Posts Tagged ‘Cologne’

Yo Pagué a Hitler (I Paid Hitler) – A Thyssen Vanity Project Then and Now

First published in 1941, the book ‘I Paid Hitler’, whose authorship Fritz Thyssen both claimed and denied at different times, has recently been republished in Spain by Editorial Renacimiento of Seville, with a foreword by Juan Bonilla, under the title ‘Yo Pagué a Hitler’.

But why?

Seventy-six years ago, the work was brokered, edited and largely written by a highly intelligent Jewish, formerly Hungarian literary hustler by the name of Emery Reves (Imre Révész), who made a great deal of money from such things; much of it from subsequently representing Winston Churchill’s literary and journalistic endeavours.

With the encouragement of Reves, the considerably less intelligent Fritz Thyssen attempted to convince his readers that he deserved admiration for his courage in opposing allied First World War reparation demands on Germany. He also craved a sympathetic understanding for his financial support of Hitler as a means of preventing the spread of communism, as well as an acceptance of the notion that he had rejected the Third Reich when he realised the truth of its ambitions in late 1939.

This initial ploy, however, remained largely unsuccessful, as the book was dismissed by many as delusional, self-protective propaganda.

Meanwhile, Fritz, eager to cultivate what he saw as his new-found status of international, political celebrity, had given up his plans of escaping to Argentina (the anonymity of which he feared) and remained in Europe. But, courtesy of the Gestapo, by late 1940 he found himself back in Nazi Germany – together with his wife – where they would be held quite comfortably, first in a private sanatorium and, from 1943 onwards, in the VIP sections (!) of various concentration camps.

Today, at a time when the Fritz Thyssen Foundation of Cologne (founded in 1959 by Fritz Thyssen’s widow Amelie Thyssen as a memorial and tax efficient means of cultivating academic favour by providing financial support for research projects), is busy funding an academic rewriting of the Thyssen corporate and familial history, the reappearance of the book ‘I Paid Hitler’ could prove somewhat of an embarrassment. Indeed, they have already acknowledged the fact that a number of the statements in the work are, in fact, untrue!

So why now? And why in Spain?

When we pointed out in ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ that Fritz Thyssen and his wife had fled Germany, not, as claimed, in protest against Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland, but largely because of a fear of punishment for their grave contraventions of German tax regulations and foreign exchange controls (to the tune of 48 million Reichsmark, i.e. some 350 million Euros at today’s rate), their eldest grandson, Count Alejandro Zichy-Thyssen, posted a review of ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ on Amazon which read thus:

’……I find it incredible that someone can loose his time to try so smear one of the important Dutch/German families. It is a much better reading the book “I Paid Hitler” by Fritz Thyssen who was published in 1941 during the war when Hitler had the most powerful army behind him. Then to stand up and try to warn the United States of whom Hitler really was demanded an act of courage. Courage from a hero (Iron Cross) of the First World War. This man was captured by Hitler in 1940 and was put in a concentration camp. To try to smear his family name sixty years later inventing stories about the family in order to sell a book, I leave to you reader to judge the character of such a writer?’

It could thus seem reasonable to assume that, given the fact the Zichy-Thyssens have achieved very little in their lives apart from fortuitous parental choice, resulting in their exceptional wealth, they might have been responsible for funding this latest publishing venture.

So why Spain?

Well, having been raised in Argentina, the Zichy-Thyssens’ grasp of the Spanish language is somewhat better than their obviously tenuous grasp of English.

It should also, perhaps, not be forgotten that the Third Reich was partially responsible for General Franco’s success in the Spanish Civil War and the resulting subjugation of the population to fascist rule, which lasted well into the 1970s. There must still be many Spanish who remain sympathetic to the likes of Fritz Thyssen and of his family’s faded ‘fascist glory’.

And why now?

Well, perhaps because, despite all the academic polishing, the Thyssen reputation continues to rust. Perhaps because our seminal book has obliged the Fritz Thyssen Foundation-funded academics to admit more than the Zichy-Thyssen family is prepared to accept, without protest. And perhaps because ‘I Paid Hitler’ can once again resume its vainglorious objectives as a tool of Thyssen propaganda.

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Thyssen Provenance à la Terlau or The Art of Academic Ineptitude

With a delay of 10 months following the publication of Johannes Gramlich’s book on „The Thyssens As Art Collectors“, the first official review, written by Dr Katja Terlau, a German art historian specialising in provenance research, has now finally appeared on the Sehepunkte review platform, as well as in the art magazine Kunstform.

What is most shocking about this piece is that the reviewer on three separate counts fails to appreciate the fact that the collections of Fritz Thyssen and of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (and later Hans Heinrich) were two completely separate collections, describing them instead as one collection. One can only hope that Dr Terlau operates with more care in her general provenance research work, while one is also left wondering about the standards of „Sehepunkte“ and „Kunstform“ for publishing such a misleading assessment!

In general terms, this is a glowing review of a book said to be written by an „independent historian“, „supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation“. That is, one presumes, as independent as Katja Terlau herself, who in 2001, with the support of the same Fritz Thyssen Foundation of Cologne, organised a colloquium entitled „Museums in the Twilight Zone – Purchase policies 1933-1945“, at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne.

Dr Terlau describes, in a gushing manner very akin to that of Johannes Gramlich himself, the Thyssens as a „renowned“, „successful“, „influential“, and „preeminently cross-linked“ family, who acquired a „magnificent“, „outstanding“, „high quality“ collection through the „passion“, „love“ and „special feeling“ of its members (not because the latter is true – it’s not -, but because the Thyssens are super-rich and major academic sponsors, which tends to leave people supremely dazzled and gullible).

Dr Terlau’s faculties of critical analysis sink to the lowest possible level when she enthuses how Heinrich Thyssen paid „ca. 50 million Reichsmark“ between 1926 and 1936 „alone“ to buy „over 500 paintings“. Meanwhile, she leaves the explanations by Gramlich that Heinrich’s heir Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza quietly disposed of at least 125 of those paintings, in the 1960s and 1970s, unmentioned. Or the fact that many experts at the time of Heinrich’s first exhibition in Munich in 1930 were highly critical of his collection, estimating anything up to 400 paintings to be of questionable quality.

There are a few redeeming features too, for instance when Dr Terlau quite rightly criticises the fact that so few of the actual art works are described by Gramlich sufficiently precisely to make an accurate identification of the works possible at all. She also accuses him of mentioning art inventories without ever citing from them, and of using sources that are well out of date and totally behind the current level of research!

Dr Terlau goes on to criticise Gramlich’s evaluation of the Thyssens’ Rodin marble sculptures and ceramic art in particular as „very questionable“, although it remains unclear what exactly she means by this. No explanation is forthcoming. She also objects to him failing to „take into account the object of the art trade in a more concrete manner“, while stating „this trade depends on many factors and personalities and is very difficult to grasp“ – again leaving the reader at a loss to understand what exactly is the point she is trying to make.

However, her statement that Gramlich’s assessment „the Nazis’ appropriation of art can be compared to the growing interest in art of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century“ „seems very disconcerting“ is a description that chimes very much with the feeling experienced by ourselves when we first read the passage in Gramlich’s book.

It is a shame that Dr Terlau has not seen fit to include in her review more of the „very disconcerting“ elements of Gramlich’s book, such as the Thyssens taking advantage of the disbanding of Jewish collections or their abuse of art for personal aggrandisement as well as tax avoidance, to name but a few. On top of which comes, of course, the morally questionable partial source of the wealth used for the art purchases (arms manufacture, forced labour).

On the whole, Dr Terlau recommends Johannes Gramlich’s book as „distinguished“ and as forming „a broad basis for many further research approaches“. However, as far as Thyssen is concerned, it can be assumed that it is not academia, but the „influential“ and „preeminently cross-linked“ Thyssens and their organisations, with their essential control over relevant source material and their financial power, who will be deciding on that.

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