managers are being blamed for the use and treatment of forced labourers, men such as Wilhelm Roelen or Robert Kabelac, and one wonders what their families must think of it. Particularly in the case of Roelen, since a movement has gathered against his memory in the Ruhr, after it was established that over 100 Soviet POWs died under his watch at Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Walsum coal mine. Significantly, none of the managers’ families have been interviewed. And neither has anyone from the Thyssen family.

In another review Jens Thiel, who as an expert in medical ethics should know better, in all seriousness wonders whether it is still worth trying to „gain academic merits“ through working on the subject of forced labour. He goes on to praise the „sober“ descriptions in this book. But what is sober about the image of starving Russians eating raw fish killed by bombs, after diving into the ice-cold river in the middle of winter to retrieve them, eludes us. Or about that of locals remembering seeing, as children, hand-carts being driven out of Thyssen works with arms and legs hanging out by the sides, so that they were left obsessing whether the people contained therein were alive or dead.

Or that of gallows being erected at the Thyssen works „Zehntweglager“ camp in Mülheim (ruled over by a particularly sadistic father and son team of commanders) and adolescent Soviets being hanged there for theft „in the presence of a Gestapo man and an SS-non commissioned officer“ in apocalyptic scenarios – again witnessed by local children. All three descriptions being derived from personal interviews Dr Urban has carried out with eye witnesses and which are one of the few saving graces of this book. The book also describes other victims at Thyssen works being shot dead, including women, for instance for stealing foodstuffs.

Although the book does not dwell on this, there can be no doubt that Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza lived lives of privilege on the prodigious fruits of their father’s demented genius. They were both harking back to a world-view which was that of themselves as feudal overlords ruling over their personal fiefdoms. They were determined to oppose workers rights decisively (be they foreign or german) and that is why they supported fascism, including Admiral Horthy’s rule in Hungary. It is also why they financed their SS-occupied castle Rechnitz in Burgenland where Heinrich’s daughter Margit Batthyany led her own private wartime terror regime and participated in an atrocity on over 180 Jewish forced labourers in March 1945, which to this day remains unmentioned in any official Thyssen publication.

The Thyssen managers passed down this autocratic rule as they faced the simultaneous war-time challenges of meeting essential victory targets and delivering owners’ profits. They directed the saying „if you don’t do as you are told, Farge (a local Bremen work education camp) is nearby“ at german workers as well as foreign labourers. But the latter were always much more disadvantaged because the Nazis implemented the Führer principle throughout, turning any German into the boss of any foreign co-worker. Also, foreigners had to do heavier, more dangerous work and received worse rations and accommodation and insufficient air raid shelters. At a big air raid on the Hamborn Thyssen works on 22.01.1945, of the 145 dead 115 were POWs. In the case of foreigners camps at the Thyssen-Bornemisza mine at Walsum, a visiting state doctor and a Nazi party leader in 1942 were so horrified at the unbearable hygienic conditions that they ordered the Thyssen management to take immediate remedial action.

The profitability of the Thyssens’ war-time production, and ship building in particular, is mentioned but Thomas Urban says that verifiable figures are „not available“. But some of these figures are contained for instance in the minutes of the board meetings held quarterly in Flims, Davos, Lugano and Zurich (not just „Switzerland“ – in other words Heinrich was not too ill to travel around, he just did not want to leave Switzerland once war had started; simply for reasons of comfort rather than being “anti-Nazi”) with four participants (Baron Heinrich, Wilhelm Roelen, Heini Thyssen and Heinrich Lübke, Director of the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin – the two latter being played down by Urban). And the minutes were not taken by some anonymous „private secretary“ but in all probability by Wilhelm Roelen, which explains why copies are both in the corporate and private archives. We feel sure that the ThyssenKrupp Archives, respectively those of the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation, contain further relevant information about profitability – for instance in the files of the estate of Dr Wilhelm Roelen – but which for some reason are not being released.

It is also said in this book that no Thyssen enterprise during the Nazi period took over an „aryanised“ Jewish enterprise. But in reality Heinrich’s horse-racing stable Erlenhof near Bad Homburg had been bought for him in November 1933 by his entity Hollandsch Trust Kantoor from the estate of Moritz James Oppenheimer, a Jew who had been forced into liquidation and was later murdered – a very inconvenient date, when the official line has been and still is to say that Heinrich lived in Switzerland from 1932 onwards, i.e. from before Hitler’s assumption of power.

The author tries to make a point in Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s defence saying he did not take part in events at his works where Nazi party officials were present. But while Heinrich might not have left Switzerland after 1938 (he died there in 1947), his son Heini admitted to us that he returned to Germany in the middle of the war in 1942, when he travelled to Landsberg Castle for his grandfather’s 100th birthday celebrations, at which Nazi functionaries also took part (photographs of the event exist). After which he was allowed to travel back to Switzerland completely unhindered. But this remains unmentioned here, presumably in an attempt to minimise the record of Heini Thyssen’s war-time corporate embroilment.

Meanwhile, Thomas Urban has the audacity to allege that it is „not very likely“ (not exactly an academic approach!) that Heinrich’s contact with Hermann Göring went any further than their common interest in horse racing and that his distance from the regime was „likely not to have been only geographical.“ Instead Heinrich is praised for being able to „direct his companies from Switzerland“ as if, in this particular context, that was something to be admired. For such a crucial point, Dr Urban’s haphazard assessment of the Thyssen-Göring relationship is in fact an obscene remark to be made by this German academic and deeply offensive to the memory of the victims and to all people dedicated to the establishment of historical truth.

The banking contacts between the two men personally and with the regime in general via Heinrich’s August Thyssen Bank in Berlin (which was subsequently incorporated into BHF-Bank), his Union Banking Corporation in New York, his Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam and others have remained unmentioned so far in this series. We presume they are to be included in Simone Derix’ book on the family’s wealth and identity, due out in 2016, or in Harald Wixforth’s tome on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group (publication date unknown).

It might be said to be understandable that the Thyssens would have denied their links with Nazi leaders in the past and also that their war-time managers would have argued thus in order to circumvent post-war allied retribution. But it is unforgivable that an academic project in 2014 continues in the same vein of skimming over the most crucial parts of the Aufarbeitung of the Thyssen history. And it is also unclear why Dr Urban has to remain so hazy about important issues such as the remuneration of forced labourers. While he mentions it, he does not give any details about it whatsoever, which is unforgivable.

Time and time again Dr Urban mentions problems with source materials and a deriving impossibility to treat the subject with the necessary substance and certainty. His statement „quite a high proportion of forced labour“ in the Thyssens’ building material enterprises around Berlin „can be assumed“ is unacceptable, because the archives in question are said to be „still being put together“, which, 70 years after the end of the war seems an incredible statement to make, even if it is one we have heard many times before during our research into the Thyssen history.

When Bremer Vulkan went bankrupt in the late 1990s neither the Thyssen Bornemisza Group nor ThyssenKrupp felt it necessary to take on its archives. Instead, these were left to a „friends’ association“ („Wir Vulkanesen e.V.“) which managed to destroy crucial files, including wartime staff records and thus documents concerning forced labour, under „data protection considerations“. Only after that purge did the files reach their current location at the Bremen State Archives. And at Flensburger Schiffsbaugesellschaft, according to management, „all files which were not subject to prescribed storage periods were completely destroyed“. The archives of the Walsum mine are also said to be „extremely incomplete“, which considering what a fastidious technocrat its head Wilhelm Roelen was, is either unlikely, due to wartime damage, or indicative of a wilful destruction of incriminating evidence.

And so it has remained to individual slave labourers themselves, who have had the courage to come forward with their own real-life stories (and which have been picked up by various German historians and local – sometimes even school – historical projects securing evidence, who have acted truly independently from any Thyssen entity) to paint the most truthful pictures of forced labour at Thyssen.

When the Dutchman Klaas Touber in 1988 wrote to Bremer Vulkan (whose honorary chairman was Heini Thyssen) to ask for a compensation of 3,000 Deutschmarks for his forced work effort during WWII, he was rejected and told the company „could not discover any concrete facts (…) that justify an obligation for us to provide compensation“. He was informed the company was bankrupt and if they paid him anything it would set a precedent and „all the other people who experienced the same thing at the time“ would want paying also and Bremer Vulkan „would not be able to do so“. This at a time when Heini Thyssen was putting his art collection up for sale, suggesting it might be worth up to two billion dollars. Klaas Touber, who weighed only 40 kg at one point while at Bremer Vulkan, had retained a life-long psychological trauma from his detention, particularly as a compatriot, who had come to his defence during a canteen brawl, had been killed at the Neugamme concentration camp. (Evidence sourced by Dr Urban partly from Dr Marcus Meyer, head of the Memorial Institution „Valentin“ Bunker of the Bremen Regional Centre for Political  – the late Klaas Touber had been very involved in remembrance and reconciliation – and partly from a publication by the State Organisation of the Association of People Persecuted by the Nazi Regime / Bremen Association of Anti-Fascists e.V.).

Perhaps the most devastating and simultaneously most spirited story is that of Wassilij Bojkatschow. When he was 12 years old his village in Bielorussia had been taken by the Germans and both his father and grandfather killed. At the Thyssen works of Deutsche Röhrenwerke AG he was used for the most dangerous job, that of defusing unexploded bombs. In 1995 he wrote his memoirs and in 1996 travelled to Mülheim and met with the mayor and local people who had collected money for his and his wife’s visit. He described many traumatic experiences but also remembered „many examples of human feeling and kindness“ from German co-workers and locals. As it seems, he did not even ask for any monetary compensation. (Evidence sourced by Dr Urban from the annual report of the town of Mülheim).

In 2000 a Ucranian woman, Jewdokija Sch., wrote in a letter to the Bremen State Archive: „The work (at Bremer Vulkan) was very very hard. I worked as a welder, 12 hours a day, in wooden shoes, totally exhausted from hunger! In 1944 already I looked like a ghost“.

After its merger, ThyssenKrupp AG joined the German Industry Foundation Initiative in 2000 which was funded to pay compensation to former forced labourers. Related files are said to be closed to academic research for another 30 years, according to Dr Urban. What he does not mention is that it is unknown whether the Thyssen Bornemisza Group has ever contributed to any compensation payments.

Poignantly, the next volume in the series is about the Thyssens’ art collection(s), which was the primary tool used by the family to launder their sense of guilt and hide their incriminatory wartime record behind a veneer of cultured so-called „philanthropy“. Something that worked supremely well in the affluent years of the German economic miracle and beyond, when the art market sky-rocketed from one price hyperbole to the next, and the shine of the glamorous art world seemed to wipe away any concern about or even memory of the source of the Thyssen fortune.

 

Dr Thomas Urban, another Thyssen-funded academic, this time from the Ruhr-University in Bochum

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Forced Labour at Thyssen: Is the “Baron Concern” the Baron’s Concern? – Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen: Belangt der “Baron Konzern” den Baron etwas an?

The second book in the series “Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century”, written by Dr Thomas Urban and published by Schöningh Verlag in 2014, looks at the use of forced labour at the United Steelworks (Fritz Thyssen) and at the “Baron Concern” (Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza).

In it, we are described as “sensationalist journalists”.

It is reassuring to see that Professor Rasch and his academic colleagues continue to refer to the contents of our book, while confirming the accuracy of our work. Unfortunately, neither Manfred Rasch nor the other academics are showing any moral concern or regret, either personally or on behalf of the owner families, for the crime of working thousands of people to death (accurate records apparently no longer exist) in order to increase productivity and profitability, the responsibility for this being laid squarely at the feet of the war-time management.

I was recently reminded how the Thyssen family continue to reject their answerabilities when, in order to persuade me to stop writing about whether his family’s money smells, Lorne Thyssen (Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza) took me out to lunch, over which he said that his rejection of my accusation was based on the fact that he and his family had “not even been alive” at the time that their fortune was being forged.

He refused to accept my explanations or even show any regret that much of his father’s art collection, which had formed a major part of his inheritance, was funded with the profits made from such appalling activity. In my eyes, certainly morally and possibly legally, he and his relatives should acknowledge at least an appropriate degree of guilt.

I also told Lorne Thyssen that I considered his silence, like that of the rest of the family and now Professor Rasch and his team of academics, to be reflecting the same lack of concern that enabled the perpetration of the crime against humanity in the first place.

We remain proud of our book, its sources, accuracy and achievements, regardless of the label Manfred Rasch may see fit to give us and proud of the fact that the Thyssen family are now one step nearer to a full admission of their historic responsibility.

Das zweite Buch in der Reihe „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“, von Dr Thomas Urban, erschienen im Schöningh Verlag 2014, dreht sich um das Thema Zwangsarbeit beim „Stahlverein“ (Fritz Thyssen) und beim „Baron Konzern“ (Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza).

In dem Werk werden wir als „sensationsorientierte Journalisten“ bezeichnet.

Es ist ermutigend, dass Professor Rasch und seine akademischen Kollegen sich weiterhin auf den Inhalt unseres Buches beziehen und die Richtigkeit unserer Arbeit bestätigen. Aber weder Manfred Rasch noch die anderen Akademiker zeigen Betroffenheit oder Bedauern, entweder persönlich oder im Namen der Eigentümer-Familie, ob des Verbrechens, tausende von Menschen zu Tode zu arbeiten (genaue Aufzeichnungen existieren anscheinend nicht mehr), um Produktivität und Gewinn zu steigern. Diese Verantwortung wird entschieden den Managern zugeschoben.

Ich wurde vor Kurzem daran erinnert, dass die Thyssen Familie weiterhin ihre Verantwortlichkeit ablehnt, als mich Lorne Thyssen (Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza) zum Essen lud, um mich zu überreden, meine Schriften zur Frage, ob dem Geld seiner Familie ein übler Geruch anhaftet, einzustellen. Dabei meinte er, dass er meine Anschuldigungen zurückweisen müsse, da seine Familie „noch nicht einmal geboren war“ als ihr Vermögen geschmiedet wurde.

Er weigerte sich, meine Erläuterungen zu akzeptieren oder Bedenken zu zeigen, dass vieles am Wert der Kunstsammlung seines Vaters, welcher zum großen Teil in sein Erbe einfloß, mit den Profiten aus solch einer entsetzlichen Unternehmung finanziert wurde. In meinen Augen sollten er und seine Verwandten sicherlich moralisch, wenn nicht gar rechtlich ein angemessenes Ausmaß an Schuld anerkennen.

Ich sagte Lorne Thyssen auch, dass sein Schweigen, wie der des Rests der Familie und nun auch von Professor Rasch und seines akademischen Teams denselben Mangel an Anteilnahme widerspiegeln, welcher das ursprüngliche Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit ermöglichte.

Wir bleiben stolz auf unser Buch, seine Quellen, seine Exaktheit und seinen Erfolg, ungeachtet des Aufklebers, den Professor Rasch versucht uns anzuhängen. Und wir sind stolz auf die Tatsache, dass die Thyssen Familie jetzt einen Schritt näher daran ist, ihre historische Verantwortung vollumpfänglich einzugestehen.

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The Thyssens’ Poisoned Chalice

It was recently announced that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid has suffered a loss of some 4.5 million Euros during 2014. Considering the fragile state of Spain’s economy and the fact that, contractually, they are not permitted to capitalise on the value of the collection by selling any of the pictures, it was bad news.

But worse was to come. For it was also revealed that the total legal costs of defending a claim by surviving members of a German Jewish family against the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for the return of a picture painted by Camille Pissarro that they claim to have sold under duress to the Nazis in 1939, and which was subsequently procured by the Thyssen family before being sold on to the Spanish nation, has now reached 1.3 million Euros.

Heini Thyssen and his father had always used their art collection as a smoke screen behind which they could hide the fact that much of their fortune was the result of profits earned fuelling and arming the Third Reich and supplying it with banking facilities.

One of the unfortunate effects of such a restitution claim is that it reminds people of the Thyssens’ Nazi past and the fact that it is the Spanish people who are being obliged to fund the protection of the Spanish ‘investment’ as well as the defence of the Thyssens’ name, who in turn have not exactly been forthcoming in contributing to the coffers of the Spanish tax authorities.

And while the American lawyers are representing the Cassirers on a contingency basis, which avoids the family having to make any contribution to costs, the plaintiffs remain all too aware that every time they mount another appeal (which they are doing at this very minute), the Spanish legal fees, for which there is no ultimate profit which they can be offset against, continue to mount. As do the Museum’s losses. Thus there must come a time when the Spanish will be obliged to ‘take a view’ and hand the picture back.

To us it has always been clear that this collection would one day reveal itself as a poisoned chalice for the host country. The Cassirer claim, if successful, could open the gates to further claims against the museum, as there is no shortage of paintings in its holdings with questionable provenances, a fact that the Spanish failed to identify by independent verification before they committed to buy. The potential for a major eclat is intrinsic to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. The only question is: how long will it take to unravel?

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On 4th April 2016 Mark Kochanski commented:

In a recent court brief the Foundation contends that the plaintiffs (the Cassirers) ”continue their campaign to tarnish the Foundation’s image with “red flags” to suggest actual knowledge of the 1939 taking or, at the very least, a level of negligence that warrants punishment.” The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has tarnished its own image by knowingly hoarding Nazi looted art in violation of the Washington Conference Principles and the Terezin Declaration. This is shameful and the “Baroness” needs to be held to account.

Camille Pissarro: "Rue St Honore, apres-midi, effet de pluie" (1897).

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Thanks For The Memories……………of Villa Favorita.

I often wondered what my reaction would be if and when Tita finally sold Villa Favorita; the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ “ancestral home”, or the closest thing they had to one, on the shore of Lake Lugano. Now I know, but I have to admit it did come as some surprise, when I realised that I was feeling quite emotional. As if I have suffered some personal loss and, in a way, I suppose I have. For during my various visits to Francesca or Heini and sometimes both, at the Villa Favorita, some twenty plus years ago, I never had anything less than an extremely enjoyable time.

But that was in those golden days before I wrote The Thyssen Art Macabre and everyone but Heini and Tita blamed me for their forbears’ misdeeds. For it is a little known fact that the rich often don’t like journalists or writers because they have managed to convince themselves that it wasn’t their fault that they, or the aforementioned forbears, did what they did, but the messenger’s fault for revealing it.

Now there were three ways to get to Villa Favorita, and probably still are: by road, by plane to Milan and taxi to Lugano or by plane to Geneva and a local connecting flight to Lugano (which has a notoriously short runway that Prince Charles overshot. Thus successfully diverting attention away from the purpose of his visit, which Heini insisted was to persuade him to move his art collection to Britain.)

I tried all three options, the latter part of the second being arranged by the staff at Villa Favorita and consisting of a reliance on the services of an ancient Packard, Dodge or Chevrolet driven by a man calling himself The Swiss Cowboy, who, with little or no encouragement, accompanied his renditions of Hank Williams classics on an ancient Gibson acoustic, while simultaneously challenging three lanes of busy afternoon traffic. His passengers’ eventual arrival in a state of catatonic shock subsequently awarding Heini and Francesca endless amusement!

Actually, you can also get there by train, which I seem to remember doing once, but I can’t remember anything about it, apart from being picked up by Francesca in her brand new BMW M3 convertible, which she drove with sufficient speed to replace my calm well-being with, for her, an amusing degree of terror.

I also tried the more local flight path via Geneva, but the second part of the journey involved navigating through the mountains with only a matter of feet between wing tips and snowy peaks, thus resulting in even greater terror and subsequent hysteria.

Sometimes we slept in one of the guest rooms, behind and above the Villa where the motley crew of dogs would come and wake us before waiting for breakfast to arrive. I also stayed with Francesca at her separate house, looking down on the Villa and out over the sparkling lake. And other times at the little Italian Hotel, down on the lakeside where the owner would sing Puccini while serving the customers supper, as God supplied the instrumental accompaniment, in the form of a magnificent thunderstorm.

The Villa’s banqueting hall was designed to seat eighty guests so, weather permitting, we ate lunch on the terrace and supper in an alcove with Tita or Francesca and sometimes Simon Levie; the highly entertaining art historian and director of the Rijksmuseum who, when I complained about the long-stemmed wine glasses with the miniature green bowls engraved with hunting scenes, and how they held insufficient wine and looked like something Heini had bought in a charity shop, giggled and said, while we doubtless all agreed, they were very old Hungarian glasses worth at least ten-thousand pounds each.

We also drank much better wine than Tita would ever serve in all the years I dined with Heini in Spain. One night with supper at the Villa we started on 1970 Margaux Grand Cru and stayed up all night drinking ever more expensive wines. Giorgio, his wonderfully elegant Italian butler, eventually started to plead with Heini not to be asked to open bottles worth thousands, because we were so obviously way past the point where our critical faculties were any longer operating. But Heini giggled and took even greater pleasure in his demands. After that Giorgio used to welcome me back with a resigned smile, while shaking his head from side to side.

Some evenings we would all go out to a restaurant. Heini and Tita would be driven in his Mercedes 600 Pullman, for which he had paid a premium for the removal of the glass division between the driver and his passengers. We would follow in another Mercedes with two bodyguards and their guns; the same bodyguards who Heini later told Tita, had drunk all his most expensive wines; while smiling at me across the table.

Tita often wore a solitaire diamond ring in which the pillow-shaped, pure white diamond must have been nearly two inches long. She also wore diamond and emerald earrings that were so heavy she had to have gold hooks over the top of her ears to support them. But this was in the days when Heini had his own jet and an ocean-going yacht, as well as the second biggest art collection in the world.

Two or three times he took me round the museum and into the storage room, which was like being inside a giant filing cabinet containing huge files on which pictures were hung; hundreds of them. He never talked much about the paintings or the artists, just anecdotes relating to their acquisition; how much he paid for them and how much they had become worth after being restored; though once, when we were both feeling rather emotional, Heini quietly cried and told me that he would have given his entire collection in return for being able to paint.

Another day, the entire board of directors from General Motors arrived for a meeting with Heini, which should have had nothing to do with me. But before I could arrange alternative entertainment for myself, Tita informed me that the men had arrived with their wives, for whom she was apparently expected to act as hostess and entertain for lunch on the terrace and expected me to help her. It wasn’t an order but it was close! And much to my surprise, it proved to be an enjoyable and valuable experience. It was the first time that I had seen Tita in full charm mode and I have to admit, it was extremely impressive, to both me and to the corporate wives.

As the only male guest I didn’t really have to work very hard. The palatial backdrop helped me give my best Noel Coward impression and the rest was down to the hot sun and ‘ennnnndless’ champagne.

Heini didn’t like the Villa very much. No one did. Only his father had done and Sandor Berkes, Heinrich’s surviving, deeply wonderful Hungarian chauffeur, manservant, curator and companion still did. It was fusty and damp and styleless; full of fake grandeur and art and guilty secrets.

I felt sorry for it. For despite the fact that Villa Favorita and Switzerland had protected the Thyssen-Bornemisza fortune, it had never been appreciated or a real home to any of them. Just a monument to a very, very rich but dysfunctional family, including four banished ex-wives and their children.

The last time I stayed at the Villa, I spent two days on Francesca`s beautiful faux Renaissance terrace, making a piece of sculpture. It consisted of a cracked wooden heart with a giant cast iron nail driven through it; in anticipation, perhaps, of how I already sensed the Thyssen-Bornemisza family would come to an end, at the Villa Favorita, by the side of Lake Lugano.

Grand Cru Classe: Heini Thyssen and David Litchfield at Villa Favorita, ca. 1989 (photo: Nicola Graydon)

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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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