Posts Tagged ‘Burgenland’

Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 6: ‘Two Burghers’ Lives in the Public Eye: The Brothers Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’, by Felix de Taillez, published by Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn, 2017


The official Second World War history put out by the Thyssen complex has always been that Fritz Thyssen supported the Nazis for a while but, being against war, fled Germany only to be recaptured and locked up in a concentration camp. Of his brother Heinrich it was said he was a Hungarian living in Switzerland with no connection to either Germany or the Nazis. When we revealed in our book ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ (2007) that this was far from the truth, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation launched an academic response, which this book forms part of. It is mostly concerned with the press coverage of the Thyssens and, at 546 pages, is the longest in the series, which is why this review runs to 20 pages. The book continues the general theme that, while the various authors are revealing information contradicting the old Thyssen myths, overall these myths are nonetheless kept very much alive.


As we will see, Felix de Taillez would qualify this as being ‘entirely understandable’, since the Thyssens and the Thyssen company had ‘a reputation to defend’. (In 1997 Thyssen AG merged with Krupp AG to become thyssenkrupp, which is currently in major economic turmoil). De Taillez’s favourite tool in avoiding the making of justified criticism is to say that something is „remarkable“. He uses the term exceedingly frequently throughout the book, which comes across as highly staged. It is a vague term not expected with such high frequency in an academic work. De Taillez seems to use it to create an atmosphere of ‘spin’ which can beguile people with no previous knowledge of the subject matter. It harbours the danger of turning his otherwise excellent work of history into one of public relations.


To the general public, De Taillez pulls off these two faces particularly well and it comes as no surprise that he has landed a prestigious job as an advisor – presumably on German history – at the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, which oversees the training of the officers corps. But there are inconsistencies in his book presentation and the fact his theories now seem to feed into the country’s state-sponsored history make these particularly concerning. His official online presence at the Ludwig Maximillian University promises:




This statement appears to promise a new honesty and yet leaves one puzzled, as it does not appear in the book itself and is not, in fact, representative of the elaborations in the book. There, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s absence in the media is still principally explained by his involvement in a court case in London as a young man, in which he is said to have made such bad experiences with the press, that he subsequently – with his marriage in 1906 – retreated completely from public (especially German!) life, to be an apolitical, Hungarian nobleman.


This is also the version which family members have propagated ever since. Again recently Francesca Habsburg née Thyssen-Bornemisza, let herself be fêted in the pages of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine as pretender to the Austrian throne and ‘grand-daughter of a Hungarian Baron’. Which is certainly more pleasant than having to expose Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza correctly as a German commoner, weapons manufacturer and Nazi banker; especially when one suns oneself, as Habsburg-Thyssen does, in the beautiful appearance of the expensive art the family bought, at least in part, with the profits of these reprehensible activities.


Even the title chosen by Felix de Taillez is noticeably misleading, as it suggests that both brothers were anchored equally and intentionally, and as bourgeois members of society, within the public sphere. Yet these Thyssen brothers in particular, really did not see themselves as part of the middle class at all. Also less than one quarter of the book deals with Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and then only with his explicitly authorised visibility in the exclusive, only partially public spheres of art collecting (which was already monitored comprehensibly by Johannes Gramlich) and horse racing (which we will deal with in a separate article following this review).


We expected de Taillez to show how, apart from his presence in these two domains, Heinrich Thyssen managed to stay consistently out of the media, and what he aimed to withhold from general view. After all, the newly created archive of the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation in Duisburg has an astonishing 840 continuous meters of hitherto unaccessed material (except by us) on the Thyssen-Bornemisza complex. But instead of letting the wind of Aufarbeitung blow through the holdings of the ThyssenKrupp AG archives and these newly acquired files, the public is once again fobbed off with crumbs.


In this volume, as so far in the series, the politico-economical actions especially of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, remain mostly camouflaged, this time, as befits the subject matter, behind the statement that the brothers were ‘victims of biased reporting’ and ‘helplessly exposed to media mechanisms’. Felix de Taillez does not mention Heinrich’s involvement in private banking, which is by its very nature, highly secretive. He leaves his close friendship with Hermann Göring (a client of the August Thyssen Bank) untackled and keeps silent about the use of the bank by the ‘Abwehr’, the German counter-intelligence service. In so doing, he avoids giving any information about the mechanisms used in turn by the Thyssens, and particularly Heinrich, in order to manipulate the media and keep their activities out of its spotlight.


* * *


One of the insightful descriptions in this book is the statement that during the Ruhrkampf battle in 1923, Heinrich ‘cast his political lot in with Fritz’, that ‘in certain respects (…) he was even more radical than his brother (Fritz), as he rejected negotiations with the occupation force outright’. ‘Behind the scenes’, says de Taillez, Heinrich, ‘together with his associates, who had all linked together in a “patriotic movement of the Ruhr“, met leading members of the army and politicians in Berlin (…)’. – For unknown reasons, de Taillez does not mention who these “associates“ were -. As ‘finance administrator’ of the ‘Ruhr Protection Association’, Taillez continues, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza ‘helped organise propaganda in favour of Germany in all occupied territories’, (as well as in) ‘Holland, Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine and Italy’.


One would like to ask Frau Habsburg why a man, who was allegedly a Hungarian Baron, would do such a thing. And why has it taken a century for these attitudes and actions of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza to see the light of day? Because over the years, a conscious strategy was at play, whereby the Thyssen complex portrayed the Thyssen brothers as if Fritz had been the German national hero and Heinrich free of all ‘German evil’. It is the ideal way in which to confuse the public concerning questions of power and guilt.


But as advantageous as such kinds of ‘legends of convenience’ might be, it is very time-consuming to uphold them. Because, if you believe Felix de Taillez, the world is full of ‘merciless’ left-wing writers who, for some unfathomable reason, insist on questioning things. This, according to him, is also the reason why, of all papers, ‘the social democrat paper “Vorwärts“’ in 1932 was leaked by a Dutch insider (and printed the information) that the Thyssen company ‘Vulcaan (was) favoured for the ore freight traffic of (the United Steelworks), by being the only shipping company enjoying very long-term contracts with the Düsseldorf steel giant. Furthermore the (United Steelworks) paid rates for this service, which were far above going market prices’.


One would assume that the fact part of the Thyssen fortune, which has been described so pointedly by Christopher Neumaier as ‘exorbitant’, seems to have been based on some dishonest business practices, should be condemned. But de Taillez allows himself instead the following comment: ‘Thus business connections were uncovered which the Thyssens had tried to camouflage under considerable efforts.’ As if acts of economic crime were an achievement and the real scandal their disclosure by those seeking the truth.


And de Taillez adds yet another layer to this twisted approach. Fritz Thyssen declared the lack of capital to be the Weimar Republic’s biggest economic problem. But when asked about his own capital flight from Germany, for instance in a 1924 interview with Ferdinand de Brinon, he circumvented the question. Absolutely understandable, in the eyes of de Taillez, as he had to maintain his reputation as a ‘dutyful German entrepreneur’. Whereby the artificiality of the Thyssens’ reputation, in the twinkling of an eye, receives an academic and, because of the author’s current position, a quasi stately seal of approval.


* * *


The lives of the Thyssen brothers Heinrich and Fritz teem with artificiality. There is their militarism, which de Taillez explains as their internalised connection to ‘army, tradition, faith and military practices’. Both trained in Hohenzollern elite regiments, however Heinrich declined war service and Fritz escaped it early by ‘having himself charged, on his own suggestion, with an official order by the Foreign Office to clarify the raw material situation for the Reich in the orient (Ottoman Empire)’. Stephan Wegener’s assertion that the Thyssens suffered high material losses through World War One is nothing but family folklore designed to shield unpalatable truths. Wegener, a member of the Josef Thyssen side of the family, conveniently leaves out that they were not only compensated by the German state, but made huge, fully audited profits supplying steel, armaments and submarines, with the assistance of forced labour. It is unforgivable that an academic such as Felix de Taillez and others in the series repeat the family legends of overall material war loss, as if they were fact.


The issue of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s adopted nationality shows most clearly what kinds of self-staging the family used. As he had to position himself as a ‘Hungarian’ to contrast Fritz, Heinrich insisted unforgivingly on his castle in Burgenland being called by its Hungarian name ‘Rohoncz’. He said he found the German version too ‘socialist’ (implying falsely that the German term had only come about in 1919 with the proclamation of the republic, see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, page 123). According to de Taillez, Heinrich even got into fights with the Burgenland County Government, the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture and the Foreign Office in Berlin. Ironically the castle administration sat somewhere completely different, namely with Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor in Rotterdam. ‘The Baron’ camouflaged himself twice and threefold; sedentary officials had no tools to counteract such extravagant strategies.


Fritz too opposed the abolishment of the German and Austrian monarchies and the rise of social democracy. According to de Taillez he saw Germany as a hard-pressed center surrounded by a tight circle formed by England, France, Italy and Russia and was of the opinion that ‘the big pressure from outside did not allow for the German national unification to proceed by democratic means’. Fritz thought social democrats as ‘moderate revolutionaries’ were ‘just as dangerous’ as more radical subversives. According to de Taillez, Thyssen wanted the ‘spirit of the worker’ to be ‘German’ and no more. While the unions were requesting increased rationalisations, shortening of working hours and increased wages, he wanted a ’Volk’ (people) strengthened by the increase of the working day from 8 to 10 (!) hours and an end to participative management (a German speciality, whereby workers representatives sit on the management board). But how could this be made palatable for the men returning from the horrors of the First World War, who were turning in droves to pacifist and democratic organisations?


According to Niels Löffelbein, George Mosse explains the rise of fascism with a ‘brutalisation’ of post-war political culture through the mass of soldiers, which led to a ‘dissolution of boundaries and a radicalisation of political might’. Angel Alcalde counters that the world war participants were increasingly ‘instrumentalised’ as anti-bolshevik fighters by the extreme right and the veterans organisations. This, says Alcalde, happened during the ‘mytho-motoric incubation period’ of the 1920s. Thus the connection between radical nationalism and war was celebrated within the cult for the fallen heroes (and those still willing to fight on). According to de Taillez, as early as October 1917, Fritz Thyssen submitted an enrollment declaration to the right-wing, nationalist Deutsche Vaterlandspartei (DVLP, German Patriotic Party). In 1927 he gave a speech during an event of the ‘Stahlhelm Bund der Frontsoldaten’ (Steel Helmet Association of Front-Line Soldiers), the ‘fighting force ready for violence’ of the Deutschnationale Volkspartei (DNVP) in his hometown of Mülheim. He is also said to have been ‘very close’ to the ‘Association of the anti-democratic, extreme right-wing Harzburger Front’.


Felix de Taillez writes that Thyssen supported the Austro-fascist home guard militias: ‘Via Anton Apold, the general manager of the Austrian-Alpine Mining Company (Österreichisch-Alpine Montangesellschaft) (…), which in its majority belonged to the United Steelworks, (…) there was a connection of Thyssen with the radical right-wing home guards of Austria’. ‘The Düsseldorf Peoples Paper (Düsseldorfer Volkszeitung) insinuated that the big German industrialist wished to test out, “on the limited battle field of Austria“, how the unions’ influence could be broken’.


Without the shadow of a doubt, these associations would have been backed by Heinrich as well, but as a purported Hungarian privatier, he managed to keep out of all media reports about the topic and thus was not publicly perceived as a supporter of the extreme right in the German-speaking world. By not clarifying this circumstance, de Taillez adds to the picture of Heinrich drawn by the series as not being in any way a sympathiser of the far right. It is an allegation based purely on the absence of public sources, which was deliberately engineered by Heinrich and his associates. Absence of proof is not proof of absence and this should have been exposed by de Taillez. It is not, as exposing Heinrich’s far right-wing sympathies would destroy the Thyssen family mythological reputation.


* * *


For the Thyssens, there were always conflicts of interests between their national affiliation and their economic ambitions. After they had transposed the ownership structures of their works to the neutral Netherlands before the First World War, Fritz and his father August participated shortly after the war in talks about the formation of a Rhenanian Republic. According to de Taillez, the accusation by the Workers and Soldiers Council was that they ‘had requested the separation of Rhenania-Westphalia and the occupation of the Ruhr by the Allies’. A waiter had reported the meeting and the Thyssens were soon accused of being ‘greedy hypocrites’ and ‘money bag patriots’; others said this was a slur on the loyally German industrialists. The case against them was dismissed (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 56) and Felix de Taillez writes that the waiter admitted to having lied. It does not cross his mind that this man might have needed to do so in order to keep his, or indeed any, job. Afterwards, Fritz Thyssen, who, according to de Taillez, ‘had a much higher status for German politics than a normal citizen’, was commissioned by the Foreign Office in Berlin to participate in the confidential follow-up negotiations for individual articles of the Versailles Peace Treaty.


Soon after the war, Fritz Thyssen also began to establish for himself an alternative domicile in Argentina by buying, first of all, the Estancia Don Roberto Lavaisse in the province of San Luis. The family’s connections with South America went back to pre-war times, when August Thyssen had founded in Buenos Aires a branch of the German-Overseas Trading Company of the Thyssen Works (Hamborn) (Deutsch-Überseeische Handelsgesellschaft der Thyssen’schen Werke). Since 1921 the company was called Compania Industrial & Mercantil Thyssen Limitada. In 1927 it took over the Lametal company and from them on ‘went under the name of Thyssen-Lametal S.A.’. According to de Taillez, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sold it in 1927 for 4.8 million guilders to the United Steelworks. In Brazil too the family had owned property for years and advertised commercial trade there.


During the Ruhrkampf (battle against the Ruhr occupation) of 1923, which Fritz Thyssen allegedly saw as a ‘legitimate defence measure against foreign begrudgers’, he let himself be represented in the allied court by Friedrich Grimm, an avowed anti-semite and subsequent Nazi lawyer who, according to de Taillez, defended Nazi perpetrators after 1945 and downplayed Nazi crimes. In the eyes of the author, Thyssen was merely ‘talked up’ artificially as a ‘projectory surface’ for a ‘new German national identity’, respectively for a ‘free Germanness’, particularly by the New York Times and the Times of London. But the Ruhrkampf was the first occasion for Fritz to move out very publicly from the shadow of his almighty father, whose health had started to deteriorate, In our opinion, this motive of self-liberation is a factor in Fritz Thyssen’s publicly celebrated swing to the right that should not be underestimated.


If you listen to de Taillez, it must ‘remain open’, ‘whether Fritz Thyssen was captured by the world of a sometimes extreme nationalism, which had formed in Germany during the First World War’. What a pity that his wife Amelie Thyssen gets so little attention in this series, apart from her role as co-founder of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. According to a statement made by Heini Thyssen to us, there was certainly nothing ‘talked up’ about Amelie Thyssen’s politics and she indeed seems to have been national socialist in her strong German nationalism during this ‘1920s incubation period’ and beyond. Although time and again de Taillez describes how much Fritz depended on his wife’s opinions, he leaves the possibility of political influencing within this couple’s relationship completely unmentioned. Since Amelie was the driving force in successfully reclaiming the Thyssen organisation after the Second World War, any bad light on her would, once again, harm the Thyssen family mythological reputation.


Grimm’s argument before the court was characterised by his statement that ‘private assets such as Ruhr coal (…) legally could not simply be confiscated, in order to settle state debts, without compensating the owners’. Taillez alleges that the Ruhrkampf set in motion in Fritz Thyssen a ‘sense of political mission’, which ‘surpassed by far the activities in the interests of the business’. He concedes that Thyssen, by saying that the German economy could only recover ‘through even greater working output’, had incurred guilt: ‘through such public statements (…) he also contributed to the failing of the social partnership in the 1920s, which gravely endangered the democratic form of government in Germany’.


Eventually, Fritz would be indulged by Adolf Hitler with a promise to establish a Research and Development Department for Fritz’s concept of a corporate state. This unrequited activity encouraged Fritz in considerable political activity. Fritz was disappointed by his project’s lack of action, but, when he pointed this out to Hitler, was told: ‘I never made you any promises. I’ve nothing to thank you for. What you did for my movement you did for your own benefit and wrote it off as an insurance premium’ (quoted by Henry Ashby Turner Jr., see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 108).


According to de Taillez, Fritz Thyssen followed his own business interests above all else, apart from situations when it was not completely clear to him ‘which path would served (these) most’. Within European rapprochement politics, he describes him as ‘ambiguous’. Thyssen critised the Weimar Republic in the French press as well as the North-American public sphere, described the German government as ‘weak and not trustworthy’ and thus ‘stuck the knife into German foreign politics in a difficult situation’. On the other hand, he criticised the ‘short-sighted and mean-spirited, selfish economic politics of the North Americans’. Thyssen ‘wanted bilateral exchange contracts for the traffic of raw materials, which were to put a stop to international financial speculations and achieve independence from exchange rates’. But when Fritz ‘(ranted) against finance techniques which (he said) were getting in the way of the real economy’, he failed to mention that the Thyssen family controlled 100% of three international banks and thereby was itself a global financial player (which, strangely, Felix de Taillez does not mention).


* * *


Although his group leader, Simone Derix, refuted this comprehensively, de Taillez continues to allege that Heinrich managed his inherited share of the family concern independently from Fritz’s. He says the relationship between the two brothers was bad. Now they might not have loved each other wholeheartedly; it is normal for there to be certain jealousies between siblings. Heini Thyssen told us how his father walked down Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich one day and changed to the other side of the street when he saw his brother Fritz. But this had indeed more to do with image than realities. Heini too wished to give the impression of discord, because his own, the Thyssen-Bornemisza side of the family, had managed to keep disassociated from discussions about the Third Reich. A photograph of the three brothers in 1938 (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 128) and here shows that there were no problems in their relationship. Instead of being objective, de Taillez repeats parrot-like old Thyssen-internal myths, which have become dogma. This is particularly ‘remarkable’ as he tells us, on the other hand, that he wants to ‘interpret’ both men as ‘a unit of almost complementary opposite numbers’, whose ‘visibility respectively invisibility’ appears (from this perspective) as a ‘coordinated strategy of political action’.


After Heinrich received his ‘exorbitant’ inheritance in 1926, for a few short years he invested massively into paintings and works of art, thereby following the example of his friend Eduard von der Heydt, who had moved to Switzerland that same year. Despite it never being housed there, he called his collection ‘Rohoncz Castle Collection’, to give the impression of it having grown organically over a long period of time, and being of an aristocratic cachet. As such he had it exhibited in 1930 in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. But Friedrich Winkler of the State Museums in Berlin compared ‘Thyssen-Bornemisza’s methods (…) to Napoleon’s art theft’ and described him as ‘clueless, uninformed, limited and dependent on the opinions of dealers and experts’. Rudolf Buttmann, delegate of the Nazi party in the Bavarian County Parliament, called the collection ‘an entity gathered by dealers’. Many false attributions and fakes were decried and the whole thing descended into a veritable ‘media scandal’. According to de Taillez, the Munich Pinakothek was willing only in the case of 60 out of 428 paintings to take them temporarily into their own stock after the end of the exhibition.


But these were highly speculative times with an ‘increasing commercialisation of the art market’. Despite all the hoo-ha, Heinrich’s ‘calculation to have the value of his collection determined publicly’ came good (at 50 million RM – without de Taillez explaining how he would know of such a ‘calculation’). His enterprise was described as a ‘national deed’ in which ‘the whole of Germany was said to be interested’. He was described as a ‘saviour of German cultural goods’, who was endowed with a ‘bourgeois educational mandate’ over the public. Meanwhile, it was striking that Heinrich was not presented anywhere as the son of the famous Ruhr industrialist and creator of the family fortune, August Thyssen. Instead, he was made out to be ‘the great stranger’, a person of ominous flair who nobody seemed to know exactly where he came from. There needed to be just enough ‘Germanness’ tagged onto him to keep conservative Munich audiences happy, while still maintaining the illusion of Heinrich’s adopted Hungarianness. What is troubling is that de Taillez does not openly decry this as the obvious Thyssen manipulation of public perception that it was.


The town of Düsseldorf and its art museum, which were ‘leading amongst big German cities’ during the Weimar years in view of a ‘highly developed apparatus of communal public relations’, was used by Heinrich Thyssen over many years, according to de Taillez. He took himself for ‘such an important personality (…), that he could make demands on the local political sphere’. It appears nonsensical that de Taillez equally alleges that the national positioning of Heinrich in Germany was only down to the materials handed out to the press by his art advisor Rudolf Heinemann and the Düsseldorf mayor Robert Lehr and that it was not in Heinrich’s own sense. Heinrich had organised propaganda in favour of Germany, he also kept his German passport (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 55 – confirmed by Simone Derix) and accepted German compensation payments for war damages to his enterprises (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p.201 – confirmed by Harald Wixforth). It is incomprehensible why de Taillez makes such contradictory statements; unless the accusations levelled at the series’ output of having been influenced by the source of their sponsorship – the Fritz Thyssen Foundation – might be justified.


Felix de Taillez goes way further than he should by not just obfuscating existing Thyssen manipulations but even generating new ones. He writes: ‘Heinrich (reacted) to the debacle of the exhibition, namely by restructuring big parts of his collection afterwards, selling THE controversial paintings and only thereby creating the actual breakthrough to the collection which is today world renowned’. His underpinning reference is to Johannes Gramlich’s volume ‘The Thyssens As Art Collectors’, pages 263-273. There, however, only 32 paintings are mentioned as having been sold between 1930 and 1937. Thyssen-internal lists available to us show that 405 paintings bought by Heinrich up to 1930 were inherited by his children in 1948. This would mean that only 23 paintings had theoretically been sold between 1930 and 1948.


So there can be no talk of Heinrich ‘restructuring big parts of his collection (after the exhibition debacle)…….selling THE controversial paintings’, which makes it sound like ALL the controversial pictures exhibited by Thyssen in 1930 were subsequently sold by him.


Even today, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid contains at least 120 paintings from the 1930 Munich Exhibition. If there was any ‘restructuring’ of the 1930 collection, it was not done actively by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, but happened passively following his death, mainly through inheritance share-outs (1948, as well as 1993 after Hans Heinrich (‘Heini’) Thyssen sold only half the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection to Spain – the other half went to his wife and four children).


There was also a sale specifically of German paintings in the 1950s by Heini Thyssen who, after the Nazi period, wanted to be seen as being even more disconnected from Germany (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 269). And of course, Heini Thyssen became an art collector on a completely different scale to his father and did indeed buy some very good, mostly modern, paintings.


Many of the questionable paintings exhibited in 1930, however, remained in Thyssen ownership and de Taillez’s assertion that they did not is misleading.


It must be remembered in this context that Heini Thyssen bought back most of the paintings that went to his siblings in the 1948 inheritance share out, so that most of the questionable 1930 paintings would have ended up in his possession. The Thyssens’ attitude has always been that once a painting had entered their inventory it was to be seen as beyond reproach. In this, they sought to emulate the prestige which the Rothschilds possessed. Most members of the general public, influenced by the media – who are possibly submitted to a VIP equivalent of the royal rota (whereby journalists are excluded from access to members of the royal family if they publish negative stories) -, have always seemed to accept this version of reality.


* * *


What is noticeable throughout the book and the series as a whole is that it comprises not a single personal quote from a living member of the Thyssen family. So much new history is being written about them and one wonders what they feel now that some of the plates that had, for so long and at great expense, been kept spinning in the air are starting to come tumbling down.


But Felix de Taillez would not be Felix de Taillez if he did not release us from the world of Thyssen art with yet another piece of white wash. Various art advisors, museum directors and the Baron himself had made contradictory statements about when exactly the paintings had been bought. Had they ever been at Rechnitz Castle, as the name of the collection suggested? Sometimes they said yes, sometimes no. The Thyssen-internal lists available to us show that he bought his first painting in 1928 and all works remained in safe deposits until the 1930 exhibition (the foreword to the exhibition catalogue makes this very clear – see here). Which did not, however, stop the Baron from saying sometimes that he had made his first art purchase in 1906, the year he married into Hungary.


In the 1930s, his lawyer did something similar with the Swiss authorities: ‘In connection with Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s move to Switzerland it is furthermore remarkable that the first exhibition of his collection in Munich was of financial use to him. For the import of his paintings and other works of art into Switzerland he was able to use, vis-a-vis the Swiss authorities, the reference to the exhibition with said catalogue as proof that around 250 valuable paintings had been in his possession already for a longer period of time. Through this gambit he was able to have the works of art moved to Lugano “for his personal enjoyment“ and exempt from customs duties’.


(The name of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Ticino lawyer was Roberto van Aken, and it was not the only time he bent the truth on behalf of his client),


To recapitulate: Felix de Taillez applauds the outwitting of the Swiss customs authorities by Heinrich Thyssen’s malleable lawyer, seems to give as a reason why allegedly 250, not 428 paintings were moved to Switzerland, that the Baron had sold the questionable paintings and, at the same time, like Johannes Gramlich, leaves us completely in the dark as to when and how exactly this transfer of goods out of Germany is supposed to have taken place. As the collection at the time of the 1948 inheritance share-out contained a total of 542 paintings, he also leaves unexplained where the other almost 300 paintings are supposed to have come from and when they got into Switzerland.


The fact the Thyssens themselves were intransparent concerning this matter is understandable. But it is unacceptable that academics, having been commissioned almost a century later to work through the events in a claimed ‘independent’ manner, are behaving in the same way. Particularly as no family members have been quoted.


* * *


On the whole, while Felix de Taillez is remarkably obstinate in prolonging the myths surrounding Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, he seems somewhat more direct in his presentation of Fritz. We dont suggest the Fritz Thyssen Foundation or the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation have steered the results of these academic investigations. But the fact access to source materials and financial sponsorship were granted by these entities (on whose boards sits only ONE Thyssen family member, namely Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza, a descendant of Heinrich, not Fritz) must have led the authors to tread with a degree of ‘caution’ in their ultimate assessments.


Continuing on the theme of Fritz, following the putsch by General Jose Felix Uriburu, an ‘undemocratic decade’ began in Argentina in 1930, during which a ‘strong economic integration with Germany’ came about. According to de Taillez, ‘strongly extreme right-wing movements’ existed there from the 1890s onwards, and ‘already before the seizure of power in Germany’ the foreign organisation of the Nazi party ‘took hold (in Argentina) particularly well’ (see also ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 195). Lateron the La Plata newspaper reported that Fritz Thyssen in 1930 (!) proclaimed the ‘dawn of the coming, new Germany’ under Hitler in the Argentinian public. In 1934 he demanded in the Argentinian Journal (Argentinisches Tageblatt) the ‘unlimited power of the new (German) government in order to boost the economy’, which de Taillez describes as ‘remarkable’, after all he had ‘normally always insisted on big freedoms for the private economy’. De Taillez continues: ‘According to Thyssen, the concentration of power in the Nazi state offered the important advantage, of making decisions, without having to take “half-measures“ and “make compromises“ like in the “party state contaminated by Marxism“’. By which Fritz used the extremist language of the National Socialists against political opponents.


During the Gelsenberg affair in 1932 there were press reports, encouraged by the former Reich Finance Minister Hermann Dietrich, that Fritz Thyssen had negotiated a deal for the United Steelworks with French and Dutch investors, but that the Reich government wanted to prevent this, because it did not wish for foreign influence on the enterprise. By writing a letter to the German public, that he had ‘only explored the possibility of obtaining loans’, Thyssen ‘consciously exposed the Reich government’, writes de Taillez. The author argues that Thyssen’s statements were dismantled when a letter by Friedrich Flick to him was leaked to the Frankfurter Zeitung, which showed that Flick ‘had (rejected) Thyssen’s suggestion precisely because of the source of the money connected with it’. The Düsseldorf Volkszeitung newspaper reacted by calling Thyssen ‘unpatriotic’.


At the beginning of 1932, while his brother Heinrich bought Villa Favorita in Lugano, Fritz ‘veered demonstratively towards National Socialism’. His wife had already joined the party on 01.03.1931. He would do so officially on 07.07.1933. Looking back at the Ruhrkampf, Fritz concluded, according to de Taillez, that this was ‘a preliminary for the national socialist body of thought of the new Germany’: ‘In contrast to 1932 now it is not just the Ruhr area standing firm, but the whole of Germany will go the path that the “Führer“ is prescribing. The shattering of Marxism in the country was only down to Hitler, the SA and the SS’ (from an article in the Kölnische Zeitung newspaper ‘Fritz Thyssen about the class struggle’, on 02.05.1933).


Thus Thyssen became a ‘media player’, who under Hitler ‘profited considerably from the abolition of the freedom of the press’, as soon nobody was allowed any longer to set anything against his verbal crudeness. Meanwhile, he led negotiations in Buenos Aires ‘with high state organs’ such as ‘General Agustin Pedro Justo, the President in power since 1932 after rigged elections’. Subsequently an Argentinian-German trade agreement, including offsetting and compensation procedures, was signed in November 1934, whereby trade between the two countries increased drastically. It seems Thyssen was trying to help form an antipole to Anglo-American economic might. But Felix de Taillez believes Fritz, utterly selfishly, was just helping construct his own ‘image’ as an ‘influential economic leader’, to bring great publicity to himself.


Not all of the South-American press was positive about Thyssen. The Argentinian Tagesblatt paper in 1934 talked about a ‘coming together of joint bankruptcies’ having taken place in 1933, when the United Steelworks were bankrupt and the Nazi party was ‘hopelessly in debt’. ‘The newspaper accused the United Steelworks under Thyssen’s leadership as chairman of the supervisory board to have carried out extensive accounting fraud.’ (from their article ‘Business deals of a State Councillor’, dated 08.11.1934). The Cologne cultural magazine ‘Westdeutscher Scheinwerfer’ described Fritz Thyssen as an ‘autocrat’ and ‘said the main reason for the crisis at the United Steelworks was the contentious personal politics of Fritz Thyssen’. His critics in the media ‘declared Fritz Thyssen to be incapable in economic and political affairs’ and ‘made him responsible for the high losses at United Steelworks’.


It was the very thing his father August, who had no social ambition but lived entirely for his works, had warned about many years earlier. He had ensured Fritz was only head of the supervisory board, not the management board, in order to minimise the damage August was convinced Fritz would do to the company. August believed Heinrich was only marginally more adequate than Fritz to be head of the Thyssen empire (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 70).


Meanwhile, after the war, the Allies would accuse the United Steelworks of ‘consistently giving their full financial support to the militarily-minded National Socialist Party’. Loping the ball back into the allied court, Fritz Thyssen would write in 1950 ‘In my opinion, the Nuremberg trials were conducted mainly to find someone to blame for Hitler’s WAR policy. It would have been very embarrassing for the Americans to have to admit that they had supported the German rearmament from the very first, because they wished for a WAR against Russia’ (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, pages 80 and 230).


‘Remarkably’ for a man whose credibility depends on the assertion that his anti-war stance led him eventually to breaking with the Nazis, when the national socialists Wilhelm von Keppler and Kurt von Schröder collected signatures to ask Paul von Hindenburg to make Adolf Hitler Reich Chancellor, Fritz Thyssen was the ONLY member of the Ruhrlade (association of the 12 most important Ruhr industrialists that existed from 1928 to 1939) to sign. In his dealings with other industrialists he could be gruff and rude. He warned colleagues to be ‘disciplined’, especially those who he thought were being ‘liberalistic’. People such as Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, who strove against Hitler as long as he could and who, like Richard Freudenberg and many others, only surrendered to national socialism once it had been installed, as a dictatorship, with the help of the Thyssens and their associates. According to de Taillez ‘(Thyssen) threatened possible interferers citing his new influence on the state organs in charge’, i.e. he told them he would report them to Hermann Göring.


This is an admission of extremely overbearing Thyssen behaviour issued by the Thyssen complex as official historiography, which, as such, really is remarkable.


* * *


And it does not stop there. Fritz Thyssen also threatened catholic priests, who were normally his allies. In March 1933, for instance, he let it be known to Cardinal Schulte that his family would not take part in any more church services ‘as long as the unjust treatment of the Führer & members of the Nazi party endured’. He took part in sociological special meetings in Maria Laach under the Abbott Ildefons Herwegen and the circle of ‘anti-democratic rightwing catholics’, who, according to de Taillez, were ‘annexable by the national socialists’. These were ‘against the enlightenment, universal human rights, democracy, liberalism, socialism, communism, decidedly anti-semitic’ and in favour of an ‘authoritarian corporatism’. They were trying to develop a ‘Reich Theology’, ‘supported by the association of catholic academics’.


Reminding us once again that it was the professions, such as the legal community, who took particularly early and enthusiastically to the Nazi ideology.


Despite all this threatening behaviour, Felix de Taillez alleges – not very convincingly – that Fritz Thyssen interpreted national socialism ‘in a conservative manner’. Apparently, he saw it as the ‘renaissance of a lost State and of the Volksgemeinschaft (Peoples Community)’. He writes that for Thyssen, national socialism was not so much an ideology as a ‘HEROIC FORCE’, whereby a ‘class of people underpinning the state’ had been resurrected, who had taken up the ‘battle against the gravediggers of the state’. – This is reminiscent of the intrumentalising slogans, used by proto-fascist veterans’ associations as mentioned by Angel Alcalde -. But in the same paragraph, Fritz Thyssen then divulged his elitist understanding of his role within national socialism, when he said that one would, however, take away ‘the dignity and primacy of this class of people if one were to try and lift up 64 million people into the same dignity through ideological propaganda’.


For the Rheinische Zeitung newspaper, this meant that Thyssen was a fascist, but no ‘roister Nazi’. In reality it meant that he saw himself and his family as part of the State, but not as part of the Volksgemeinschaft (Peoples’ Community), which he thought should be kept subservient to himself and his associates.

It sounds less like a conservative and more like a FEUDAL understanding of national socialism.


As the dictatorship gathered momentum, the Gauleiter of Essen, Josef Terboven, asked Rudolf Hess in a letter ‘to have the “Führer“ name Thyssen as politico-economic plenipotentiary for the Ruhr area and to have his position endowed with unconditional authority’. There seems to have been a power triangle of Hermann Göring, Gauleiter Terboven and Fritz Thyssen, whose media voice piece was the National-Zeitung newspaper. According to de Taillez, Thyssen took part in the Nuremberg party rallies. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Reichsbank, of the Academy of German Law and of the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy (see also here). By 1938, Fritz had assembled so many supervisory board mandates for himself, ‘that he was positioned as an individual in the centre of a network of the Reich economic elite, on third place after the chairman of the United Steelworks, Albert Vögler, and the bank director of Berliner Handelsgesellschaft, Wilhelm Koeppel’.


* * *


The groundbreaking thesis of Felix de Taillez is that it took a long time for Thyssen to break with the Nazis: ‘The assertions uttered by him and by his associates during the 1948 denazification proceedings that he had already turned away demonstratively during the 1930s (thus appear) as no more than pretextual, easy to see through, defensive attempts.’ Even in 1936, de Taillez writes, Thyssen still defended Hitler at the Industry Club in Düsseldorf ‘almost manically’, using quotations from “Mein Kampf“. In the same year, he showed himself to be ‘unteachable’, as he accused those who saw the Nazis’ armaments policies as harbingers of war, of being wrong. According to Thyssen, ‘it was only owing to Hitler that Germany was once again seen internationally as an equal partner’. Gottfried Niedhart and the Perlentaucher (elitist culture blog) have taken up joyfully the interpretation that Fritz Thyssen ‘was not at all the powerful man behind Hitler’, but only ‘blinded’ by him, and that ‘he really seems to have thought that the rearmament did not serve the preparation of war, but the goal of “becoming capable of forming alliances“’.


But why should one believe that a man, whose views were otherwise so changeable and untrustworthy, should have seen clearly and been truthful in his anti-war stance, which just so happens to hit at the central agony of the German nation (namely the question of their responsibility for the Nazis’ war and its horrors)? Does it not, rather, seem like yet another attempt at obscuring the Thyssens’ long-lasting support of the National Socialist regime? Particularly as his alleged anti-war stance was central also to the Thyssens’ ability of regaining their assets from the allies after the war.


And why, if Fritz knew, as he wrote in 1950, that the Americans wanted to rearm Germany to go to war with Russia, did he not break away from this evil alliance earlier on?! Because he too was for a war against the Soviet Union after all? Or because it was more important for him to reap the economic benefits than to take a moral stance? And if so, why are these official Thyssen biographers overall still alleging his flight from Germany, when it finally came, to have been a moral stance, rather than one of convenience, when according to de Taillez, he had missed out so many earlier opportunities at opposing Hitler’s plans?


In the words of de Taillez, when Hermann Göring declared the mobilisation of the wartime economy in the summer of 1938, Thyssen propagated ‘this propaganda in the media through his clear avowal of allegiance to the Four-Year-Plan’. In February 1939 he was named by Walther Funk (who was a client of the August Thyssen Bank, see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 87) as a Leader of the Wartime Economy. The assertions presented at the denazification trial that Thyssen had harboured ‘serious thoughts of subversion’ and had been in contact with resistance circles is described by de Taillez as ‘idle’, because ‘reliable sources do not exist’. Rather, de Taillez testifies to Thyssen remaining absolutely ‘inactive’ until November 1939, i.e. until two months after the start of the war. An assertion that ‘Thyssen proposed a close cooperation between industry and the army to General von Kluge after the November pogrom of 1938, in order to put an end to Nazi politics’ is clarified by him thus: ‘based on the situation with the sources, it is more than questionable, whether such a plan existed at all’.


Felix de Taillez thus dismantles the so far, in his own words, ‘successful reframing’ of Fritz Thyssen in an ‘image of an extraordinarily early “fanatical opponent“ of National Socialism, who was already active in the resistance in 1936’. (This being an image issued to the public from 1948 onwards by Thyssen’s solicitor and PR-advisor, Robert Ellscheid (see also here)).

And that is truly ‘remarkable’!

* * *


According to de Taillez, following Fritz Thyssen’s flight to Switzerland in September 1939, the English press reported that an international arrest warrant had been issued against him for ‘theft, embezzlement, tax evasion and contraventions against German currency restrictions’. Thyssen, however, threatened Hitler with precisely this international public opinion, while simultaneously presenting himself as a ‘proud’ German ‘with every fibre of his being’. He said he wanted to show ‘the innocence of the “German nation“ concerning recent developments’, while at the same time saying that ‘the German people had shown in the inter-war years that it was „incapable of adjusting itself to democratic institutions“’. (Even during his denazification proceeding in 1948 ‘Thyssen continued to ascertain his view that democracy was not a form of government suitable to Germany’!).


De Taillez qualifies his attitude as being ‘naive’…. ‘Schizophrenic’ and ‘impudent’ would be more adequate adjectives from our point of view. It is typical for Thyssen’s belief in his own omnipotence, that he seemed to think that the course of a war, that had been planned by such a long hand, could be changed by a few of his statements. The fact that his brother Heinrich had managed so elegantly, through his Hungarian nationality, and his secure, comfortable domicile in Switzerland, to keep out of public politics, while still enjoying all the financial rewards the Thyssen enterprises were reaping from the war, must have made Fritz very angry. This vexation might even have been one trigger for his flight. And so he showed no consideration for Heinrich’s standstill agreement with the Swiss authorities (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 103) which he endangered by his noisy flight to Switzerland.


De Taillez then explains that Fritz Thyssen, via ‘secret channels’, ‘got in touch with former Chancellor Joseph Wirth and western agents’ and thus ‘became, in a certain way, a part of Wirth’s attempts at sounding out France and England’. But then, he says, General Halder, who had been ‘until that time, head of the secret military opposition to the Third Reich’, ‘buckled at the beginning of 1940’. According to de Taillez, the French secret service, however, assumed ‘that Fritz Thyssen was the head of a far-reaching secret organisation being built up in Switzerland by Germany, in order to undermine the influence of the French and the British in Europe’. At the same time, de Taillez believes that ‘under normal circumstances, the entry of Thyssen into France during the war would have been refused. It was his luck that he had been able to convince the French secret service in Switzerland that he held important information and assessments, which would be useful to the allies in their fight against the Third Reich’.


It was always typical for the ultra-rich Thyssens to make themselves look important with everyone that mattered. Only this time, it was about war. Any kind of allegiance was never at the forefront of their mind. The Thyssens were transnational and committed to no single nation – only to themselves alone.


This fact can be gaged from the book ‘I Paid Hitler’, which Fritz Thyssen elaborated together with Emery Reves in 1940 and which was published by the latter in 1941 in London and New York (see also here). According to de Taillez, since 1937 Reves also worked with Winston Churchill. He writes that in 1940 Churchill ‘commissioned (Reves) with building up the british propaganda apparatus in North and South America’ (!). De Taillez continues: ‘Reves told Churchill about the central theory of Fritz Thyssen for the reimplementation of peace in Europe, which would soon be proclaimed publicly: the partition of Germany’ – namely into ‘a protestant Eastern Germany and a catholic Western German under a Wittelsbach’. Churchill is said to have passed on these views to his secret service advisor Major Desmond Morton – although one could have one’s doubts about how much of this was actually a direct quote from Thyssen and how much might be ascribed to British propaganda (!)…


The fact that Fritz Thyssen might also sometimes have ‘consciously spoken the untruth’ (i.e. that he sometimes lied) is a suggestion that Felix de Taillez floats in connection with Thyssen’s statements after the war concerning the creation of ‘I Paid Hitler’. It is a tinge of honesty, of openness that has also to do with „honour“ after all, and which has been missing from so many of the statements made by Thyssens and their self-proclaimed official biographers in the past. While Thyssen and his lawyers distanced themselves from the book, Reves confirmed to the denazification court that all of the book had been dictated by Thyssen and that two thirds of it had been proof-read by him. Reves rejected the idea of being a ghostwriter and described himself as publisher and press agent. He also argued that Anita Zichy-Thyssen had repeatedly thanked him for his publishing the book. To this day Anita’s descendants in South America praise the book and slander anyone critical of Fritz Thyssen (see here).


* * *


De Taillez records that following his being taken into custody by the Allies in 1945, Fritz Thyssen ‘was presented in the British and US-American weekly newsreels as an alleged war criminal’. Then, presumably in order to explain this, in his view, mistaken stance, he alledges: ‘apparently the Americans were still having difficulties in assessing the Thyssen case in a consistent way, as well as in their coordination with the German authorities’. This blocks out the fact that the Thyssen case was fraught because the allies could not access and question Heinrich in his Swiss safehaven, and because there were discrepancies between the British and the American views of how the Thyssens should be dealt with (in general, the British were much more in favour of their punishment). Wilhelmus Groenendijk, who was part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group finance division from 1957 to 1986 told us: ‘BOTH Heinrich and Fritz were listed as war criminals. But from the Netherlands, we managed to get their names brought further down and down on that list, until we were able to claim that the assets were in fact allied property’ – and therefore could not possibly be seen as having abetted the German war effort (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 188).


De Taillez summarises for Fritz Thyssen that ‘despite considerable differences (…) he arranged himself with the Third Reich for a long time, because there was a basis of common ground’, namely the ideal of the authoritarian state, the disempowerment of the socialist workers movement and the revisionist policies. To this was added the prospect of profit increases in the steel industry. He describes that ‘the former Reich Chancellor (Heinrich) Brüning declared in writing (during the post-war denazification proceedings against Fritz Thyssen) that financing by foreign powers was decisive for Hitler’s ascent to power’. And yet various authors of this series, including de Taillez alledge that this is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Notwithstanding, de Taillez makes the remarkable assertion that ‘the often polarising statements made by Fritz Thyssen were judged more positively in the anglo-american media, which is the most powerful media in the world, until 1933, than by the german public’ – which would of course indicate that, contrary to what is said today, there was indeed support for the German move to the extreme right in Great Britain and the United States after all.


De Taillez describes Fritz much more intimately than he does Heinrich, namely as absurd, agitating, ambivalent, influential, almost manic, polarising, divorced from reality, controversial, sophomoric, unteachable, unreasonable, unclear, a troublemaker, NONSENSICAL, incoherent, cynical, and, in a description by thirds, of having a ‘more than peculiar manner’. Many of these characteristics certainly applied to Heinrich also, because they went back not least to the greedy luxury of the family and its resulting, hubristic mannerisms. Only, Heinrich was more intelligent than Fritz and he knew in particular that one can camouflage oneself much better within a certain seclusion, especially when one is in truth even more unscrupulous than his vociferous brother.


Felix de Taillez’s colleague Jan Schleusener (‘The Expropriation of Fritz Thyssen’), rates Fritz Thyssen as a hero: he was, says Schleusener, ‘the only delegate of the Reichstag who raised objections to the launching of the war’, which reminds one of Thomas Rother’s equally unsuitable statement whereby Thyssen was ‘the only industrialist in Germany not to profit from Hitler’s war. According to de Taillez, it appears that Fritz Thyssen admitted one single time, towards Norman Cousins, ‘that he felt co-responsible for national socialism, because of his financial support of Hitler IN THE LATE 1920s’. But at the same time, Cousin noticed that Thyssen ‘did not mention the many crimes committed since 1933, the political murders, the destruction of the bourgeois freedoms and the persecution of the Jews as decisive motives for his break with national socialism’. As far as Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is concerned, not a single statement at all concerning these topics has been handed down.


This is to be weighed up when assessing whether the alleged heroical, anti-national socialist, anti-war stance of the Thyssens was real, or whether these were exonerations issued on behalf of ruthless war opportunists (/criminals – as they must have known Hitler’s war was to be one of annihiliation) by their sycophantic underlings to ensure their bosses would not suffer any retribution.


The outstanding contribution of this book, meanwhile, is in its explanation of the utterly elitist perspective from which the Thyssens saw their role within National Socialism. So far, it is the only volume to have been reviewed, not only in academic circles, but also by a major German newspaper.


An honest German view (photo copyright: Lizas Welt –



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Simone Derix Tarnt Thyssen Schuld – Rechnitz Revisited II

Die Thyssens haben es stets vermieden, Einzelheiten ihrer Nazi Vergangenheit zu offenbaren, und zwar über eine Mischung von Leugnung, Verschleierung und Bestechung. Doch mit der Veröffentlichung unseres Buches „Die Thyssen-Dynastie“ 2007 und den Enthüllungen zum schrecklichen „Rechnitz Massaker“ wurde es immer schwieriger, diese Philosophie aufrecht zu erhalten. Familienmitglieder beschlossen endlich, über die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung zehn Akademiker zu beauftragen, um ihre persönliche, gesellschaftliche, politische und industrielle Vergangenheit umzuschreiben (in der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“) und damit ihren Ruf aufzupolieren.

Dieser Plan ist zum Teil aufgegangen und zum Teil nicht, denn trotz ihrer geschmiedeten Pläne offenbaren diese Bände oft mehr als es den Thyssens wahrscheinlich recht ist, sei es direkt oder durch die Bloßstellung von Widersprüchen.

Wir rezensieren hier die von der Thyssen Organisation gesponsorten Abhandlungen in der Abfolge ihres Erscheinens und werden dies auch mit dem neuesten Band, „Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen“ von Simone Derix tun. Zunächst jedoch wollen wir einen einzigartigen Bestandteil des Buches untersuchen, denn der neueste Band ist gleichzeitig, ein ganzes Jahrzehnt nach unserer Veröffentlichung, die erste offizielle Thyssen Publikation, die eine Beschreibung dessen enthält, wie die Dynastie im Leben der Gemeinde Rechnitz, und insbesondere bei den Vorfällen des „Rechnitz Massakers“ vom 24./25. März 1945 in Erscheinung getreten ist. Es ist ein Thema, das uns ganz besonders am Herzen liegt.

Leider hat die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Simone Derix erlaubt, die gerade einmal sieben Seiten (einer 500 Seiten starken Abhandlung, die sich von ihrer Habilitationsschrift ableitet) einem Manifesto einzuverleiben, das sowohl eine Public Relations Arbeit für die Thyssens wie auch ein Ausdruck ihrer eigenen, ambitionierten Selbstdarstellung im „neuen“ Feld der „Reichen-Forschung“ ist. Dabei ist die Grundaussage von Derix die, dass die Thyssens ob ihres herausragenden Reichtums gefeiert werden sollten, während sie für ihre Viktimisierung durch Journalisten, Berater, Staatsgewalten, Verwandte, Bolschewisten, Nationalsozialisten, etc., etc. zu bemittleiden sind.

Das macht Derix zu der Art Verteidiger, von denen Ralph Giordano gesagt hat, dass sie nicht müde werden, „aus Opfern Täter und aus Tätern Opfer zu machen“. Die Tatsache, dass der Deutsche Historikerverband es für angebracht gehalten hat, Simone Derix für ihre Arbeit den Carl-Erdmann-Preis zu verleihen, der nach einem wahren Opfer nationalsozialistischer Verfolgung benannt ist, verstört zusätzlich.

  * * *

Deutschland war ein Spätentwickler in Sachen Industrialisierung und Nationalstaat und stieg mit einer explosionsartigen Energie auf die internationale Bühne empor, die zur Katastrophe führen sollte. Während die unfassbar hart arbeitenden Brüder August und Josef Thyssen im Mittelstand verankert waren und von dort Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts das enorme, industrielle Thyssen-Vermögen erschufen, kehrten August’s Söhne Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, unter dem Einfluss ihrer gesellschaftlich ehrgeizigen Mutter, dem Bürgertum den Rücken zu und benutzten ihren ererbten Wohlstand dazu, in einen neuartigen, hoch reaktionären Landadel aufzusteigen.

Derix beschreibt, wie Fritz Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts, weitab der ursprünglichen Thyssen-Basis in der Ruhr, das Rittergut Gleina bei Naumburg/Saale pachtete, das Rittergut Götschendorf in der Uckermark kaufte und verkaufte und das Rittergut Neu Schlagsdorf bei Schwerin, sowie Schloss Puchhof in Bayern kaufte. Wir wussten bereits, dass Heinrich unter anderem den Rennstall Landswerth bei Wien, das Gestüt Erlenhof bei Bad Homburg, mit Rennstall in Hoppegarten bei Berlin und die Gut Rechnitz im österreichischen (vordem ungarischen) Burgenland erstand.

Durch unsere Forschungen wissen wir, dass die Thyssen Brüder auf den Ländereien des jeweils anderen jagten. Dies widerlegt einmal mehr die fadenscheinige Behauptung, die in der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“ immer und immer wieder, auch von Simone Derix, vorgebracht wird, dass Fritz und Heinrich Thyssen sich nicht verstanden hätten. Es ist eine Behauptung, die darauf abzielt, die Synergien in den wirtschaftlichen Unternehmungen der Thyssen Brüder zu verschleiern, insbesondere jene, die dem Nazi Regime zuträglich waren.

Beide Männer verhielten sich wie Feudalherren, die die Zufuhr von billigen Arbeitern und Zwangsarbeitern zu schätzen wussten, die Ihren Unternehmen durch die Unterdrückung von Arbeiterbewegungen und durch internationale, bewaffnete Konflikte geboten wurden, für die Ihre Fabriken Waffen und Munitionen lieferten. Die Thyssen Brüder mischten sich in eigennütziger Weise in die Politik ein, und zwar offen (Fritz) bzw. hinter den Kulissen, über diskrete, diplomatische und gesellschaftliche Kanäle (Heinrich) – obwohl Letzteres von Derix und ihren akademischen Kollegen vehement bestritten wird.

Beide Thyssen Brüder halfen dabei, den Nazis zum Aufstieg zu verhelfen. Aber Simone Derix versucht wiederum, sie als die schuldfreien, in die „Falle“ gelockten, illustren Industriellen darzustellen, die sie zu keinem Zeitpunkt gewesen sind.

1933 schaffte es Heinrich’s Tochter Margit – durch ihren unerbittlichen Vater, ihre anti-semitische Mutter und ihre pseudo-fromme, elitäre Sacré Coeur Erziehung verdorben -, die im Rechnitzer Schloss geboren und aufgewachsen war, den Status der Familie durch ihre Einheiratung in den ungarischen Adel (Ivan Batthyany) zu erheben – Das Gleiche erreichte auch Fritz Thyssen’s Tochter Anita (Gabor Zichy).

Am 8. April 1938, eine Woche nach dem Anschluss Österreichs an Nazi Deutschland, übertrug Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sein Gut Rechnitz, welches einst jahrhundertelang (von 1527 bis 1871) im Besitz der Batthyanys gewesen war, an Margit. Unsere Forschungen deuten darauf hin, dass dies geschah, sodass der im Tessin verschanzte Baron keine offensichtlichen Besitzungen im Deutschen Reich mehr aufwies.

Simone Derix gibt an, dies sei statt dessen aus steuerlichen Gründen geschehen.

Da alle seine deutschen Firmen durch holländische Finanzinstrumente gehalten wurden, waren die schweizer Behörden, die, obwohl offiziell neutral, bis zur Kriegswende 1943 pro-Deutsch eingestellt waren, versichert, dass Heinrich Thyssen für sie nicht zum politischen Problem werden würde.

Über sein Unternehmen Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (später Thyssengas) finanzierte Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sowohl Schloss Rechnitz als auch das Ehepar Batthyany-Thyssen diskret weiter. Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs verwendete seine Ruhr-Zeche Walsum, die zu Thyssengas gehörte, Zwangsarbeiter in der Größenordnung von zwei Dritteln der Gesamtbelegschaft; ein Rekord in der damaligen deutschen Industrie. In der Umgebung von Rechnitz wurden bergbauliche Interessen durch Thyssengas ausgeschöpft.

                                                                  * * *

Während Jahrhunderten war das riesige Rechnitzer Schloss, in dessen Hof, so wurde gesagt, ein ganzes Husarenregiment exerzieren konnte, das Machtzentrum von Rechnitz gewesen. Wie genau veränderte sich diese Situation nachdem die Nazis in Österreich die Staatsgewalt übernommen hatten? Wo genau in Rechnitz installierte sich die Partei mit ihren verschiedenen Organisationen?

Simone Derix liefert keine Antworten auf diese Fragen, obwohl sie mittels viel wortreichem Wirbel vorgibt, genau das zu tun. Stattdessen schreibt sie in vager, ausweichender Manier: “…..die Batthyanys (fanden) auf Schloss Rechnitz im Zweiten Weltkrieg mit Repräsentanten der NSDAP und des NS-Regimes ein einvernehmliches Auskommen“.

1934 lebten 170 Juden in Rechnitz. Am 1. November 1938, eine Woche vor der Reichskristallnacht, wurde Rechnitz als „Judenfrei“ erklärt, eine Situation die gewisse Mitglieder der Thyssen Familie begrüßt hätten (siehe hier). Doch Simone Derix weigert sich, den Antisemitismus von Schlüsselfiguren der Familie anzuerkennen. Sie beschränkt diese Eigenschaft statt dessen auf Randfiguren.

Im Frühjahr 1939, so Derix, wurde Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, dessen Vater Oberingenieur bei Thyssen war und der selbst auf landwirtschaftlichen Gütern der Thyssen-Familie gearbeitet hatte, nach Schloss Rechnitz gesandt, um dessen Bewirtschaftung zu übernehmen, welche sich schon bald auf Zwangsarbeiter aus dem ganzen Nazi-besetzten Europa stützte.

In jenem Sommer kam Franz Podezin als Beamter des Gestapo Grenzpostens nach Rechnitz. Er war seit 1931 ein Mitglied der SA gewesen und wurde später SS-Hauptscharführer. Er wurde ebenfalls Leiter der NSDAP in Rechnitz.

Simone Derix kommentiert: „Beide (Dienst)stellen (von Podezin) waren räumlich getrennt“, aber sie sagt nicht, wo genau diese Stellen lokalisiert waren. Stefan Klemp vom Simon Wiesenthal Zentrum hat geschrieben, dass das Hauptquartier der Rechnitzer Gestapo im Rechnitzer Schloss war. Entweder ist seine Aussage korrekt oder aber Simone Derix hat Recht, wenn sie sagt, dass Podezin erst im Herbst 1944 ein Büro im Schloss bezog, als er NSDAP Leiter des Unterabschnitts I des Abschnitts VI (Rechnitz) des Südostwall-Baus wurde.

Indem sie Klarheit vermissen lässt, umgeht Derix den wunden Punkt und trägt zur Rechtfertigung von Schuldigen bei – insbesondere der Thyssens als Besitzer, Geldgeber und „Herrschaften“ des Schlosses.

Die Aktivitäten an diesem verstärkten Verteidigungssystem, welches die Rote Armee aufhalten sollte, wurden von der Organisation Todt koordiniert (geleitet vom Rüstungsminister Albert Speer), vom Wehrmacht Generalmajor Wilhelm Weiss, und, im betreffenden Abschnitt, vom Gauleiter der Steiermark, zu der das Burgenland damals gehörte, Siegfried Uiberreither.

Ortsansässige und Zwangsarbeiter verschiedener Nationen wurden eingesetzt. Ihre Behandlung hing von ihrer Position innerhalb der Rassenhierarchie ab, welche die Nazi-Ideologen verfasst hatten. Am untersten Ende, und damit den schlechtesten Bedingungen und größten Schikanen ausgesetzt waren Slawen, Russen und Völker der Staaten der Sowjetunion. Niemand jedoch wurde so schlecht behandelt wie die Juden.

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Wie genau verbrachte Margit Batthyany-Thyssen die 12 Jahre der Nazi Tyrannei?

Die Gräfin übernahm die Rolle ihrer Mutter und Großmutter vor ihr als „Königin von Rechnitz“, während sie weiterhin weitläufig innerhalb des Reiches reiste. Nachdem sie die Pferdebegeisterung ihres Vaters geerbt hatte, beaufsichtigte sie die Thyssenschen Pferdezucht- und Rennsportaktivitäten in Bad Homburg bei Frankfurt, Hoppegarten/Berlin und Wien, besuchte Rennen in verschiedenen europäischen Städten und nahm Trophäen im Namen ihres Vaters entgegen, dem nicht mehr länger daran gelegen war, ausserhalb seines sicheren Tessiner Hafens gesehen zu werden.

1942 gewann ihr Erlenhof Hengst Ticino das Österreichische Derby in Wien-Friedenau und das Deutsche Derby in Hamburg. 1944 gelang dasselbe ihrem Erlenhof Hengst Nordlicht, doch das Deutsche Derby wurde wegen der Schäden in Hamburg durch alliierte Bombardierungen in Berlin abgehalten.

Bei diesen öffentlichen Veranstaltungen war Margit Batthyany im Kreise von Nazi Offiziellen zu sehen und wurde von diesen als ein Mitglied der höchsten Elite im Nazi Staat gefeiert. Es ist eindeutig, dass der Krieg für sie keine Veränderung in ihrem privilegierten Lebensstil mit sich brachte.

Jedes dieser Ereignisse war auch ein sehr öffentlicher Ausdruck der Unterstützung und Legitimierung des Nazi Regimes im Namen der Thyssens und der Batthyanys, doch jeglicher Bezug zu dieser Funktion fehlt in Derix’s Abhandlung.

Margit reiste auch regelmäßig während des Kriegs in die Schweiz, wo sie ihren Bruder Heini und ihren Vater Heinrich in Lugano, Zürich, Davos oder Flims traf. Es ist klar, dass auch sie Margit’s Lebensstil unterstützten. Dies bleibt bei Derix wiederum unerwähnt.

Während des Krieges in Rechnitz hatte Margit Batthyany anscheinend Liebesbeziehungen mit Hans Joachim Oldenburg (von der Familie Batthyany bestätigt) und Franz Podezin (durch einen Schlossangestellten angegeben und von Simone Derix erwähnt). Dies spiegelt die Informationen wider, die uns vor vielen Jahren durch Heini Thyssen’s ungarischen Rechtsanwalt, Josi Groh, gegeben wurden. Angestellte der Thyssens waren in einer idealen Position, solche Dinge zu beobachten, da sie Aufenthaltsräume säubern, Frühstück im Bett servieren und Gegenstände des täglichen Lebens der privaten Natur beschaffen mussten.

Seltsamerweise hat Simone Derix trotzdem das Bedürfnis, solche Details als „Spekulationen“ zu brandmarken, wodurch sie nahe legt, dass sie künstlich erhoben werden, um ein ungerechtfertigt schlechtes Licht auf ein Mitglied der Thyssen Familie zu lenken.

Der einzige Grund, warum wir Margit Batthyany’s spezifische Sexualneigung beleuchtet haben war, weil sie die intime Beziehung der Thyssens mit dem Nazi Regime so kraftvoll symbolisiert. Diese wird im Rahmen der Aufarbeitung der Rechnitzer Kriegsverbrechen nach dem Krieg an besonderer Bedeutung gewinnen.

Akademiker wie Simone Derix und Walter Manoschek, sowie Mitglieder der Refugius Gedenkinitiative sind nicht müde geworden zu beschwören, wir hätten die Geschichtsschreibung dieses Kapitels aus dem Kontext gerissen und in eine billige ‘Sex & Crime’ Saga verwandelt. Das Einzige, was durch diese fehlgeleiteten Beschuldigungen erreicht wird, ist das die Thyssens und Batthyanys einmal mehr davor abgeschirmt werden, ihre Verantwortung zu übernehmen, der sie sich, mit Ausnahme von Sacha Batthyany, bisher so energisch entzogen haben.

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Mit dem Jahr 1944 wurde der Nazi-Traum zum Alptraum. Im März besetzte Deutschland Ungarn und installierte ein Sondereinsatzkommando unter Adolf Eichmann, der die Deportation von 825.000 Juden organisierte. Bis Juli wurden 320.000 davon in den Gaskammern von Auschwitz ermordet und ca. 60.000 machte man zu Zwangsarbeiter in Österreich. Im Oktober, als die ungarischen Faschisten die Regierungsgeschäfte von dem authoritären Miklos Horthy übernahmen, wurden 200.000 Budapester Juden zur Zielscheibe.

Laut Eva Schwarzmayer wurden ca. 35.000 ungarische Juden für Holz- und Schanzarbeiten am Südostwall-Bau eingesetzt. Von diesen arbeiteten insgesamt bis zu 6.000 im Abschnitt Rechnitz und waren in vier verschiedenen Lagern untergebracht: In den Kellern und Lagerräumen des Schlosses, im sogenannten Schweizermeierhof in der Nähe des Kreuzstadls, in einem Barackenlager namens „Wald“ oder „Süd“ und in der früheren Synagoge. Währenddessen wurde der Volkssturm konstituiert, dem Hans Joachim Oldenburg beitrat.

Nichts von alledem wird von Simone Derix erwähnt.

Mit Beginn des Jahres 1945, als die westlichen und sowjetischen Armeen auf Hitler’s Deutschland eindrangen, geschahen zunehmend die sogenannten „Endphase-Verbrechen“ als Teil der Nazi Politik der ‘verbrannten Erde’. Dies bedeutet, dass Belastungsmaterial, inklusive Lagerinsassen, vernichtet und gleichermaßen diejenigen heimischen Bürger ausgeschaltet werden sollten, die ihre Ansicht zum Ausdruck brachten, der Krieg sei für die Deutschen verloren.

Diese Einstellung währte bis in die Nachkriegszeit hinein, sodass Zeugen, die bereit waren, gegen nationalsozialistische Kriegsverbrecher auszusagen, durch politische Fememorde zum Schweigen gebracht wurde. Dies geschah in Rechnitz mehrmals.

Nun begannen die sogenannten „Todesmärsche“, in denen Nazi Opfer aus ihren Gefängnissen evakuiert und vor den alliierten Fronten hergetrieben wurden, wobei viele unterwegs starben oder von Mitgliedern der SA, SS, des Volkssturms, der Hitlerjugend, der örtlichen Polizei etc., die sie bewachten, in aller Öffentlichkeit, oft in Sichtweite der örtlichen Bevölkerung, ermordet wurden.

Insgesamt scheinen mindestens 800 Juden in dieser Endphase des Kriegs in Rechnitz getötet worden zu sein. Das sogenannte „Massaker von Rechnitz“ an ca. 180 Juden in der Nacht vom 24./25. März 1945 ist in Wirklichkeit nur eines von mehreren mörderischen Aktionen. Simone Derix erwähnt kurz „bereits vor dem 24. März 1945 sind Erschießungen (in Rechnitz) bekannt“. Aber sie macht keinerlei Angaben zu diesen anderen Rechnitzer Massakern.

Annemarie Vitzthum aus Rechnitz gab während der Verfahren 1946/8 vor dem Volksgericht zu Protokoll, dass im Februar 1945 acht hundert Juden zu Fuß in Rechnitz angekommen seien und dass Franz Podezin sie „willkommen geheissen“ habe, in dem er hoch zu Pferde auf den erschöpften Menschen herumgetrampelt sei.

Laut österreichischen Ermittlern wurden Anfang März 220 ungarische Juden in Rechnitz erschossen.

Franz Cserer aus Rechnitz gab an, dass ca. Mitte März acht kranke Juden von Schachendorf nach Rechnitz gebracht worden seien und dass Franz Podezin sie beim jüdischen Friedhof erschossen habe.

Josef Mandel aus Rechnitz machte eine Aussage, dass am 17. oder 19. März ein Transport von 800 Juden aus Bozsok (Poschendorf) in Rechnitz angekommen sei. Der Überlebende Paul Szomogyi gab an, dass am 26. März 400 Juden aus seiner Zwangsarbeitergruppe in Rechnitz ermordet worden seien.

Simone Derix erwähnt mit keinem Wort die erhebliche Größenordnung dieser zusätzlichen Verbrechen.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel schreibt: „Paul Szomogyi war am 22. oder 23. März zusammen mit 3-5.000 Leidensgenossen von Köszeg in den Abschnitt Rechnitz verlegt worden“. Otto Ickowitz berichtete, dass kranke Gefangene aus einer Gruppe, die vom Lager in Bucsu kamen in einem Wald bei Rechnitz ermordet wurden.

Unglaublicherweise behandelt Simone Derix diesen beschleunigenden Horror indem sie die folgende, technokratische Sprache verwendet: „In den letzten Kriegsmonaten trafen in Rechnitz ganz unterschiedliche Typen von Lagergesellschaften und die jeweils damit verbundenen Erfahrungen aufeinander und verquickten sich mit lokalen Herrschaftsstrukturen“.

Dies klingt fast wie eine Zeile aus der Hand von Adolf Eichmann persönlich.

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Die Personen, die in der Nacht vom 24./25. März in das Massaker und/oder das Fest involviert waren umfassten unter anderem: den Kreisleiter von Oberwart, Eduard Nicka und weitere Funktionäre des gleichen Hauptquartiers der NSDAP, verschiedene Steyrische SA-Männer, Franz Podezin, seine Sekretärin Hildegard Stadler, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, das SS-Mitglied Ludwig Groll, den Leiter des Unterabschnitts II des Abschnitts VI des Südostwall-Baus Josef Muralter, Stefan Beigelböck, Johann Paal (Transport), Franz Ostermann (Transport) und Hermann Schwarz (Transport).

Derix kommentiert: „Die mutmaßlichen Täter/innen rekrutierten sich aus dem Kreis dieser Festgesellschaft, zu der auch die Schlossherren Margit und Ivan Batthyany zählten“.

Später half Margit Batthyany den zwei Hauptverdächtigen, Podezin und Oldenburg, zu fliehen und sich einer Strafverfolgung zu entziehen. Wenn sie nichts mit dem Rechnitz Massaker zu tun gehabt und die Vorkommnisse verwerflich gefunden hätte, erscheint es logisch, davon auszugehen, dass sie geholfen hätte, die Verantwortlichen ihrer gerechten Strafe zuzuführen, statt Ihnen dabei zu helfen, dieser auszuweichen.

Simone Derix erscheint fixiert darauf, die Thyssens frei zu sprechen und geht dabei sogar soweit, in Erwägung zu ziehen, dass Margit eventuell Opfern geholfen haben könnte – gibt dabei aber keinerlei Hinweise, wie sie zu dieser Einschätzung kommt.

Während der Nachkriegsverfahren wurde Josef Muralter als Organisator des Gefolgschaftsfests dargestellt. Verschiedene Akademiker haben auf diese angebliche Tatsache viel Wert gelegt, um zu zeigen, dass Margit Batthyany nicht die Gastgeberin des Abends gewesen sei, wie wir angegeben haben.

Aber solange keine Dokumente vorliegen, die beweisen, dass eine nationalsozialistische Organisation für das Fest bezahlt hat (und Derix legt solche Dokumente nicht vor) bleibt es Tatsache, dass Margit Batthyany die übergeordnete Gastgeberin war, denn es war ihre Familie, die für das Schloss und alles, was darin geschah bezahlte. Hierfür gibt es dokumentarische Beweise (siehe hier).

Simone Derix gesteht die zentrale Rolle der Personengruppe, die im Schloss Batthyany-Thyssen ansässig waren, bei den schrecklichen Missandlungen ein, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Rechnitz stattfanden. Sie räumt sogar ein, dass manche Menschen der Ansicht sein könnten, es gebe hier Raum, Fragen der moralischen und juristischen Verantwortung an die Besitzer zu richten. Aber sie klagt die Thyssens und die Batthyanys nie ob dieser Verantwortung oder Schuld an, und impliziert statt dessen, dass sie wahrscheinlich „nichts gesehen“ haben.

Es ist die gleiche Art der Verteidigung, die auch Albert Speer anwendete, als er Hugh Trevor-Roper anlog, dass er über das Programm der Endlösung nicht unterrichtet gewesen sei, weil es „so schwierig war, dieses Geheimnis zu kennen, selbst wenn man Mitglied der Regierung war“. Diese Taktik zielt darauf ab, mächtige Individuen abzuschirmen und die Gesamtschuld der Allgemeinheit zu zu schieben.

Wie in bisherigen Bänden der Serie so sind es auch hier wieder die Thyssen Manager, die beschuldigt werden, und in diesem Falle insbesondere Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Derix behauptet, er habe „seine Machtbefugnisse – auch gegenüber den Arbeitgebern – erweitern (können)“, er sei „aktiv an der Herstellung einer nationalsozialistischen ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ beteiligt (gewesen) und habe „rassistisch und antisemitisch“ agiert. Derix erwähnt jedoch nicht einen einzigen Beweis für ihre Beschuldigungen.

Falls Margit Batthyany ein Problem mit diesen Verhaltensweisen gehabt hätte, wäre es für sie einfach gewesen, sich für die Dauer des Krieges in irgend ein europäisches Hotel einzumieten. Sie tat dies aber nicht. Man muss also annehmen, dass sie mit den rassistischen und politischen Drangsalierungen der damaligen Zeit einverstanden war. Derix aber zieht diese logische Schlussfolgerung nicht.

Margit wählte die Teilnahme am Rechnitzer Terrorregime. Derix bevorzugt es, den weniger negativ klingenden Begriff der „Volksgemeinschaft“ anzuwenden.

Erst als die russische Armee sich näherte ergriff Margit Batthyany, zusammen mit Hans-Joachim Oldenburg und einigen ihrer Angestellten, die Flucht in privaten Automobilen und ließ alle anderen im Stich. Ebenso tat es Podezin.

Emmerich Cserer aus Rechnitz sagte aus, dass am 28. und 29. März große Transporte von jeweils hunderten von Zwangsarbeitern Rechnitz verließen. Josef Muralter gab zu Protokoll, dass er am 29. März das Schloss mit 400 Gefangenen aus dem Schlosskeller verließ.

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Die Einwohner von Rechnitz mussten danach die Konfrontation mit der Roten Armee ertragen, das Niederbrennen ihres zentralen, 600-Jahre alten Schlosses als Teil der Nazi Politik der verbrannten Erde, die Nachkriegsermittlungen und die Stigmatisierung ihres Städtchens, die bis heute anhält. Diese Stigmatisierung ist jedoch nicht darauf zurück zu führen, wie Derix behauptet, dass der Fall durch Medienreportagen wie unserer „skandalisiert“ worden sei. Sie ist vielmehr Folge der Tatsache, dass die Verbrechen ob der Verschlagenheit der Flüchtenden nie richtig aufgeklärt und bestraft werden konnten.

Die Einwohner von Rechnitz haben ihre Pflicht getan, indem sie viele Zeugenaussagen tätigten, die es ermöglicht hätten, die Schuldigen zu verurteilen. Nichtsdestotrotz wurden sie später von Akademikern und manchen Medien beschuldigt, über die Vorfälle geschwiegen zu haben. Als wir als englisch-sprachige Außenseiter nach Rechnitz kamen sprachen Menschen zu uns unaufgefordert und frei über die Ereignisse. Allen voran der Historiker des Städtchens, Josef Hotwagner, der uns empfohlen worden war. Sie verbargen in keinster Weise, was dort geschehen war.

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Nach ihrer Flucht, so Simone Derix, installierte sich Margit Batthyany im April 1945 in einem Haus in Düns in Vorarlberg. Während des Sommers sei sie „reisen“ gegangen. Was Derix nicht erwähnt, ist dass Margit Batthyany, anscheinend ohne jegliche Probleme, im Juli 1945 zum ersten Mal nach dem Krieg in die Schweiz einreiste. Es ist nicht vorstellbar, dass die Schweizer Behörden zu diesem Zeitpunkt nicht darüber informiert waren, was wenige Monate davor im Burgenland geschehen war.

Laut Derix war Batthyany ab November für die Französische Militärregierung im österreichischen Feldkirch tätig, mit anderen Worten, sie schaffte es, sich in die alliierten Verwaltungsstrukturen einzubinden. Dies dürfte mit den top-level Verbindungen ihrer Familie zusammen gehangen haben und mit der Tatsache, dass sie Informationen über eine Region bieten konnte, die nunmehr unter sowjetischer Besatzung war. Derix aber gibt ihrerseits keinerlei Anhaltspunkte für den Grund dieser plötzlichen „Anstellung“.

Ein Jahr später, im Juli 1946, so schreibt Derix, habe Margit ihren Bruder Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza in Hannover besucht. Dies war ein Mann, der ein förderndes Mitglied der SS gewesen war, und während des Krieges in verschiedene industrielle Aktivitäten involviert war, die den deutschen Kriegsanstrengungen unter Verwendung von Zwangsarbeitern zugute kamen, was er nach dem Krieg strikt leugnete. Derix erwähnt Stephan Thyssen’s pro-Nazi Aktivitäten an dieser Stelle jedoch nicht.

Laut Derix zog Margit Batthyany, finanziell von ihrem Vater abhängig wie sie war, im August 1946 in seine Villa Favorita in Lugano.

Unsere Forschungen ergaben, dass Margit im November 1946 an ihre Schwester Gaby Bentinck schrieb: „Damit es nicht auffällt, habe ich mit O.(ldenburg) besprochen, dass er vorerst zwei Jahre alleine nach Südamerika geht. Habe Visa für ihn in Aussicht, was sagst Du dazu?“ Diese Hinweise übergaben wir Sacha Batthyany und er verwendete sie in seinem Artikel (aber nicht in seinem Buch!). Simone Derix ignoriert sie und erwähnt lediglich, dass Margit im November 1946 „Pläne“ gehabt habe, „Europa zu verlassen“.

Die Tatsache dass Margit Batthyany zu diesem Zeitpunkt in Erwägung ziehen konnte, Vermögenswerte zwischen Ländern und sogar Kontinenten zu verschieben zeigt wiederum, wie privilegiert Ihre Lebensumstände im Vergleich zu denen der großen Mehrheit waren. Sicherlich hat sie auch auf Investitionen zurück greifen können, die die Familie bereits vor dem Krieg in Südamerika getätigt hatte.

Während dessen wurden im Burgenland 1946 achtzehn Menschen beschuldigt, in Rechnitz Kriegsverbrechen begangen zu haben, von denen sieben in einem Volksgerichtshof angeklagt wurden, inklusive, in Abwesenheit, Franz Podezin und Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Aber nur zwei wurden verurteilt, und diese Urteile in den frühen 1950er Jahren durch österreichische Amnestiegesetze aufgehoben. Die Verfahren erstreckten sich über zwei Jahre und wurden sogar erst 20 Jahre später im Jahr 1965 in Deutschland endgültig abgeschlossen.

Am 7. Januar 1947 wurde Margit Batthyany das erste und einzige Mal in der Sache befragt, und zwar durch die Schweizerische Kantonalpolizei in Buchs (Schweizer Staatsschutz-Fiche, Akteneintrag C.2.16505). Sie musste nie als Zeugin vor dem österreichischen Gericht erscheinen, eine Tatsache, die auf einer Informationstafel des 2012 eröffneten Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museums angeprangert wird (in den kleineren englischen und ungarischen Versionen, nicht aber in der deutschen Hauptversion).

Wurde Margit Batthyany-Thyssen je aufgefordert, vor Gericht zu erscheinen? Falls nicht, weshalb nicht? Spielte die Neutralität ihres Gastlandes eine Rolle hierbei? Oder leitete sich der Schutz, den sie offensichtlich genoss direkt von ihrer überaus bevorteilten gesellschaftlichen Stellung ab?

Simone Derix behauptet, die Gräfin habe während ihrer Befragung „versucht“, Oldenburg ein Alibi zu verschaffen. In Wahrheit hat sie ihm ein Alibi verschafft, indem sie sagte, er habe sich die ganze Nacht auf dem Schloss aufgehalten. Sacha Batthyany’s Schlussfolgerung ist eindeutiger: „Sie schützt ihn, ihren Geliebten, denn Oldenburg ist von Zeugen beim Massaker gesehen worden“.

Im Sommer 1948, so unsere Forschungen, schrieb Margit ihrer Schwester Gaby Bentinck: „O.(ldenburg) hat ein fabelhaftes Angebot nach Argentinien zur größten Molkereiwirtschaft. Im August ist er dort“. Auch dieser Beweis wurde von uns an Sacha Batthyany weiter gegeben, der ihn veröffentlichte, aber von Simone Derix wird er nicht erwähnt. Sie versäumte es auch, gewisse Familienarchive in London zu konsultieren.

Am 13. August 1948 hielt das Gericht fest, dass laut einer mündlichen Information der Polizeidienststelle Oberwart, sowohl Franz Podezin als auch Hans-Joachim Oldenburg in der Schweiz anwesend waren und planten, mit Margit Batthyany nach Südamerika auszuwandern, und damit ihrem Mann zu folgen, der bereits dort war. Am 30. August 1948 informierte Interpol Wien die Behörden in Lugano per Telegramm:

„Es besteht die Gefahr, dass sich die beiden nach Südamerika begeben. Bitte um Festnahme“. Die Verhaftungsbefehle gegen die Flüchtigen wurden im Schweizer Polizeianzeiger vom 30.08.48, Seite 1643, Art. 16965 ausgeschrieben. All dies ist von Sacha Batthyany recherchiert und veröffentlicht worden. Simone Derix erwähnt es nicht.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel fasst die Gerichtsverfahren 1946/8 folgendermaßen zusammen: „Wegen der Flucht der beiden verdächtigten Rädelsführer Podezin und Oldenburg hatte das Gericht erhebliche Probleme bei der Wahrheitsfindung.“

Sacha Batthyany kommentiert: „Sie (Margit) hat ihm zur Flucht verholfen, dem mutmaßlichen Massenmörder (Oldenburg)“.

Aber die Linie, die Simone Derix verfolgt ist wiederum die, Margit Batthyany-Thyssen zu beschützen, indem sie schreibt: „Unklar blieb auch, welche Rolle Margit Batthyany dabei zukam, als es zwei Hauptverdächtigen (Oldenburg und Podezin), gelang, sich der Befragung durch die österreichischen Behörden zu entziehen und so letzlich einer möglichen Bestrafung zu entgehen“.

Simone Derix behauptet auch, Franz Podezin sei in der Sache befragt worden. Dies ist unwahr. Podezin ist nie über seine angebliche Verstrickung in das Rechnitz Massaker befragt worden.

Derix praktiziert also nicht nur eine gravierende Entlastung zugunsten der Thyssen Familie, ihre Publikation bleibt auch hinter der gegenwärtigen Forschungslage zurück und ist in einem fundamentalen Punkt unwahr.

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Margit Batthyany-Thyssen und ihr Mann Ivan Batthyany lebten von 1948 bis 1954 auf einem Gut, das sie in Uruguay gekauft hatten. Was aus Podezin’s und Oldenburg’s Reiseplänen wurde ist weniger klar.

Simone Derix erklärt, dass Hans Joachim Oldenburg ab 1950 auf dem Gut Obringhoven arbeitete, welches Thyssengas gehörte, ein Fakt, der noch nie zuvor erwähnt worden ist. Dies ist ein seltener, kostbarer Beitrag von Derix zum Fall Rechnitz.

Dies zeigt auch, dass die Thyssens kein Problem damit hatten, diesen Gutsverwalter, der vor einem österreichischen Gericht angeklagt worden war, an Kriegsverbrechen teilgenommen zu haben, wieder zu beschäftigen. Die Thyssens gaben damit Hans-Joachim Oldenburg nicht nur eine Arbeitsstelle, sondern, so scheint es, auch Schutz vor weiteren Ermittlungen gegen ihn.

Doch Derix versäumt es, diesen Hintergrund kritisch zu beleuchten

Soweit es Podezin angeht, so schreibt Stefan Klemp vom Simon Wiesenthal Zentrum, er sei als Agent für die Westmächte in Ost-Deutschland untergetaucht. Podezin wurde anscheinend in der sowjetischen Besatzungszone wegen seiner Aktivitäten für die alliierten Geheimdienste verhaftet und zu 25 Jahren Gefängnis verurteilt, allerdings nach 11 Jahren frei gelassen. Er siedelte dann nach West-Deutschland über, wo er sich als Versicherungskaufmann in Kiel niederließ.

1958 wurde die Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen in Ludwigsburg gegründet. Diese eröffnete 1963 ein Mordermittlungsverfahren gegen Franz Podezin und Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Ein Brief vom 18.02.1963 macht klar, dass der Staatsanwalt wusste, dass Podezin so stark belastet war, dass seine Verhaftung von Nöten war. Und dennoch verzögerte er das Verfahren. Oldenburg wurde seinerseits am 26.03.1963 von der Zentralstelle in Dortmund befragt.

Als die Polizei schließlich versuchte, am 10. Mai Podezin zu verhaften, war dieser nach Dänemark geflohen. Kurt Griese, ein früherer SS-Hauptscharführer und nunmehr Regierungskriminalermittler, blockierte nun das Verfahren weiter, so Klemp, sodass es Podezin möglich war, in die Schweiz auszureisen. Von dort erpresste er Margit Batthyany, ihm bei der Flucht nach Südafrika behilflich zu sein. Dort arbeitete er für Hytec, eine Firma mit Geschäftsverbindungen zur Thyssen AG, wie Stefan Klemp ermittelte.

Sacha Batthyany schreibt: „Ob Tante Margit (Podezin) in den Sechzigerjahren zur Flucht verhalf und ihm auch noch einen Job vermittelte in Südafrika?“. Aber das Thema wird von Simone Derix außen vor gelassen.

Wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung zusätzlich zu unserem Artikel 2007 berichtete, wurde gegen Margit Batthyany nie Anklage erhoben, obwohl einer der deutschen Ermittler 1963 dem österreichischen Justizministerium anzeigte, dass sie verdächtigt wurde, den beiden Rechnitz Mördern zur Flucht verholfen zu haben. Warum wurde gegen sie nie Anklage erhoben? Derix erwähnt diesen Punkt nicht und liefert daher keine Erklärungen.

Laut Eva Holpfer wurde das Verfahren gegen Hans Joachim Oldenburg auf Anweisung des Staatsanwalts am 21.09.1965 wegen Mangels an Beweisen eingestellt.

Mit den 1960er Jahren war Margit Batthyany zurück an der Rennbahn und nahm z.B. beim österrechischen Derby in Wien die Trophäe für Settebello entgegen, den sie gezüchtet hatte. Sie kehrte auch regelmäßig nach Rechnitz zurück (wo sie 1989 starb), v.a. zur Jagdsaison, und machte sich durch die Übergabe von Land und anderen Geschenken an Ortsansässige beliebt, wie uns von Rechnitzer Bürgern berichtet und von Sacha Batthyany bestätigt wurde.

1970 wurde Margit Batthyany-Thyssen die Schweizer Staatsbürgerschaft zuerkannt, um die sie sich seit Ende des Krieges bemüht hatte. Im selben Jahr begann Horst Littmann vom Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge in Rechnitz zu graben, musste allerdings aufhören, da die Genehmigung seitens des österreichischen Innenministeriums ausblieb.

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In den 1980er Jahren initiierte der Antifaschist Hans Anthofer den ersten Rechnitzer Gedenkort für die jüdischen Opfer. Doch in den frühen 1990er Jahren wurde der jüdische Friedhof in Rechnitz immer noch vandalisiert und laut Eva Schwarzmayer gab es selbst bei der Gedenkveranstaltung 2005 noch Personen des öffentlichen Lebens, die sagten, es sei nicht sicher ob das Massaker am Kreuzstadl wirklich stattgefunden habe.

2012 dann wurde der Gedenkort zu einem Museum ausgebaut und vom österreichischen Präsident Heinz Fischer eröffnet. Dieser teilte den Anwesenden mit, dass „weiterhin alles unternommen werden wird, um die Leichen der Opfer zu finden“.

Die Refugius Gedenkinitiative hat davon gesprochen, dass sich die Einstellung in Rechnitz verändert habe. Gleichzeitig prangert sie auf einer der Informationstafeln des Museums an, dass „die aktive Erinnerungs- und Gedenkarbeit noch immer keinen gesellschaftlichen Konsens (findet)“.

Was auffällt ist, dass, im Widerspruch zu ihren zum Ausdruck gebrachten Absichten zur Aufarbeitung der Geschichte und Ehrung der Opfer (siehe Fußnote), offensichtlich keiner der Thyssens bisher jemals an einer der Gedenkveranstaltungen in Rechnitz teilgenommen hat.

Das Amt der Burgenländischen Landesregierung hat uns mitgeteilt, dass „Die Familien Thyssen bzw. Batthyany….im Burgenland (und Österreich-weit) im Bereich Erinnerungskultur und Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit überhaupt keine Rolle (spielen)“.

Warum tun sie dies nicht?

Sacha Batthyany hat berichtet, dass er von Familienmitgliedern Drohungen erhalten hat, als er versuchte, die Geschichte der Familie während der Nazi Ära zu durchleuchten.

Was die Einwohner von Rechnitz angeht, so sind sie verständlicherweise gespalten zum Thema. Es wäre seltsam wenn es anders wäre.

Aber bei den Thyssens existiert eine solche Fragmentierung nicht. Sie scheinen einheitlich ungerührt und unengagiert zu sein. Dies dürfte jetzt noch dadurch verstärkt werden, dass sie wohl annehmen, die Akademiker, die sie beauftragt haben, hätten Schlüsse gezogen, die sie schuldfrei erscheinen lassen.

Aber in Wahrheit sind sie nicht schuldfrei und es ist jetzt an der Zeit für die Thyssens, klare Aussagen zu machen, auf welcher Seite der Grenze zwischen Faschismus und Anti-Faschismus sie stehen.

Nur wenn die Thyssens (und die Batthyanys als ihre örtlichen Repräsentanten) ihre Leitbildfunktion wahrnehmen, kann die Erinnerungskultur um das Rechnitz Massaker darauf hoffen, in der breiten Öffentlichkeit einvernehmlicher zu werden.

Indem sie die nächste Gedenkveranstaltung Ende März 2018 in Rechnitz besuchen – und dies auch in den Medien berichtet wird – können Mitglieder der Thyssen Dynastie in dieser Hinsicht eine wirklich öffentliche Aussage tätigen und ihrer geschichtlichen Verantwortung transparent und effektiv nachkommen.

Nach all den Ausflüchten der Vergangenheit hält es die informierte Öffentlichkeit jetzt für dringend angebracht, dass diese Familien endlich ihren Beitrag zur Heilung des Falles Rechnitz leisten und WIRKLICHE Solidarität zeigen bei der Ehrung der Toten und Versehrten dieser katastrophalen Ereignisse.

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Fußnote: Die folgenden Statements wurden bisher abgegeben:

1) Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, in der Sendung „Titel, Thesen, Temperamente“ (Oktober 2007): „Ich unterstütze es, wenn die Familie selbst die damaligen Geschehnisse aufarbeitet. Die Ergebnisse dieser Recherchen sollen transparent und öffentlich zugänglich sein“.

2) Offizielle Webseite der Familie Batthyany: „Seit unserem Erfahren der Geschehnisse in den letzten Jahren sind wir zutiefst bestürzt und ergriffen……Viele Fragen stellen sich uns. Auf sie wissen wir keine Antworten…….Wir hoffen, dass das Gedenken an diese Opfer immer mehr gepflegt wird und das Grab der Ermordeten von Rechnitz, das bis heute unentdeckt geblieben ist, eines Tages gefunden wird“.

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, Tochter von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, nimmt Preise für Gewinner aus den Rennställen der Thyssens aus der Hand von nationalsozialistischen Funktionsträgern beim Großen Preis von Wien 1942 in Empfang und legitimiert so das Nazi Regime im Namen sowohl der Thyssens als auch der Batthyanys (photo Menzendorf, Berlin; copyright Archiv von David R L Litchfield).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Auszug aus den Mitschriften der Vorstandssitzungen der Thyssen-Bornemisza Gruppe (1939-1944) in Lugano, Flims, Davos bzw. Zürich unter Mitwirkung von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Wilhelm Roelen (Generalbevollmächtigter) und Heinrich Lübke (Direktor der August Thyssen Bank Berlin).  Diese Seite zeigt, dass während des Zweiten Weltkriegs die Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, dem Vater von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, gehörende Firma Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (Thyssengas) im Umland des Sitzes des Thyssen-Bornemisza Schlosses Rechnitz / Burgenland (Österreich) Bergbauinteressen ausschöpfte (photo copyright Archiv David R L Litchfield)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



Insgesamt scheinen mindestens 800 Juden in der Endphase des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Rechnitz (Österreich), dem Sitz des Thyssen-Bornemisza Schlosses und Wohnsitz von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, umgebracht worden zu sein. Das sogenannte “Rechnitz Massaker” in der Nacht vom 24./25. März 1945 ist in Wirklichkeit nur eines von mehreren solcher mörderischen Geschehnisse an diesem Ort zu jener Zeit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     




“Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen” ist Band 4 der Serie “Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert”, gefördert von der  Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Köln und veröffentlicht im Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn. Sieben Seiten des 500-Seiten starken Buches befassen sich mit dem Leben der Batthyany-Thyssens in Rechnitz während des Zweiten Weltkriegs und im Besonderen mit ihrer Verstrickung in das sogenannte “Rechnitz Massaker” (photo copyright Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn).                          Dieses Buch ist eine Kurzfassung der Habilitationsschrift von Simone Derix und wird als solche von deutschen Akademikern als Fakt aufgenommen werden, eine Qualifizierung, gegen die wir eindringlich Einwand erheben.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         



Simone Derix, Autorin des Buches “Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen”, eine von zehn Akademikern, die von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung gefördert wurden, um die Geschichte der Thyssens umzuschreiben. Sie fährt fort mit einer Behandlung der Thematik, die kontroverse Punkte weiss zu waschen bzw. abzumildern scheint (photo copyright Historisches Kolleg, Munich). Das “Historische Kolleg”, wo Simone Derix ihr Buch präsentiert hat, wird übrigens selbst teilweise gefördert von ….. der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung (!)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Das Kreuzstadl Mahnmal in Rechnitz für die jüdischen Opfer des Zweiten Weltkriegs wurde 2012 erweitert und vom österreichischen Präsidenten eröffnet. Große Informationstafeln enthalten unter anderem die Information, dass Margit Batthyany nie vor Gericht Aussagen zum Rechnitz Massaker vom 24./25. März 1945 machen musste. Und dies obwohl deutsche Ermittler 1963 dem österreichischen Justizministerium mitteilten, dass sie unter Verdacht stand, den zwei Hauptbeschuldigten, Franz Podezin und Joachim Oldenburg, zur Flucht verholfen zu haben (photo copyright: übersmeer blog)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


Das österreichische Staatsoberhaupt Heinz Fischer, der das Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museum 2012 eröffnet hat, versicherte den Anwesenden, dass die Republik Österreich weiterhin alles daran gibt, die Gräber der 1945 in Rechnitz ermordeten Juden zu finden. Doch verschiedene österreichische Stellen haben auch angemerkt, dass der Erinnerungsprozess immer noch keinen breiten Konsens findet und dass insbesondere die Familien Thyssen und Batthyany von einer positiven, pro-aktiven Beteiligung am Prozess der Aufarbeitung und Heilung Abstand zu nehmen scheinen (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Jedes Jahr Ende März findet am Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museum eine Gedenkveranstaltung statt, die vom Gedenkverein Refugius organisiert wird. Während diese Gedenkveranstaltung vom früheren Bürgermeister, Engelbert Kenyeri, besonders positiv gefördert wurde und immer mehr Rechnitzer Bürger daran teilnehmen, hat bisher kein einziges Mitglied, weder der Familie Thyssen noch der Familie Batthyany öffentlich daran teilgenommen. Dies obwohl sie nach Erscheinen unserer Publikationen und der Aufführung des sich daraus ableitenden Theaterstücks “Rechnitz. Der Würgeengel” von Elfriede Jelinek glühende Absichtserklärungen abgegeben hatten (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)







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Simone Derix Shrouds Thyssen Guilt – Rechnitz Revisited II

The Thyssens have always avoided revealing the details of their Nazi past, relying on a mixture of denial, obfuscation and bribery. But with the publication of our book ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ in 2007 and revelations concerning the appalling Rechnitz massacre, this philosophy was becoming increasingly difficult to uphold. Finally they decided to recruit ten academics, via the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, to rewrite their personal, social, political and industrial past (a series called ‘Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century’) in an attempt to burnish their reputation.

Sometimes this has been successful and sometimes not, as, despite their best laid plans, the books have often revealed more than the Thyssens might have liked, either directly or through the exposure of contradictions.

As the Thyssen-sponsored treatises have been published, we have reviewed each one in turn, in some considerable detail, and intend to do the same with their latest offering, ‘The Thyssens. Family and Fortune’ by Simone Derix. First, though, we want to examine the book’s one unique feature as, a whole decade after our revelations, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation has finally helped issue the first official Thyssen publication that contains a description of the dynasty’s involvement in Rechnitz life and in the ‘Rechnitz massacre’ of 24/25 March 1945 in particular – because this is a subject which we feel particularly passionate about.

Unfortunately, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation has chosen to allow Simone Derix to include the mere seven pages (of a 500-page book, derived from her habilitation thesis) in a manifesto that is as much a work of public relations on behalf of the Thyssens, as of Derix’s ambitious self-promotion within the ‘new’ field of ‘research into the wealthy’; the bottom line being that the Thyssens should be celebrated for their outstanding wealth, while they must be pitied for their victimisation at the hands of journalists, advisors, authorities, relatives, Bolshevists, National Socialists, etc., etc.

This makes Derix the kind of apologist of whom Ralph Giordano said that they will not tire of ‘turning victims into perpetrators and perpetrators into victims’. The fact that the Association of German Historians has seen fit to award Derix’s work the Carl-Erdmann-Prize (named after a genuine victim of Nazi persecution) is furthermore troubling.

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Germany was a late developer in both its industrialisation and nationhood and emerged onto the international stage with an explosive energy that was to become catastrophic. While the extraordinarily hard-working, middle-class brothers August and Josef Thyssen created their family’s vast, late 19th century industrial fortune, August’s sons Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, influenced by their socially ambitious mother, turned their backs on bourgeois life and used their inherited wealth to ascend into a new-style, deeply reactionary landed gentry.

Derix describes how, in the early 20th century, far away from the original Thyssen base in the Ruhr, Fritz leased Rittergut Gleina near Naumburg/Saale, bought and sold Rittergut Götschendorf in Uckermark and bought Rittergut Neu Schlagsdorf near Schwerin, as well as Schloss Puchhof in Bavaria. Of course we already knew that Heinrich acquired, amongst others, the Landswerth horse racing stables near Vienna, the Erlenhof stud farm near Bad Homburg, with racing stables in Hoppegarten near Berlin, and the Rechnitz estate in Burgenland/Austria (formerly in Hungary).

Our research has shown that the brothers hunted at each other’s estates which discredits the spurious allegation repeated again and again by this academic series, including Derix, that Fritz and Heinrich Thyssen did not get on. A claim which is designed to obfuscate the synergies in the two men’s business dealings and particularly those benefitting the Nazi regime.

Both men adopted the behaviour of feudal overlords, enjoying the supplies of cheap and forced labour afforded their enterprises by the suppression of labour movements as well as armed international conflicts, which they fuelled with their factories’ weapons and munitions. The Thyssen brothers self-servingly meddled in politics, overtly (Fritz) or behind the scenes, through discrete diplomatic and society channels (Heinrich) – though the latter is denied vehemently by Derix and her academic associates.

Both Thyssen brothers helped bring about the eventual enthronement of the Nazis in 1933. Yet Simone Derix tries to reinvent them as the guiltlessly entrapped, illustrious captains of industry they never were in the first place.

By 1933 Heinrich’s daughter Margit (who had been born and had grown up at Rechnitz castle), corrupted by her ambitious father and anti-semitic mother, as well as her pseudo-pious Sacré Coeur education, had managed to elevate the family by marrying into Hungarian aristocracy (Ivan Batthyany) – as had Fritz Thyssen’s daughter Anita (Gabor Zichy).

On 8th April 1938, one week after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza gave his Rechnitz estate, which had once been in the Batthyany family for centuries from 1527 to 1871, to Margit, according to our research apparently so that he, ensconced in his Swiss hide-away on the shores of Lake Lugano, would not be seen to own any property in the German Reich.

Simone Derix alleges this was instead done for tax reasons.

All his Ruhr factories being owned by Dutch financial instruments, the Swiss authorities, who until the turning point of the war in 1943 were pro-German but whose ultimate stance was one of political neutrality, were satisfied that Heinrich would not become a political problem to them.

Through his company Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (later Thyssengas), Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza discreetly continued to fund both Rechnitz castle and the Batthyany matrimony. During WWII, the Walsum coal mine belonging to Thyssengas in the Ruhr used forced labour to the tune of two thirds of its labour force; a record in German industry. In the Rechnitz area, some mining interests were being exploited by the Thyssengas company.

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For centuries the huge Rechnitz castle, in whose courtyard, it was said, an entire husars regiment could perform its drill, had been the power centre of Rechnitz. How exactly did this situation develop after the Nazis took charge of the country? Where in Rechnitz did the party and its organisations install themselves?

Simone Derix does not furnish any answers to these important questions, despite pretending to do so, by help of much verbose flourish. Instead, she writes in a vague, evasive manner: ‘The Batthyanys got along by mutual agreement (they found a consensual livelihood) at Rechnitz Castle during World War Two with representatives of the Nazi party and the Nazi regime’.

In 1934, 170 Jews lived in Rechnitz. On 1st November 1938, a week before Reichs Crystal Night, Rechnitz was declared ‘free of Jews’, a situation that members of the Thyssen family would have welcomed (see here). But Simone Derix pointedly refuses to acknowledge the anti-semitism of key Thyssens and instead reserves this characteristic for marginal characters.

In the spring of 1939, according to Derix, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, whose father was a senior engineer at Thyssen and who himself had worked on agricultural estates owned by the Thyssen family, was sent to Rechnitz Castle to take charge of its estate management, which was soon relying on forced labourers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe.

That summer, Franz Podezin arrived in Rechnitz as a civil servant of the Gestapo border post. He had been an SA-member since 1931 and later became SS-Hauptscharführer. He also became the leader of the Nazi party in Rechnitz.

Simone Derix comments that „both posts of Podezin were in different locations“, but fails to pinpoint them. Stefan Klemp of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has written that the Rechnitz Gestapo was headquartered in Rechnitz castle all along. Either his statement is correct or Derix is right when she alleges that Podezin only came to take up offices in the castle in the autum of 1944 when he became Nazi party head of subsection I of section VI (Rechnitz) of the South-East Earth Wall building works.

By avoiding clarity on these points, Derix fudges the issue and contributes to the vindication of culprits – particularly of the Thyssens as owners, funders and residents of the castle.

The activities on this reinforced defense system designed to hold up the Red Army were coordinated by the organisation Todt (run by Armaments Minister Albert Speer), by the Wehrmacht major-general Wilhelm Weiss and, in the section in question, by the Gauleiter of Styria, to which Burgenland then belonged, Sigfried Uiberreither.

Locals as well as forced labourers from different nations were employed, whose treatment depended on their position within the racial hierarchies proclaimed by Nazi ideology. Bottom of the heap and therefore having to endure the worst conditions and abuses, were Slavs, Russians and nationals of the states of the Soviet Union. But none of them were as badly treated as the Jews.

                                                                  * * *

How exactly did Margit Batthyany-Thyssen spend these 12 years of Nazi tyranny?

The Countess took on the mantle of her grand-mother and mother as ‘Queen of Rechnitz’, while continuing to travel widely within the Reich. Having inherited her father’s interest in horses, she monitored Thyssen horse breeding and racing in Bad Homburg near Frankfurt, Hoppegarten/Berlin and Vienna, frequented races in various European cities and collected trophies on behalf of her father, who no longer wished to be seen to be leaving his Ticino safehaven.

In 1942, their Erlenhof stud Ticino won the Austrian Derby in Vienna-Friedenau and the German Derby in Hamburg. In 1944, their Erlenhof stud Nordlicht achieved the same feats, though the German Derby was held in Berlin that year due to the allied bombing damage on Hamburg.

At these public gatherings, Margit Batthyany mixed with and was feted by Nazi officials, who looked up to her as a member of the highest-level Nazi-state elite. It is clear that for her the war presented no change in her privileged lifestyle.

Each such event would have been a very public expression of support and legitimisation of the Nazi regime on behalf of the Thyssen and Batthyany families, but any reference to this function is absent from Derix’s treatise.

Margit also travelled regularly to Switzerland during the war, where she met her brother Heini and her father Heinrich in either Lugano, Zurich, Davos or Flims. They clearly sanctioned her life-style. Again, this is not mentioned by Derix.

During her war-time life in Rechnitz, Margit Batthyany apparently had affairs with both Hans Joachim Oldenburg (confirmed by the Batthyany family) and Franz Podezin (as stated by a castle staff member and mentioned by Simone Derix) – thereby confirming details relayed to us by Heini Thyssen’s Hungarian lawyer, Josi Groh, many years ago. Members of the Thyssens’ staff would have been in an ideal position to witness such things, as they cleaned rooms, served breakfast in bed or procured items of daily life of a private nature.

Strangely, Simone Derix still feels the need to proclaim such details as being mere „speculations“, thereby intimating that they are applied artificially to shed an undeservedly bad light on a Thyssen.

The only reason why we highlighted Margit Batthyany’s particular sexual penchant, was because it symbolises so powerfully the Thyssens’ intimate relationship with the Nazi regime, which will take on a particularly poignant dimension in terms of the post-war Aufarbeitung of the Rechnitz war crimes.

Academics such as Simone Derix and Walter Manoschek in particular, as well as members of the Refugius commemoration association have been at great pains to exclaim that we have somehow damaged the historiography of this chapter by „decontextualising“ it into a tabloid „sex & crime“ saga. The only thing that is achieved by these misguided accusations is that once again the Thyssens and Batthyanys are shielded from having to accept their responsibilities which they have so far, apart from Sacha Batthyany, shirked.

                                                                  * * *

By 1944, the Nazi dream was turning sour. In March, the German army occupied Hungary and installed a Sondereinsatzkommando under Adolf Eichmann who organised the deportation of its 825,000 Jews. By July, some 320,000 had been exterminated in the gas chambers at Auschwitz concentration camp and ca. 60,000 became forced labourers in Austria. In October, when the Hungarian fascists took over from the authoritarian Miklos Horthy, the 200,000 Budapest Jews were targeted.

According to Eva Schwarzmayer, ca. 35,000 Hungarian Jews were used for wood and trench works on building the South-East Earth Wall. Of these up to 6,000 would come to work on the Rechnitz section and be housed in four different camps: the castle cellars and store rooms, the so-called Schweizermeierhof near Kreuzstadl, a baracks camp named ‘Woodland’ or ‘South’, and the former synagogue. Meanwhile, the Nazi Volkssturm (last ditch territorial army) had been constituted of which Hans Joachim Oldenburg became a member.

None of this is mentioned by Simone Derix.

In early 1945, with the Western and Soviet armies closing in on Hitler’s Germany, so-called ‘end-phase crimes’ were committed as part of the Nazi policy of ‘scorched earth’. This involved both getting rid of any incriminating evidence, including camp inmates, and to strike equally at any members of the home-grown population expressing doubts that Germany could still win the war.

This attitude lasted beyond Germany’s capitulation when witnesses willing to destify against Nazi war criminals were silenced through political, conspiratorial murders, as would happen repeatedly in Rechnitz.

Now began the so-called ‘death marches’ evacuating Nazi victims from their prisons ahead of the advancing Allies, only to see many of them die or be killed en route by members of the SA, SS, Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, local police forces etc. guarding them, in the open, under the eyes of the general public.

All in all, at least 800 Jews seem to have been killed in Rechnitz in this last phase of the war. The so-called ‘Rechnitz Massacre’ of some 180 Jews during the night of 24/25 March is in fact only one of several murderous events. Simone Derix mentions briefly that ‘shootings on the castle estate were already evidenced before 24 March 1945’, but she does not give any details of those other Rechnitz massacres.

Annemarie Vitzthum of Rechnitz gave evidence, during the 1946/8 People’s Court proceeding, that in February 1945 eight hundred Jews had arrived in Rechnitz on foot and that Franz Podezin ‘welcomed’ the exhausted people by trampling around on them on his horse.

According to Austrian investigators, 220 Hungarian Jews were shot in Rechnitz at the beginning of March.

Franz Cserer of Rechnitz stated that around mid-March eight sick Jews had been brought from Schachendorf to Rechnitz and that Franz Podezin shot them dead near the Jewish cemetery.

Josef Mandel of Rechnitz gave evidence that on 17 or 19 March a transport of 800 Jews arrived in Rechnitz from Bozsok (Poschendorf). The survivor Paul Szomogyi gave evidence that on 26 March, 400 Jews from his group of forced labourers had been killed in Rechnitz.

But not a single mention is made by Derix of the sheer scale of these additional crimes.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel writes: ‘Paul Karl Szomogyi was transferred from Köszeg to the Rechnitz section on 22 or 23 March together with 3-5,000 co-prisoners’. Otto Ickowitz reported that sick prisoners from a group coming from the Bucsu camp were murdered in a wood near Rechnitz.

Unbelievably, Simone Derix deals with this accelerating horror by using the following technocratic language: ‘During the last months of the war very different types of camp communities with their own specific experiences collided and amalgamated with the local structure of domination’.

It almost sounds like a line from the pen of Adolf Eichmann himself.

                                                                  * * *

On the night of 24/25 March 1945, the people involved in the massacre and/or the party seem to have included: the Nazi party leader of the Oberwart district Eduard Nicka and other functionaries from the same party HQ, various Styrian SA-men, Franz Podezin, his secretary Hildegard Stadler, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, the SS-member Ludwig Groll, the leader of subsection II of section VI of the South-East Earth Wall building works Josef Muralter, Stefan Beigelböck, Johann Paal (Transport), Franz Ostermann (Transport) and Hermann Schwarz (Transport).

Derix adds: ‘The alleged perpetrators were recruited from the circle of this party society, which Margit and Ivan Batthyany also formed part of’.

Margit Batthyany would later help the two main alleged perpetrators, Podezin and Oldenburg, flee and avoid prosecution. If she had had nothing to do with the Rechnitz massacre and had found the actions reprehensible, it seems logical that she would have helped bring about the just punishment of the people involved rather than help them evade justice.

Simone Derix seems intent on absolving the Thyssens, even going as far as conjuring up the possibility that Margit might have helped victims – withouth, however, furnishing any evidence.

During the post-war proceedings Josef Muralter was said to have organised the ‘comradeship evening’ of 24 March 1945 at Rechnitz castle. Various academics have placed great emphasis on this fact in order to show that Margit Batthyany was not in fact the hostess of the event, as we had stated.

But as long as there are no documents forthcoming proving that any Nazi Party organisation paid for the festivities (and Derix does not furnish any), the fact remains that it was Margit Batthyany who was the overall hostess, as it was her family who paid for the castle and anything happening within its walls and grounds, for which documentary evidence is available (see here).

Simone Derix acknowledges the central role played by the conglomerate of people based at the Batthyany-Thyssen castle in the terrible abuses taking place in Rechnitz during WWII. She even acknowledges that some people might feel that there is room for directing questions of moral and legal responsibility at its owners. But she never implicates the Thyssens and Batthyanys in any responsibility or guilt and instead intimates that they probably did not ‘see anything’.

It is the same kind of defence as used by Albert Speer, when he lied to Hugh Trevor-Roper saying that he did not know about the programme of the final solution, because it was ‘so difficult to know this secret, even if you were in the government’. It is a tactic designed to shield powerful individuals and blame the general public.

As in previous volumes of this series, it is the Thyssen managers that get apportioned the full responsibility and in this case this falls on Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. He is said to have ‘extended his authority to exert power vis-a-vis his employers’, to have ‘taken an active part in producing a national socialist Volksgemeinschaft’ and to have ‘acted in a racist and anti-Semitic manner’, though Derix once again produces not a single piece of evidence to prove any of her allegations.

If Margit Batthyany had had a problem with this kind of behaviour, it would have been easy for her to leave the location and settle in any European hotel for the duration of the war. But she did not. So one must assume that she agreed with the racial and political victimisations that took place. Derix, however, fails to draw this obvious conclusion.

Margit chose to be part of the Rechnitz regime of terror. Derix chooses to use the less negative sounding description of “Volksgemeinschaft” instead.

Only when the Russians finally drew close to Rechnitz did Margit Batthyany, together with Hans Joachim Oldenburg and some of her staff, flee the scene in private cars, thereby leaving everyone else in the lurch; as did Franz Podezin.

Emmerich Cserer of Rechnitz said that on 28 and 29 March big transports of several hundreds of forced labourers left Rechnitz. Josef Muralter stated that he left the castle on 29 March with 400 castle cellar inmates.

                                                                  * * *

The people of Rechnitz had to endure the final confrontation with the Red Army, the burning down as part of the Nazi scorched-earth policy of their central, 600-year-old castle, the post-war criminal justice investigations and the stigmatisation of the town that continues to this day. A stigmatisation which is not, however, due to the case having been ‘scandalised’ by media reports including ours, but which developed because, based on the deviousness of the escapees, the crime(s) could never be properly investigated and punished.

The people of Rechnitz did their duty by giving much evidence to judge the perpetrators. Nonetheless they were later accused by academics and some media outlets of maintaining a silence on the issue. When we went to Rechnitz as english-speaking outsiders, people talked to us unprompted and freely about the matter. Especially the town historian, Josef Hotwagner, who was recommended to us by townspeople as their spokesman. They did not hide what had happened in any way.

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Having fled Rechnitz, Simone Derix explains, Margit Batthyany installed herself in April 1945 in a house in Düns in Vorarlberg/Austria. During the summer she went ‘travelling’. What Derix does not say is that Margit Batthyany entered Switzerland for the first time after the war, without any apparent difficulties in July 1945. It is inconceivable that Swiss authorities would not have been aware of what had happened in Burgenland only a few months earlier.

According to Derix, from November onwards Batthyany was working for the French military government in Feldkirch/Austria, in other words, she managed to access the western allies’ administrative set-up, likely because of her family’s overall high-level contacts and because she could offer intelligence on a region which was now under Soviet occupation. Derix, however, does not give any explanations for this sudden ‘assignment’.

A year later, in July 1946, Margit is said to have visited her brother Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza in Hanover. This was a man who had been a financially contributing member of the SS and involved in various industrial activities using forced labour for the German war effort throughout WWII, though he subsequently flatly denied this. Derix does not mention Stephan Thyssen’s pro-Nazi activities at this stage.

According to Derix, Margit Batthyany, financially dependent on her father as she was, moved into his Villa Favorita in Lugano in August 1946.

Our research revealed that in November 1946, Margit wrote to her sister Gaby Bentinck: ‘So as not to be obvious, I have agreed with O.(ldenburg), that he will first of all go to South America on his own for two years. I am expecting to receive visa for him, what do you say?’. This evidence was provided by us to Sacha Batthyany and used in his newspaper article (but not his book!). But Simone Derix ignores it and writes simply that Margit had ‘plans, in November 1946, to leave Europe’.

The fact that Margit Batthyany could at this point in time envisage a transfer of assets between countries and even continents shows again how privileged her situation was in comparison to that of the vast majority. She could certainly also rely on investments that the family had already made in South America before the war.

Meanwhile, in Burgenland in 1946 eighteen people were accused of having committed war crimes in Rechnitz, seven of whom were indicted in a Peoples’ Court, including, in absentia, Franz Podezin and Hans Joachim Oldenburg. But only two would receive sentences, which were eventually quashed in early 1950s Austrian amnesties. The proceedings took two whole years and in fact were only finally closed 20 years later in 1965 in Germany.

On 7 January 1947 Margit Batthyany was questioned for the first and last time in the matter by the Swiss cantonal police in Buchs (Swiss State Security File, entry C.2.16505). She never had to appear as a witness at the Austrian court, a fact that has been denounced on the information plaques of the Rechnitz memorial unveiled in 2012 (in the smaller English and Hungarian version only, not, for some reason, in the main German version).

Was Margit Batthyany-Thyssen ever summoned to appear in court? If not, why not? Did the neutrality of her host country Switzerland play a role in this failure? Or was the protection afforded her simply down to her highly advantageous social position?

Simone Derix alleges that the Countess ‘tried’ to give Oldenburg an alibi during her questioning. In reality she did give him an alibi by saying that he had not left the party at any time of the night. Sacha Batthyany’s conclusion in both his article and his subsequent book is more forceful: ‘She protects him, her lover, because Oldenburg has been seen by witnesses at the massacre’.

In the summer of 1948, as per our research, Margit wrote another letter to her sister Gaby Bentinck: ‘O.(ldenburg) has a fantastic offer to go to Argentina and join the biggest dairy farm. He will be there by August’. This evidence was once again provided by us and published by Sacha Batthyany, but is not mentioned by Simone Derix, who also failed to consult certain family archives in London.

On 13 August 1948, the court noted that according to a verbal message from the constabulary in Oberwart, both Franz Podezin and Hans-Joachim Oldenburg were living in Switzerland and intended to emigrate with Margit Batthyany to South America, thereby following her husband, who had already gone there. On 30 August 1948, Interpol Vienna informed the Lugano authorities by telegram:

‘There is the danger that (Podezin and Oldenburg) will flee to South America. Please arrest them’. The arrest warrants against the two evaders were published in the Swiss Police Gazette of 30.08.48, page 1643, art. 16965. But no arrests took place. All this has been investigated and published by Sacha Batthyany. Simone Derix fails to mention it.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel summarises the 1946/8 proceedings thus: ‘Because of the flight of the two alleged ringleaders Podezin and Oldenburg the court had considerable difficulties in establishing the truth’.

Sacha Batthyany comments: ‘(Margit) helped the alleged mass murderer (Oldenburg), flee’.

But the line taken by Simone Derix is once again one of protecting Margit Batthyany-Thyssen when she says: ‘It remained unclear what role Margit had played when two main perpetrators were able to avoid an interrogation by the Austrian authorities and thus a possible punishment.’

Simone Derix also alleges that Franz Podezin was questioned in the matter. But this is untrue. Podezin was never once questioned about his alleged involvement in the Rechnitz massacre.

Thus Derix is not only clearly engaged in practices of exoneration on behalf of the Thyssen family, her publication is also lagging ‘behind’ in terms of the stage of advancement of research on this subject, as well as grossly inaccurate on a crucial point.

                                                                  * * *

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen and her husband Ivan Batthyany did come to live between 1948 and 1954 on a farm they had bought in Uruguay. What became of Podezin’s and Oldenburg’s travel plans is less clear.

Simone Derix explains that by 1950 Hans Joachim Oldenburg was working on the Obringhoven agricultural estate, which was owned by Thyssengas, a fact that has never before been revealed. It is a rare, valuable new contribution to the Rechnitz case made by Derix.

This shows that the Thyssen family was happy to continue employing this farm manager, who had been indicted for war crimes in an Austrian court. The Thyssens thus provided Hans Joachim Oldenburg not only with a livelihood but as well, it seems, with protection from further investigation.

Yet Derix fails to comment critically on this important issue.

As far as Franz Podezin is concerned, according to Stefan Klemp of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, he had gone underground as an agent for the Western allies in East Germany. Apparently, he was arrested in the Soviet zone of occupation because of his activities for allied intelligence services and condemned to 25 years in prison, but released after 11 years and sent to Western Germany, where he came to live as an insurance salesman in Kiel.

In 1958, the Central Office of the County Judicial Administrations for the Clearing up of Nazi Crimes was instituted in Ludwigsburg. In 1963, it filed murder investigation proceedings against Franz Podezin and Hans Joachim Oldenburg. A letter dated 18.02.1963 makes clear that the prosecutor was aware that Podezin was so heavily incriminated that he needed to be arrested, yet he delayed proceedings. Oldenburg was questioned by the Central Office in Dortmund on 26.03.1963.

When police eventually moved in to arrest Podezin on 10 May, he had fled to Denmark. Kurt Griese, an ex SS-Hauptscharführer and now governmental criminal investigator, further blocked proceedings according to Klemp, making it possible for Podezin to travel to Switzerland, where he blackmailed Margit Batthyany-Thyssen into facilitating his flight to South Africa. There he worked for Hytec, a company associated with Thyssen AG, as Stefan Klemp established.

Sacha Batthyany writes: ‘Did Aunt Margit, nee Thyssen, help (Podezin) flee in the sixties and then also procured him the job in South Africa?’. But the topic is ignored by Simone Derix.

As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in addition to our 2007 article, although one of the German investigators reported to the Austrian Justice Ministry in 1963 that Margit Batthyany was suspected of having aided the two Rechnitz murderers flee, charges were never pressed against her. Why not? Derix does not mention this and thus furnishes no explanations.

According to Eva Holpfer, the proceedings against Hans Joachim Oldenburg were closed on the orders of the prosecutor on 21.09.1965 due to a lack of evidence.

By the 1960s Margit Batthyany was back at the Austrian Derby in Vienna collecting trophies on behalf of the winner Settebello whom she had bred. She also regularly returned to Rechnitz (where she died in 1989), especially for the hunting season, spreading largesse in the form of plots of land and other gifts to locals, as relayed to us by Rechnitz people and confirmed by Sacha Batthyany.

In 1970 Margit Batthyany-Thyssen was accorded the Swiss citizenship papers she had tried to obtain ever since the end of the war. The same year Horst Littmann of the German War Graves Commission began digs in Rechnitz but had to stop because permission from the Austrian Ministry of the Interior was not forthcoming.

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In the 1980s, the anti-fascist Hans Anthofer initiated the first Rechnitz memorial for the Jewish victims. But in the early 1990s the Jewish cemetery in Rechnitz was still being defaced and according to Eva Schwarzmayer even during the memorial year of 2005 people in public positions still said that it was unsure whether the Kreuzstadl massacre had really happened.

Then, in 2012, the Rechnitz memorial became extended into a museum, which was opened by the Austrian President Heinz Fischer who assured the listeners that ‘everything will still be undertaken to find the bodies of the victims’.

The Refugius commemorative association has spoken of a ‘change of attitude’ that has taken place in Rechnitz. At the same time, they disparage on one of the museum’s information panels that ‘the active remembrance and commemoration work still does not meet with a general popular consensus’.

What is noticeable is that, contrary to their avowed intentions of wanting to establish the truth and honour the victims (see footnote), none of the Thyssens have actually ever manifestly taken part in the annual commemorations of the Rechnitz massacre.

The Office of the Burgenland County Government has told us that ‘The Thyssen respectively Batthyany Family do not play any role whatsoever in the remembrance culture and Aufarbeitung of the past of that area or of Austria as a whole’.

Why do they not?

Sacha Batthyany has reported that he got threatened by members of his family because of his attempts to clarify their history during the Nazi era.

As far as the people of Rechnitz are concerned, they are understandably fragmented on the issue and it would be very odd were it otherwise.

But with the Thyssens there is no such fragmentation. They seem unitedly unapologetic and non-participating. This is now presumably reinforced by their belief that the academics they commissioned have come to the conclusion that they are blameless.

The truth, however, is that they are not blameless and it is now high time for the Thyssens to express clearly which side of the fascist / anti-fascist dividing line they stand on.

Only if the Thyssens (and the Batthyanys as their local ‘representatives’) assume their position as role models can the commemoration culture of the Rechnitz massacre become consensual for the rest of the population.

By attending the next commemorative event in Rechnitz in late March 2018 – and being reported in the media to have done so – members of the Thyssen dynasty can make a truly public statement in this regard and meet their historical responsibility transparently and effectively.

After all the prevarications of the past, the informed public now expects these families finally to do their fair share in the matter of the Rechnitz Massacre and show REAL solidarity in the honouring of the dead and maimed of those catastrophic events.

* * *

Footnote: The following statements were made in the past:

1) Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza on the German Television programme ‘Titel, Thesen, Temperamente’ in October 2007: ‘I support the idea that the family itself should work through those past events. The results of this research shall be accessible in a transparent and public manner’.

2) Batthyany Family official website: ‘Since learning about said events in the past few years we are deeply upset and moved…….Many questions have arisen for us. We do not know the answers……

….We hope that the memory of the victims will be cultivated more and more and their graves, which have remained undiscovered to this day, will one day be found.’

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, daughter of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, collecting prizes from National Socialist officials for the Thyssens’ winning horse at the Austrian Derby held in Vienna in 1942, thus legitimising the Nazi regime on behalf of both families (photo Menzendorf, Berlin; copyright Archive of David R L Litchfield)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Excerpt from the minutes of the board meetings of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group held (1939-1944) in Lugano, Flims, Davos and Zurich in the presence of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Wilhelm Roelen, General Manager, and Heinrich Lübke, Manager of the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin. This page shows that the company belonging to Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the father of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (Thyssengas) exploited mining interests near the seat of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Family Castle in Rechnitz / Burgenland (Austria) during the Second World War. (photo copyright Archiv David R L Litchfield)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



All in all, at least 800 Jews seem to have been killed in Rechnitz (Austria), seat of the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ castle and home to Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, in the last phase of the Second World War. The so-called “Rechnitz Massacre” during the night of 24/25 March 1945 is in fact only one of several such murderous events at this location at that time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         




‘The Thyssens. Family and Fortune’ is volume 4 of the series ‘Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century’ sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation of Cologne and published by Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn, Germany. Seven pages of the 500-page book are devoted to the Batthyany-Thyssens’ life in Rechnitz during World War Two and in particular their implication in the so-called “Rechnitz Massacre” (photo copyright Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn).                                  This book is a short version of Derix’s habilitation thesis and will thus be accepted as fact by German academics, a qualification that we strongly object to.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            



Simone Derix, author of ‘The Thyssens. Family and Fortune’, one of ten German academics commissioned by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation with the rewriting of the Thyssens’ history, continues what appears to be a white-wash and extenuation (photo copyright Historisches Kolleg, Munich). The Historisches Kolleg, where Simone Derix presented her book, is also, by the way, an institution that is itself partly funded by…..the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (!)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


The Kreuzstadl Memorial in Rechnitz to the Jewish victims of the second world war was extended and opened by the Austrian president in 2012. Large information panels include the information that Margit Batthyany never had to give evidence in court on the Rechnitz massacre of 24/25 March 1945. This was despite the fact that German investigators in 1963 reported to the Austrian Ministry of Justice that Margit Batthyany was suspected of having aided and abetted the flight of the two main alleged perpetrators of the crime, Franz Podezin and Joachim Oldenburg (photo copyright übersmeer blog)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


The Austrian head of state who opened the Rechnitz memorial in 2012, Heinz Fischer, assured the public that the Republic of Austria continues in its attempts to locate the graves of the Jews murdered in Rechnitz in 1945. But various Austrian authorities and commemoration associations have also remarked that the commemoration process still does not enjoy a general consensus amongst the population and that the Thyssen and Batthyany families in particular seem to refrain from any kind of positive, pro-active participation in this process of Aufarbeitung and healing (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Each year at the end of March, a remembrance event takes place at the Rechnitz Kreuzstadl Memorial Museum, organised by the Refugius commemoration association. While the commemoration event was particularly welcomed and supported by the former Rechnitz mayor, Engelbert Kenyeri, and more and more inhabitants of Rechnitz attend the event, so far, not a single member of either the Thyssen or Batthyany families have participated publicly, despite their fervent statements of intentions made following our publication and the ensuing staging in various European cities of Elfriede Jelinek’s play ‘Rechnitz. The Exterminating Angel’ (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rechnitz Revisited I

Neben der Publikation unseres Buches „Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos“ gibt es ein besonderes Ereignis, das sowohl symbolisch als auch real die Thyssens, sowohl als Unternehmen wie auch privat, dazu gebracht hat, ihre Geschichte umzuschreiben. Und zwar das sogenannte Massaker von Rechnitz, wie es jetzt genannt wird, also der Mord an hundert achtzig ungarischen, jüdischen Zwangsarbeitern nach einem Fest, welches Margit Batthyany-Thyssen im März 1945 unter anderem für SS-Offiziere gab, welche im Thyssen-finanzierten Schloss Rechnitz im Burgenland untergebracht waren; nicht nur das Ereignis selbst, sondern ein Artikel, den wir im Oktober 2007 über die Rolle Margit Thyssens bei diesem Verbrechen für die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung schrieben.

Als die FAZ den Artikel veröffentlichte stritten manche Akademiker, wie Professor Wolfgang Benz von der Universität Berlin, das ganze Ereignis ab, während Manfred Rasch, der Archivleiter der ThyssenKrupp AG uns später als sensationsorientierte Journalisten abtat, die die Rolle der Thyssens mit Hilfe von „Sex and Crime“ Journalismus aufgebauscht hätten. Dies machte uns aber nur noch entschlossener, die Anschuldigungen zu widerlegen, wir hätten gelogen und die Verantwortlichen zur Rechenschaft zu ziehen, die nicht nur das Schloss besaßen, welches sie während des Krieges mit Geldern aus Thyssen Unternehmen finanzierten, sondern auch das umliegende Landgut und damit einen bedeutenden Teil des Städtchens.

Nun hatte der Bericht über die Beteiligung der Thyssens sich in der europäischen Presse verbreitet, dies natürlich auch online, und als die ThyssenKrupp AG (für die Unternehmen) und die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe (für die Familie) sich bewusst wurden, dass eine größere Kampagne der Schadensbegrenzung von Nöten sein würde, wurde ein Team von Akademikern beauftragt, nicht nur das Massaker von Rechnitz aufzuarbeiten, sondern die gesamte unternehmerische und Familiengeschichte (oder zumindest die bis zu einem passend flexiblen Zeitpunkt), und zu versuchen über die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung einen akademisch anerkannten historischen Präzedenzfall zu etablieren.

Doch obwohl es in den Büchern der Serie „Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert – Familie, Unternehmen, Öffentlichkeit“ bisher schon mehrere Gelegenheiten gab, eine entsprechend reingewaschene Version der Geschichte des Massakers von Rechnitz aufzunehmen, ist dies nicht geschehen.

Dann wurden wir vor nicht all zu langer Zeit darauf aufmerksam, dass im Mai 2014 eine nicht sehr publik gemachte Veranstaltung an der Universität von München stattgefunden hat, nämlich eine zweitätige Konferenz unter dem Titel „Rechnitz Revisited“, welche von der vielseitigen und omnipräsenten „Nachwuchsgruppenleiterin“ Dr Simone Derix veranstaltet wurde. Als uns bewusst wurde, dass das Thema der Konferenz das Massaker von Rechnitz war und sie von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung gefördert worden war, wurde alles klar.

Es war offensichtlich eine Entscheidung gefällt worden, dass, solange das Thema Rechnitz so kontrovers und die Beteiligung der Thyssens so offensichtlich waren, es viel zu gefährlich war, „wissenschaftlich“ belegte Aussagen zu treffen, die ihre Beteiligung oder die Genauigkeit der Fakten in unserem Buch (und in unserem FAZ Artikel) anfochten. Fakten wie zum Beispiel die Details, dass Heinrich Thyssen über seine August Thyssen Bank einen RM 400,000 Kredit als „Beihilfe Rechnitz“ gewährt hatte, zu einer Zeit, als das Schloss bereits von der SS requiriert war, oder die jährliche Grundzahlung an Margit von RM 30,000 und „wandelbaren“ RM 18,000 zur Schlossunterhaltung, während das Gut „von Thyssengas weiterhin betreut“ wurde (damals Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke) (siehe auch hier).

Das hinderte die Personen, die für den Inhalt der Konferenz verantwortlich waren, jedoch nicht daran, es dennoch zu versuchen und während unser Buch und unser Artikel mit keinem Wort erwähnt wurden, so wurden doch einige, allzu offensichtliche Andeutungen gemacht, nämlich an „überzeichnete mediale Darstellung“; sexbesessene Schlossherrin; skandalisierende Medienberichte; überzeichnete Fokussierung auf einzelne Personen, insbesondere Margit Batthyany-Thyssen; die große Diskrepanz zwischen den phantasievollen Berichten und der historischen Rekonstruktion des Geschehens; Phantasien und spekulative Projektionsfläche“.

Die Teilnehmer nutzten die Gelegenheit, um das Konzept voran zu treiben, dass das Geschehene auf keinen Fall in die Verantwortlichkeit der ehrenwerten Thyssens und Batthyanys fallen kann, sondern dass jede Schuld an dem Verbrechen sicher bei den weniger privilegierten Teilen der Bevölkerung zu verorten ist. Es ist eine Strategie, die in der Reihe „Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“ ebenso praktiziert wird, und die mittlerweile den Lesern unserer Rezensionen dieser Bücher bekannt sein dürfte.

Im Grunde schien das bewusste Format dieser Konferenz nicht zu sein, spezifische Fragen zu beantworten oder irgendeine Form einer verbindlichen Aussage zu treffen. Vielmehr sollte ein akademisches „work in progress“ etabliert werden. Es ist eine Verfahrensweise, welche auch das österreichische Innenministerium seit Jahren angewandt hat, um einen Wall aufzubauen, hinter dem unangenehme Dinge versteckt werden können wie z.B. die Frage, wo die Toten des Massakers von Rechnitz begraben sind.

Zur Konferenz wurden eine Reihe von Akademikern eingeladen, die von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung autorisiert wurden – allen voran Eleonore Lappin-Eppel und Claudia Kuretsidis-Haider – ausserdem Sacha Batthyany, ein Journalist, dessen Familie ursprünglich sowohl das Städtchen wie auch das Schloss besaßen und von ihrer Verbindung mit den Thyssens profitierten, und die auch ein gewisses Ausmaß an Macht und Einfluss in der Gegend behalten haben. Sacha Batthyany hatte einen ernsthaften Interessenkonflikt, gab jedoch der Veranstaltung einen gewissen noblen Status und half dabei, die Aufmerksamkeit von den Thyssens weg zu lenken und auch von seiner eigenen, anscheinend schuldfreien Familie; von der einige Mitglieder (so hatte er uns einmal gesagt) weiterhin an „jüdische Verschwörungen“ im Zusammenhang mit dem ungelösten Fall glauben.

Es ist anzunehmen, dass die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung diese Konferenz nun alle paar Jahre wiederholen wird bis ihre Version der Geschehnisse, welche jedwede Erwähnung der Beteiligung der Thyssen Familie am Rechnitzer Verbrechen ausschließt, akzeptiert worden ist.

Oder bis zum unwahrscheinlich Fall dass erkannt wird, dass ihre akademischen Verleugnungen nicht überzeugen und nur unsere Bestimmtheit vergrößern, dafür zu sorgen, dass die Thyssens, die persönlich übrigens nie die Genauigkeit unserer Fakten bestritten oder uns der Übertreibung bezichtigt haben, den ihnen gebührenden Grad an Verantwortung und Schuld übernehmen.

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Rechnitz Revisited I

Apart from the publication of our book, „The Thyssen Art Macabre“, if there was one event above all others that both symbolically and in reality persuaded the Thyssens, both corporately and privately, to rewrite their history, it is what has now become known as „The Rechnitz Massacre“, or the slaughter of one hundred and eighty Hungarian Jewish slave workers, following a party given by Margit Batthyany-Thyssen for SS officers stationed at the Thyssen-owned Rechnitz castle in Burgenland, Austria, in March 1945, amongst others; not just the event itself but an article we wrote for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in October 2007 concerning Margit’s role in the atrocity (the english version was published by the Independent on Sunday).

When FAZ first published the story in German, some academics, such as Professor Wolfgang Benz from Berlin University, denied the whole event, while Manfred Rasch, ThyssenKrupp’s archivist, subsequently wrote us off as sensationalist journalists who had exaggerated the Thyssens’ involvement with the use of „sex and crime“ style journalism. But this only succeeded in motivating our determination to refute the accusations that we had lied and expose those responsible; who owned not only the castle, which they continued to finance with Thyssen corporate money throughout the war, but the surrounding estate and thus much of the town.

By now the story of the Thyssens’ involvement had flooded the European press and gone online and the realisation that they needed to mount a major campaign of damage limitation had motivated ThyssenKrupp AG (representing the corporation) and the Thyssen Bornemisza Group (representing the family) to authorise a team of academics to write not just of the Rechnitz Massacre, but the entire (or up until a somewhat conveniently flexible date) corporate and private history and establish, or attempt to establish, via the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, an academically approved, historical precedent.

But while there have been various opportunities for the inclusion of a suitably white-washed version of the history of the Rechnitz Massacre in the books of the series „Thyssen in the 20th Century – Family, Enterprise, Public“, such a thing has so far been conspicuous by its absence.

Then, quite recently, we became aware of a little publicised event that had taken place in May 2014 at Munich University, organised by the versatile and omnipresent „Junior Research Group Leader“ Dr Simone Derix, in the form of a two-day conference entitled „Rechnitz Revisited“. When we noticed that the event concerned the Rechnitz Massacre and had been sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, an organisation which up until the publication of our book never appeared to have previously become involved in financing any in-depth research into the history of the Thyssen family or its corporate past, all became clear.

A decision had obviously been made that as long as the Rechnitz subject remained so contentious and the Thyssens’ involvement so obvious, it was far too dangerous to attempt to make „scientifically“ supported statements that refuted their involvement and/or the accuracy of the facts contained in our book (and the subsequent article in FAZ). Facts that included such details as Heinrich Thyssen’s RM 400,000 loan (via the August Thyssen Bank) towards the upkeep of the castle when it had already been requisitioned by the SS, or Margit’s annual RM 30,000 wartime remit, plus an extra RM 18,000 „flexible“ contribution for maintaining the castle, it being „generally looked after by Thyssengas” (then called Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke) (see also here).

But this did not stop those responsible for the content of the conference from trying, of course, and while our book or our article in FAZ were not named, there were various, all too obvious references to „exaggerated media presentation; sex-crazed chatelaine; scandalous news coverage; exaggerated focus on individuals, especially Margit Batthyany-Thyssen; the large discrepancy between the fanciful reports and historical reconstruction of events; fantasies and speculative projections“.

They also took the opportunity to promote the concept that far from being the responsibility of the honourable Thyssens and Batthyanys, any blame for the crime should more accurately be shouldered by the less privileged members of the population. It is a conscious strategy that is pursued equally in the „Thyssen in the 20th Century“ series and which will by now have become familiar to the readers of our reviews of these books.

Basically the format of the conference in Munich appeared to be geared towards the establishment of an academic „work in progress“, rather than the answering of specific questions or making any form of committed statement whatsoever. It was a ploy that the Austrian Ministry of the Interior has been using for years as a screen behind which they can hide potentially embarrassing details of such things as where the bodies of the victims of the Rechnitz Massacre were buried.

Those invited to the conference were a group of authorised (by Fritz Thyssen Stiftung) academics, such as Eleonore Lappin-Eppel and Claudia Kuretsidis-Haider, plus Sacha Batthyany, a journalist whose family had originally owned both town and castle and profited from their relationship with the Thyssens, while retaining their power and influence in the Rechnitz area. Sacha suffered from a serious conflict of interest but gave the proceedings a degree of noble status and assisted in steering attention away from the Thyssens and his own, apparently guiltless family; many of whom (or so he had originally assured us) still believe in „Jewish conspiracies“ surrounding the unresolved case.

Doubtless the Fritz Thyssen Foundation will now repeat the conference once every few years until their version of events, which excludes any mention of the Thyssen family’s involvement in the Rechnitz crime, has been accepted.

Or until the unlikely event that they acquiesce to the fact that their academic denials lack conviction and only serve to fuel our determination that the Thyssens, who have personally never actually accused us of inaccuracies or exaggerations, accept their appropriate degree of responsibility and guilt.

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Buchrezension: Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert – Band 2: “Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen. ‘Stahlverein’ und ‘Baron-Konzern’ im Zweiten Weltkrieg”, von Thomas Urban, erschienen im Schöningh Verlag, 2014.

Wenn es ein Thema in dieser Serie von akademischen Abhandlungen über die Firmen, politischen Ansichten, den persönlichen Reichtum, die Beziehungen zur Öffentlichkeit und die Kunstsammlung(en) der Thyssens gibt, bei dem Feingefühl und Offenheit gefragt gewesen wären, dann ist es dieses eine. In der Tat spiegeln die ensetzlichen Bedingungen, unter denen Ausländer (Sowjetische Staatsangehörige, Franzosen, Niederländer, Belgier, etc.) während des zweiten Weltkriegs in Thyssen Unternehmungen, und der Produktion von Waffen und Munition im Besonderen, arbeiten mussten deutlich die unmenschlichen Auswüchse des Nationalsozialismus wider. Die Rezension fällt ob des wichtigen Themas etwas länger aus.

30 Jahre nach Ulrich Herberts bahnbrechenden Arbeiten zur Zwangsarbeit und sieben Jahre nach Erscheinen unseres Buches blieb die Thyssen Familie bis jetzt eine von sehr wenigen, die sich beharrlich weigerten, diesen Teil ihrer Geschichte offen anzusprechen. Stattdessen hat sie immer behauptet, weitgehenst unbeteiligt an der Herstellung von Waffen und Munition und der Verwendung von Zwangsarbeitern gewesen zu sein. Sie behauptete auch, Hitler nicht unterstützt zu haben, oder ihre Unterstützung nach einer gewissen Zeit eingestellt zu haben. Sie ging sogar so weit, sich selbst auf eine Stufe mit den Verfolgten des Regimes zu stellen, in dem sie behauptete, selbst auch verfolgt und enteignet worden zu sein.

Ausserdem behauptete der Thyssen-Bornemisza Zweig der Familie, ungarischer Nationalität zu sein, und mit Deutschland überhaupt nichts zu tun zu haben. Aber dies waren alles falsche Behauptungen, die darauf ausgerichtet waren, die Aufmerksamkeit von den Fakten abzulenken. Und makabrer Weise war es gerade diese „kosmopolitische“ Seite der Dynastie, die die Nazis ganz besonders unterstützt hat, durch Finanz- und Bankgeschäfte, durch die Produktion von U-Booten und V-Waffen-Teilen, und durch eine persönliche Verbindung mit der SS und hoch-rangingen Nationalsozialisten. Über 1.000 KZ-Häftlinge starben in Bremen beim Bau des „Valentin“ Bunkers, in dem Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan Werft eine Steigerung der Produktion auf 14 U-Boote pro Monat plante, um im Angesicht Hitler’s drohender Niederlage einen verzweifelten deutschen Endsieg zu erringen.

Angesichts ihrer weitgreifenden industriellen und finanziellen Macht und Sonderstellung hatten Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza eine überwältigende Verantwortung, sich ihren Mitbürgern gegenüber respektvoll zu verhalten. Wir glauben, dass sie in dieser Stellung aufgrund ihrer unerschöpflichen Gier, ihres finanziellen Opportunismus und ihrer unmoralischen Arroganz scheiterten. Von allen Thyssen-Erben ist jetzt anscheinend nur einer, nämlich GEORG THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA, bereit, die Verantwortung einzugestehen, indem er dieses Projekt unterstützt. Aber diese kläglichen 170 Seiten mit unvollständigem Register (nur Personen, nicht Unternehmen, was die Analyse so schwierig macht) sind nur ein Tropfen auf den heissen Stein in der Korrektur des offiziellen Bildes und halten einer internationalen Begutachtung nicht Stand.

Thomas Urban akzeptiert die Zulässigkeit unserer Biografie nicht und meint immer noch behaupten zu müssen, dass das Thema Zwangsarbeit in den Darstellungen zur Thyssen-Geschichte bis Anfang des 21. Jahrhunderts „unberücksichtigt“ blieb. In Wahrheit scheint es, dass das Thema mit Absicht unterdrückt wurde, so weit dies möglich war, um unerwünschte Aufmerksamkeit und mögliche Schadenersatzforderungen abzuwenden. Es ist auch der Grund, weshalb die Thyssen-Bornemisza Seite der Familie bis zum Zeitpunkt der Veröffentlichung unseres Buches von der akademischen Forschung ferngehalten wurde (was Dr Urban als „verwunderlich“ beschreibt).

Als Michael Kanther speziell für die August Thyssen Hütte 1991 über Zwangsarbeit schrieb konnte er anscheinend bis 2004 nicht publizieren, und dann in den “Duisburger Forschungen”. Und zehn Jahre später werden aus der großen Fülle von Thyssen Unternehmungen nur einige wenige als schuldig preisgegeben, nämlich die Werften Bremer Vulkan und Flensburger Schiffsbaugesellschaft, das Kohlebergwerk Walsum und die August Thyssen Hütte.

Die Press- und Walzwerk AG Reisholz und die Oberbilker Stahlwerke werden nur flüchtig erwähnt, aber nicht die Beteiligung an der Produktion von V-Waffen oder eine Zusammenarbeit mit der MABAG (Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG) Nordhausen, wo Heinrich’s Sohn Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza mit der SS zusammen arbeitete und 20,000 KZ-Häftlinge ums Leben kamen. Eine interessante Information ist jedoch, dass der technische Direktor der Press- und Walzwerk AG Reisholz, Wilhelm Martin, „in seiner Eigenschaft als ‘Abwehrbeauftragter’ einen ‘politischen Stoßtrupp’ aus Betriebsangehörigen eingerichtet“ haben soll, „der im Falle möglicher Unruhen in der Belegschaft, mit so genannten Totschlägern bewaffnet, zum Einsatz kommen sollte“ – anscheinend der einzig bekannte Fall einer solchen Einrichtung in der gesamten Nazi-Rüstungswirtschaft. Es ist ein erstaunliches Eingeständnis.

Als deutsche Arbeiter in den Krieg zogen wurden sie durch insgesamt 14 Millionen Zwangsarbeiter, ersetzt, darunter auch Frauen und Kinder und in Thyssen Unternehmen arbeiteten diese in Verhältnissen zwischen einem Drittel und einem erstaunlichen zwei Drittel (in der Zeche Walsum, wie wir als Erste berichteten) der Gesamtbelegschaft. In Anbetracht der Größe der Thyssen Konzerne müssten dort insgesamt bis zu mehrere zehntausend Zwangsarbeiter gearbeitet haben, aber Dr Urban versucht noch nicht einmal, eine ungefähre Gesamtziffer zu ermitteln. Stattdessen wird das jämmerliche Schwarze-Peter-Spiel mit Krupp weiter geführt, wonach die Bezeichnung „Zwangsarbeiter“, die durchweg in diesem Buch benutzt wird, plötzlich zu „Sklavenarbeiter“ wird, sobald der Name Krupp fällt. Währenddessen verliert sich die jetzt angeführte Tatsache, dass bei Thyssen in Hamborn viel größere Mengen an Granatstahl hergestellt wurden als bei Krupp in Rheinhausen im Kleingedruckten.

In der August Thyssen Hütte und dem Thyssen Werk Mülheim, die mehr zum Einflussbereich Fritz Thyssen’s gehörten, dessen Macht durch seine privilegierte Haft während des Krieges nicht so vollständig eingeschränkt war wie diese offiziellen Thyssen Veröffentlichungen es uns immer noch weismachen wollen, heisst es, habe es eine „hohe Sterblichkeit“ bei sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen gegeben. Aber die von Dr Urban erwähnten Zahlen übersteigen nie acht oder weniger für die wenigen Zwischenfälle, die er beschreibt.

Wegen der Rassenideologie wurden sowjetische Kriegsgefangene, von KZ-Häftlingen abgesehen, am schlechtesten behandelt, bis zu einem Punkt, wo diese in Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan Werft, aus Furcht vor Sabotage, so Dr Urban, zunächst in einem Stacheldrahtkäfig festgehalten wurden, wo andere sie „wie die Affen (im Zoo anguckten)“. (Diese Information kam von einem Schulprojekt in Bremen aus dem Jahr 1980 und wurde von Dr Rolf Keller von der Stiftung Niedersächsische Gedenkstätten in Celle an Dr Urban weiter gegeben). Aber trotz solcher verstörender Ausprägungen eines extremen Rassismus hatten Gesten der Humanität von seiten der Ortsansäßigen gegenüber den Gefangenen stattgefunden, wie unsere Lektorin beim Asso Verlag Oberhausen, Ulli Langenbrinck, uns vor Jahren schilderte, aus dem einfachen Grund, dass sie unter gefährlichen Bedingungen (z.B. in Kohlegruben und an Hochöfen) zusammen arbeiten mussten und es daher besser war, rücksichtsvoll gegenüber Menschen zu sein, von denen das eigene Leben abhängen konnte.

Leider bringt es Thomas Urban fertig, zu suggerieren, solche Erinnerungen könnten nichts weiter als Spiegelungen nachträglicher Dienlichkeit sein und man fragt sich, ob er jemals nachgedacht hat, wie es wohl gewesen sein musste, unter Bedingungen zu arbeiten, wo die rassische, ideologische und nationale Diskriminierung die sowieso schon schwierigen Arbeitsverhältnisse nochmals erheblich erschwerten. Bedingungen, die wegen größenwahnsinnigen Politikern und gleichsam größenwahnsinnigen Industriellen existierten und von denen die Menschen vor Ort genau wussten, dass sie kontra-produktiv waren. Sicherlich brauchte es nicht den Anblick von KZ-Häftlingen, um demoralisiert zu sein – Dr Urban sagt, dies sei in jener Zeit behauptet worden – von denen anscheinend „75“ beim Bremer Vulkan selbst verwendet wurden (was eine weitaus angenehmere Zahl ist als die 1,000 oben erwähnten Todesopfer). Die irrsinnige Situation, die man erlitt, wenn man ob des Schicksals der im fernen Feld stehenden eigenen „Herrenmenschen“ bangen musste, während die „untermenschlichen“ Feinde deren Waffen und Munition daheim produzierten muss schon verstörend genug gewesen sein, um Menschen zu demoralisieren – und zwar für beide Seiten!

Am anderen Ende der Skala werden die Thyssens, die in der Vergangenheit mit ihren geschichtlichen Aufzeichnungen „sparsam“ umgegangen sind, mit Glacéhandschuhen angefasst, was eine fortgesetzte Mentalität der Sympathie und Unterwürfigkeit bezeugt, die weit über alles geht, was man von einer sogenannten unabhängigen akademischen Beauftragung erwarten sollte. Selbst eine Rezensentin der Universität Duisburg-Essen, Jana Scholz, scheint zu hinterfragen, wieso das einzig Richtige nicht getan wurde, nämlich die Verantwortung eindeutig bei den Thyssens zu verorten. Statt dessen wird die Verwendung und Behandlung von Zwangsarbeitern Lagerführern, Vorarbeitern und Managern angelastet, Menschen wie Wilhelm Roelen und Robert Kabelac, und man fragt sich, was deren Familien wohl davon halten. Vor allem im Fall Roelen, da in der Ruhr eine Bewegung gegen die Erinnerung an ihn aufgekommen ist, nachdem nachgewiesen wurde, dass unter seiner Aufsicht mehr als 100 sowjetische Kriegsgefangene in der Zeche Walsum umgekommen sind. Signifikanter Weise sind keine Familienmitglieder dieser Manager befragt worden. Und auch keine Mitglieder der Thyssen Familie.

In einer anderen Rezension fragt sich Jens Thiel, der es als Experte in Medizinethik besser wissen müsste, allen Ernstes ob es sich heutzutage noch lohnt, mit Forschungen zum Thema Zwangsarbeit „wissenschaftliche Meriten“ zu ernten. Er preist die „nüchternen Beschreibungen“ in diesem Buch. Es ist aber absolut nicht nachvollziehbar, was nüchtern an der Beschreibung von hungernden Russen sein soll, die rohen Fisch essen, der durch Bomben getötet wurde, nachdem sie mitten im Winter in den eisigen Fluss gesprungen waren, um ihn einzusammeln. Oder an der Erinnerung von Ortsansässigen, wie sie als Kinder sahen, wie Leiterkarren aus einem Thyssen-Werk herausgefahren wurden, bei denen auf der Seite Beine und Arme heraushingen und sie sich beissend fragten, ob diese Menschen tot oder noch lebend waren.

Oder an der Beschreibung von Galgen, die vor dem Zehntweglager des Thyssen-Werks Mülheim aufgestellt wurden (welches von einem besonders sadistischen Vater-Sohn-Team von Kommandanten regiert wurde) und sowjetische Jugendliche dort für Diebstahl „in Anwesenheit eines Gestapo-Mannes und eines SS-Unteroffiziers“ in apokalyptischen Szenarien gehängt wurden – wiederum beobachtet von ortsansässigen Kindern. Alle drei Beschreibungen entstammen persönlichen Befragungen, die Dr Urban bei Zeitzeugen durchgeführt hat und die eines der wenigen rettenden Elemente dieses Buches sind. Er beschreibt auch andere Opfer, darunter Frauen, die in Thyssen-Werken erschossen wurden, z.B. wegen Diebstahls von Nahrungsmitteln.

Obwohl dieses Buch darauf nicht eingeht steht es ausser Frage, dass Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza mit den außerordentlichen Mitteln aus dem Schaffenswerk ihres genial-dementen Vaters äußerst privilegierte Lebensstile führten. Beide blickten rückwärts und sahen sich als feudale Oberherrn, die ihre ganz privaten Lehnsgüter regierten. Sie waren entschlossen, Arbeiterrechte konsequent zu bekämpfen, egal ob diese nun Deutsche oder Ausländer waren. Deshalb unterstützten sie den Faschismus, inklusive des Regimes von Admiral Horty in Ungarn. Deshalb finanzierten sie auch ihr SS-requiriertes Schloss Rechnitz im Burgenland, wo Heinrich’s Tochter Margit Batthyany während des Krieges ihr ganz eigenes Terror-Regime führte und in eine Greueltat an über 180 jüdischen Zwangsarbeiter im März 1945 verwickelt war, die bis zum heutigen Tag in keiner offiziellen Thyssen Publikation Erwähnung findet.

Die Thyssen Manager reichten diesen autokratischen Führungsstil nach unten weiter, während sie die gleichzeitigen Kriegsanforderungen der Sieges-wichtigen Plansolls und Gewinnerwartungen der Eigentümer zu erfüllen versuchten. Sie adressierten die Mahnung „Wenn Du nicht spurst, Farge (ein Arbeitserziehungslager in der Nähe von Bremen) ist dichtebei!“ sowohl an deutsche wie auch ausländische Arbeiter. Aber letztere waren immer mehr benachteiligt weil die Nazis das Führerprinzip durch alle Schichten hindurch anwendeten, sodass jeder Deutsche automatisch zum Boss seines nächsten ausländischen Arbeiters wurde. Ausländer mussten auch schwerere, gefährlichere Arbeiten verrichten und hatten schlechtere Rationen, Unterkünfte und Luftschutzvorkehrungen. Während eines großen Luftangriffs auf das Thyssen Werk in Hamborn am 22.01.1945 waren 115 der 145 Todesopfer Kriegsgefangene. Im Ausländerlager der Thyssen-Bornemisza Zeche in Walsum fanden ein Staatsarzt und ein Nazi-Funktionär bei ihrer Visite 1942 solch untragbaren hygienischen Zustände vor, dass sie das Thyssen Management beorderten, sofortige Abhilfe zu schaffen.

Die Ertragskraft der Thyssenschen Kriegsproduktion und speziell des Schiffbaus wird erwähnt, doch Thomas Urban sagt überprüfbare Zahlen seien „nicht verfügbar“. Aber einige dieser Zahlen sind in den Protokollen der Vorstandssitzungen enthalten, welche vierteljährlich in Flims, Davos, Lugano und Zurich stattfanden (nicht lapidar „in der Schweiz“ – mit anderen Worten Heinrich war nicht zu krank, um herum zu reisen, er wollte nur nicht mehr aus der Schweiz ausreisen; aus Gründen des Komforts, nicht weil er “anti-Nazi” war) mit vier Beteiligten (Baron Heinrich, Wilhelm Roelen, Heini Thyssen und Heinrich Lübke, dem Direktor der August Thyssen Bank Berlin – wobei die letzten zwei von Urban heruntergespielt werden). Und die Mitschriften wurden nicht von einem anonymen „Privatsekretär“ angefertigt sondern aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach von Wilhelm Roelen, was erklärt, dass sich Kopien sowohl im Unternehmens- wie auch im Privatarchiv befinden. Wir sind sicher, dass sich auch noch weitere relevante Informationen zur Profitabilität im ThyssenKrupp Archiv wie auch im Archiv der Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen befinden, zum Beispiel im Nachlass von Dr Wilhelm Roelen, welche aber aus irgend einem Grund nicht veröffentlicht werden.

Es wird hier auch behauptet, dass „sich Thyssen-Unternehmen nach heutigem Kenntnisstand während der NS-Zeit (keine) ‘arisierte(n)’ Betriebe aneigneten“. Aber in Wirklichkeit wurde Heinrich’s Rennstall Erlenhof bei Bad Homburg für ihn im November 1933 von seinem Finanzinstrument Hollandsch Trust Kantoor aus dem Nachlass des Juden Moritz James Oppenheimer gekauft, der zuerst in den Konkurs getrieben und danach ermordet wurde. Eine sehr unangenehme Jahreszahl, wenn die offizielle Aussage immer war und immer noch ist, dass Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza ab 1932, also vor der Machtergreifung Hitlers, in der Schweiz lebte.

Der Autor versucht, einen Punkt zur Entlastung von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza heraus zu arbeiten, indem er sagt, dieser sei nie bei Veranstaltungen in seinen Werken zugegen gewesen, wenn z.B. „Auszeichnungen durch das NS-Regime“ stattfanden. Aber während Heinrich nach 1938 die Schweiz nicht mehr verlassen haben mag so erzählte uns doch sein Sohn Heini, dass er 1942 für die Feierlichkeiten zum 100ten Geburtstag seines Großvaters nach Schloss Landsberg gereist war, an denen auch Nazi-Funktionäre teilnahmen (Bilder der Veranstaltung existieren). Danach konnte er ungehindert in die Schweiz zurückreisen. Aber dieser Vorfall bleibt hier unerwähnt, vermutlich weil man die unternehmerische Verstrickung Heini Thyssens während des Krieges nicht publik machen will.

Thomas Urban besitzt weiterhin die Kühnheit, zu unterstellen dass der Kontakt zwischen Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza und Hermann Göring „wohl auf den Pferdesport beschränkt“ gewesen sei und dass er „diesem Regime wohl nicht nur geografisch distanziert gegenüberstand“. Als ob Heinrich’s privilegierte Position in der Schweiz etwas sei, was in diesem Zusammenhang auch noch Bewunderung verdiene. Diese willkürliche Einschätzung durch einen deutschen Akademiker für diesen entscheidenden Punkt ist eine regelrecht obszöne Behauptung und tief abstoßend sowohl für die Erinnerung an die Opfer wie auch für alle Menschen, denen an der historischen Wahrheitsfindung gelegen ist.

Die Bankkontakte zwischen beiden Männer persönlich und mit dem Regime generell über Heinrich’s August Thyssen Bank in Berlin (welche später in der BHF-Bank aufging), seine Union Banking Corporation in New York und seine Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam und andere bleiben bisher in dieser Serie absolut unerwähnt. Wir nehmen an, das wird sich mit dem Buch von Simone Derix über das Vermögen und die Identität der Thyssens (Erscheinungsdatum 2016) oder mit Harald Wixforth’s Arbeit über die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe (Erscheinungsdatum unbekannt) ändern.

Man mag es als verständlich ansehen, dass die Thyssens in der Vergangenheit ihre Verbindungen zu Nazi Führern geleugnet und ihre Manager gleichfalls so argumentiert haben, um nach dem Krieg einer Vergeltung durch die Allierten zu entgehen, dass aber im Jahr 2014 ein solches akademisches Projekt immer noch in der selben Art über die wichtigsten Punkte der Aufarbeitung der Thyssen Geschichte hinweg geht ist unentschuldbar. Es ist ebenfalls unklar, wieso Dr Urban bei wichtigen Punkten so vage bleibt, wie z.B. bei der Frage der Entlohnung der Zwangsarbeit. Diese erwähnt er, gibt aber keinerlei Details, was unentschuldbar ist.

Immer und immer wieder erwähnt Dr Urban Probleme mit Quellen und dass es deshalb unmöglich sei, das Thema mit der nötigen Subtanz und Gewissheit zu behandeln. Seine Aussage dass „man in den Baustoffwerken (der Thyssens), zumal im Berliner Raum, durchaus einen höheren Anteil an Zwangsarbeitern vermuten“ kann ist inakzeptabel, zumal gesagt wird, die relevanten Archive seien „noch im Aufbau“, was 70 Jahre nach Kriegsende eine unglaubliche Aussage darstellt, auch wenn es eine ist, die wir bei unseren Arbeiten zum Thema Thyssen oft zu hören bekommen haben.

Als der Bremer Vulkan in den späten 1990er Jahren Pleite ging sahen weder die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe noch ThyssenKrupp eine Notwendigkeit, die Archive zu übernehmen. Statt dessen wurden diese einem „Freundeskreis“ („Wir Vulkanesen e.V.“) überlassen, der wichtige Akten, unter anderem Belegschaftsakten aus der Kriegszeit, welche auch Aufzeichnungen über Zwangsarbeiter enthielten, vernichtete – aus „Datenschutzgründen“ wie es hiess. Erst nach dieser Säuberung wurden die Akten dem Staatsarchiv Bremen überlassen. Auch die Überlieferungen der Zeche Walsum werden hier als „äusserst lückenhaft“ beschrieben, was angesichts der Tatsache, was für ein akribischer Technokrat Wilhelm Roelen war unwahrscheinlich, auf Kriegseinwirkungen zurückzuführen, oder durch willkürliche Zerstörung belastender Beweise zu erklären ist

Und so fiel es einzelnen Zwangsarbeitern selbst zu, die den Mut hatten, mit ihrer Geschichte an die Öffentlichkeit zu treten (und welche von verschiedenen örtlichen deutschen Geschichtsprojekten – manchmal sogar in Schulen – aufgegriffen und tatsächlich unabhängig von irgendwelchen Thyssen Organen bearbeitet wurden), die eindringlichsten Portraits der Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen zu zeichnen.

Als der Niederländer Klaas Touber 1988 an den Bremer Vulkan schrieb (dessen Ehrenvorsitzender Heini Thyssen war) und um DM 3,000 Schadenersatz für seine Zwangsarbeit im Krieg bat, wurde dies abgelehnt mit der Begründung man könne „keine konkreten Tatsachen erkennen (…), die für uns eine Schadenersatzverpflichtung begründen“. Es wurde ihm mitgeteilt, die Werft sei „wirtschaftlich angeschlagen“ und „wenn man ihn entschädigen würde, müsste man auch den vielen anderen Menschen, die damals mit Ihnen diese Zeit durchgemacht haben….Geldzahlungen zukommen lassen“, wozu man „finanziell nicht in der Lage“ wäre. Dies zu einem Zeitpunkt, als Heini Thyssen seine Kunstsammlung zum Kauf anbot und anklingen ließ, sie sei bis zu 2 Milliarden Dollar wert. Klaas Touber, der zu einem Zeitpunkt seiner Zwangsarbeit beim Bremer Vulkan auf 40 Kg abgemagert war, hatte Zeit seines Lebens ein psychisches Trauma behalten, was nicht zuletzt daher rührte, dass einer seiner Landsmänner, der ihm bei einem Streit in der Kantine zu Hilfe gekommen war, im KZ Neugamme ermordet wurde. (Die Informationen wurden Dr Urban zum Teil durch Dr Marcus Meyer, Leiter des Denkorts „Valentin“ Bunker der Bremer Landeszentrale für politische Bildung überlassen – Klaas Touber war sehr in der Erinnerungs- und Versöhnungsarbeit engagiert – und zum Teil von ihm einer Veröffentlichung des Landesverbands der Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes / Bund der Antifaschisten Bremen e.V. entnommen).

Das vielleicht erschütternste und gleichzeitig hoffnungsvollste Schicksal ist das des Weissrussen Wassilij Bojkatschow. Als er 12 Jahre alt war nahmen die Deutschen sein Dorf ein, wobei sowohl sein Vater wie auch sein Großvater ermordet wurden. Beim Thyssen Werk der Deutsche Röhrenwerke AG musste er die gefährlichste Arbeit verrichten nämlich nicht explodierte Bomben entschärfen. 1995 schrieb er seine Memoiren und reiste 1996 nach Mülheim, wo er den Bürgermeister und ortsansässige Menschen traf, die Geld für seinen Besuch und den seiner Frau gesammelt hatten. Er beschrieb viele traumatische Erlebnisse, erinnerte sich aber auch an „viele Bilder menschlichen Mitleids und Güte“. Es scheint, dass er noch nicht einmal um Schadenersatz warb. (Dr Urban hat diese Informationen aus dem Jahrbuch der Stadt Mülheim entnommen).

Im Jahr 2000 schrieb eine Ukrainerin, Jewdokija Sch., an das Staatsarchiv Bremen: „Die Arbeit (beim Bremer Vulkan) war sehr, sehr schwer – ich arbeitete als Schweißerin, 12 Stunden täglich, in Holzschuhen, ganz erschöpft vom Hunger! Ich war schon 1944 wie ein Gespenst!“.

Nach ihrem Zusammenschluss trat die ThyssenKrupp AG im Jahr 2000 der Stiftungsinitiative der deutschen Wirtschaft bei, welche zur Entschädigung von Zwangsarbeitern finanziert wurde. Diesbezügliche Akten seien noch weitere 30 Jahre unter Verschluss und der akademischen Forschung nicht zugänglich, schreibt Dr Urban. Was er nicht erwähnt ist, dass es nicht bekannt ist, ob sich die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe jemals an einem Entschädigungsfond für Zwangsarbeiter beteiligt hat.

Interessanterweise befasst sich das nächste Buch der Serie mit den Kunstsammlungen der Thyssen Familie, welche das vordergründigste Instrument waren, mit dem sie ihr Schuldgefühl reinwaschen und ihre belastenden Kriegsverstrickungen hinter der Fassade einer kulturellen sogenannten Philanthropie verstecken konnten. Etwas was in den Boom-Jahren des deutschen Wirtschaftswunders und danach hervorragend funktionierte, als der Kunstmarkt von einem Höchstpreis zum nächsten emporschnellte und der Glanz der glamourösen Kunstwelt jegliche Sorge vor oder gar Erinnerung an die Quelle des Thyssen-Vermögens weg zu wischen schien.

Dr Thomas Urban, ein weiterer Thyssen-finanzierter Akademiker, diesmal von der Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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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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Lorne Thyssen – Buying Scholarship or: ‘does money smell’?

While both ThyssenKrupp and the Thyssen Bornemisza Group continue to pay academics and charitable foundations to rewrite their past, one member of the family has additionally been funding scholarship in order to buy an exalted academic identity for himself; with wealth polluted by the same tarnished history.

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza was born in Switzerland to the Scottish fashion model Fiona Campbell-Walter, who by the time of his birth was already separated from Lorne’s legal father, the Hungarian, Dutch, Swiss, German, Catholic, industrialist and art collector, Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza; a man with his own identity problems, for whom Fiona had been his third wife.

As his second son, Lorne was also encouraged to adopt the ‘theatrical’ Austro-Hungarian title of ‘Baron’, despite the fact that in Switzerland (where waiters refer to him as ‘Mr Baron’), Austria and Hungary, the title has no legal status and Heini claimed his adopted son’s biological father was actually the American, Jewish, TV producer Sheldon Reynolds. But that didn’t stop Heini from accepting Lorne as a legal heir and supplying him with a dangerously generous allowance.

Lorne was educated at Le Rosey, a cosmopolitan, Swiss school that is perhaps better known for the wealth of its students’ parents than their off-springs’ academic achievement and from where he was expelled prior to completion of his International Baccalaureate studies. However, he did subsequently complete his basic Swiss Military Service while displaying less enthusiasm for gainful employment at the Thyssen Bornemisza Group´s corporate headquarters in Monaco.

Having adopted English as his first language, Lorne then established his colourful and extravagant social presence in London before endeavouring to read politics and philosophy at Edinburgh University. But as a result of the social distractions afforded him by his generous allowance, he failed to devote sufficient time to his studies and was obliged to abandon his academic ambitions.

He then moved to New York where he attended acting classes and even achieved some small measure of success in an off-Broadway Shakespeare play before moving on to Paris and from there to Beirut; where he acted in, and directed, a multi-million dollar, Thyssen-Bornemisza funded movie. He also adopted Muslim faith and became involved in Islamic mysticism, via the Sufi movement; whose funds he contributed to.

His generosity and the size of his inherited fortune were doubtless also instrumental in his being awarded a seat on the board of the Muslim Cogito Scholarship Foundation.

By now it must have begun to occur to Lorne that he could ‘procure’ academic status without the time-consuming inconvenience of having to study or take exams.

Heini had also taught him that cultural status could be obtained by the simple expedient of loaning out parts of his inherited art collection. A policy that would save on the cost of art storage and insurance.

So it was that he chose to loan his inherited collection of Muslim carpets to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; which resulted in a considerable enhancement of his standing amongst Germany’s cultural elite.

Considering the amount of time and effort that the Thyssen-Bornemiszas had invested in avoiding being considered German and denying their historic connections with the country, particularly during World War II, Berlin was, despite being the recognised centre of oriental carpet dealing, an extremely strange choice of location. Presumably it was an attempt to enhance his profile in Germany while his adopted family history was coming under academic scrutiny.

But given that Lorne wanted to achieve academic status in the UK, his choice of Oxford was logical, entirely predictable and possibly offered tax advantages to both parties. Given the Thyssens’ history of support for the Reich, use of industrial slave labour, involvement in violent anti-Semitism, profits from arms manufacturing in two World Wars, avoidance of reparations and retrieval of German assets by means of manipulated nationality and use of covert international banking, Lorne’s acceptance as an Honorary Fellow by the Wolfson College, Oxford University, in return for setting up the ‘Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics’, was nauseating; particularly as the College was originally founded and funded by Isaac Wolfson, a devout orthodox Jew and committed Zionist.

This was certainly not the first time that the Thyssens had used philanthropy to enhance their academic status while hiding the less palatable details of their past, which doubtless led to great aunt Amelie Thyssen’s creation of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and aunt Gaby (Gabrielle Bentinck nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) giving money to Tel Aviv University via Lord George Weidenfeld, who developed a masterly skill in brokering such philanthropic deals. This process may also have encouraged Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Commemoration, Documentation, Research and Education Centre) to overlook the Thyssens´ involvement in the slaughter of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave workers as after dinner entertainment at their castle in Rechnitz, Burgenland, Austria, on 24./25.03.1945. For one of the unfortunate by-products of academic philanthropy is that in protecting their benefactors, seats of learning are often encouraged to participate in historical amnesia.

Subsequently, Lorne’s freshly-minted academic status may have awarded his recently opened Kallos Gallery in London’s Mayfair some additional degree of credibility in its sale of his ancient Greek artefacts; if only he had resisted having the temerity to announce that he had signed up to ‘read’ Classical Studies with the Open University (having first presented the OU with ‘two fully funded MA scholarships…made possible through the generosity of Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza. The scholarships will provide the full fees for two year part-time MA studentships in Classical Studies at the Open University’) presumably in an attempt to acquire some small measure of legitimate, academic achievement.

Though I doubt that professional image builders would have encouraged such a revelation, as it could only serve to demote his elevated status as a ‘Fellow’ and ‘Honorary Fellow’ elsewhere.

I admire the Open University and used to respect Oxford University as what I believe I should expect it to be; an incorruptible seat of learning. But I don’t admire or respect academic whoring. There is too much of it about and, in this case, it is in clear contradiction of the old Latin adage, ‘Pecunia non olet.’

(p.s.: Lorne Thyssen is also a Fellow of The Royal Numismatic Society. At its 2012 International Congress held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem he acted as a chairperson with presentations given by members of Staatliche Museen Berlin, Tel Aviv University and Oxford University – thus closing the circle of – what we have the right to consider – duplicity).

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza pretending to be British and clean (

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