Posts Tagged ‘Erlenhof’

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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The Batthyany Conspiracy: All Innocent On The Eastern Front

Article by Sacha Batthyany in ‘Das Magazin’, Switzerland, 11.12.2009.
Translation copyright Caroline Schmitz.

http://dasmagazin.ch/index.php/ein-schreckliches-geheimnis/

(Note DL: Sacha approached us for assistance in researching this article and we granted him access to photographs and documents).

‘The Terrible Secret

During a party in the Austrian village of Rechnitz shortly before the end of the war, 180 Jews were murdered. The hostess was Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, the author’s great-aunt. A family story.

I am standing in front of Aunt Margit’s grave and am trying to remember her face, but I can’t. The wind is taking the last leaves off the trees and Lake Lugano appears cold and grim. When I think of Aunt Margit’s face, I only ever see her tongue.

It is a simple grave, Castagnola cemetery, at the foot of Monte Bre – just a simple granite plate, although Margit was one of the richest women in Europe, and modesty was not one of her virtues. “21. June 1911 – 15. September 1989 Margit Batthyany-Thyssen”. Somebody has put fresh chrysanthemums there and the earth in the pot is fresh too.

When I was a child we used to go eating out with her twice a year, always at Hotel Dolder in Zurich, my father would already swear on the way there and smoke one cigarette after another in our Opel, my mother would comb my hair with a plastic comb.

We called her Aunt Margit, never Margit, as if Aunt was a title, in my memory she wears suits, buttoned right up to her throat and silk foulards with equestrian designs. She is tall, a huge upper body on thin legs, her crocodile leather bag is bordeaux red with golden clips, and when she talks, about the deer rutting season or about ship cruises in the Aegean Sea, then she moves the tip of her tongue out of her mouth between sentences, like a lizard, she does this like other people constantly play with their hair or touch their noses. I sit as far away from her as possible, Aunt Margit hated children, and while I very slowly pick at my shredded calf’s liver, I look over to her again and again. I want to see that tongue.

After her death we only seldom spoke of her, my memory of those lunches faded away, until in 2007 I read about this Austrian village for the first time. Rechnitz. About a party. About a massacre. About 180 dead Jews, who had to undress themselves first before they were shot, so that their bodies would rot faster. And Aunt Margit?

She was right in the middle of it all.

I call my father and ask him, whether he knew about it. I can hear how he uncorks a bottle of wine and I visualise him, sitting on this old sofa which I like so much, in his flat in Budapest. “Margit had an affair with a Nazi called Joachim Oldenburg, that was talked about within the family”. In the newspaper they say she organised a party and as a high point, ‘for deserts’, lured 180 Jews into a stable and handed out weapons. Everybody was pissed out of their brains. All were allowed to shoot. Margit too. That’s what an English journalist, David Litchfield, is alleging. He calls her “Killer Countess” in the Independent. In FAZ she is called “Hostess from Hell” and Bild-Zeitung is writing: ‘Thyssen-Countess had 200 Jews shot at Nazi-party”.

“That’s nonsense. There was a crime, but I really don’t think that Margit had anything to do with it. She was a monster, but she wasn’t capable of that”.

Where was Margit’s husband, Ivan? Was he at the party too?

“Ivan was my uncle, your grand-father’s brother. While Margit was spending her time in her castle in Rechnitz with Nazis, Ivan was in Hungary. Their marriage was a disaster from the start. She was the German Thyssen-Billionairess and Ivan was the impoverished Hungarian Count.”

Why was Margit a monster?

“Those are old stories”.

Shortly after the war there were several court proceedings. When one reads the witness statements about the Rechnitz massacre, file Vg 12 Vr 2832/45, Vienna County Archive, one gets the following picture: The night of 24 to 25 March 1945 was a moonlit night. In the castle of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in Rechnitz, Burgenland, Austro-Hungarian border, a Nazi-Gefolgschafts(followers)-party is taking place. Members of the Gestapo and local Nazi greats such as SS-Hauptscharführer Franz Podezin, Josef Muralter, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg are chatting with Hitler Youth and employees of the castle and sitting down at round tables in the small hall on the ground floor. For the National Socialists, the war is over, the Russians are already at the Danube, but this mustn’t spoil their fun. It is eight o’clock in the evening. At the same time ca. 200 Jewish slave labourers from Hungary, who were used for the construction of the south-eastern wall, a gigantic defence wall from Poland, via Slovakia, Hungary and all the way to Trieste, which was to hold up the advancing Red Army, are standing at the train station in Rechnitz. At half past nine in the evening, the haulier Franz Ostermann loads some of the Jews into his lorry and, after a short drive, hands them over to four men from the Sturmabteilung, the SA, who hand shovels to the prisoners and order them to dig an L-shaped pit.

Where are the bodies?

The first time I drive to Rechnitz, it is springtime, everything is green, the fields, the woods, the grapes on the vines are small and hard, Rechnitz is not a beautiful village: one main road with low houses left and right, which have narrow windows and net curtains you can’t see through. There is no centre, no main square, the castle, which the stinking rich German entrepreneur and art collector Heinrich Thyssen signed over to his daughter Margit, our Aunt Margit, in his will, no longer stands.

(Note DL: Heinrich signed the castle over to Margit on 08.04.1938, nine years before his death, but he continued to finance the castle’s overheads throughout the war, during which it was used by the SS and Margit).

The Russians bombed it when they entered in 1945, and the villagers plundered all the furniture, paintings, carpets.

(Note DL: The Rechnitz town historian, Dr Josef Hotwagner, who for some reason Sacha Batthyany is not mentioning in his article, despite interviewing him twice, said there is evidence that the Germans set the castle alight as they left and that some local people, who tried to put the fire out, were even shot by the departing SS. I am also extremely surprised by his allegations of plundering by the villagers. It is certainly the only time I have ever heard such an allegation. Josef Hotwagner’s father and uncle were killed by the Germans for helping families persecuted by the Nazis. Sacha also fails to mention that it was the Batthyany family who originally established the Jewish community in Rechnitz.)

Each year the Refugius association organises a memorial for the murdered Jews. At the entrance to the village, where the Kreuzstadl – a memorial monument – stands, they sing and pray, the crime must not be forgotten, dandelion flowers, the grass is ankle-high, somewhere underneath lie 180 skulls.

(Note DL: These are not just skulls. They are the remains of human beings with children and parents and loved ones).

In the witness statements from the Rechnitz proceedings, file Vg 12 Vr 2832/45, Vienna County Archive, one learns the following:

(Note DL: The Austrians were, in case you have forgotten, part of Nazi Germany. Are you in all seriousness suggesting these people, many of whom still support right-wing extremism, should under these conditions be considered a reliable source of information? Particularly, as Professor Walter Manoschek will confirm, while they still refuse access to various files relating to the atrocity?).

The Hungarian Jews dig an L-shaped pit with shovels and pick-axes, they are tired and weak, the earth is hard, in Aunt Margit’s castle people are drinking and dancing. At about 9 pm SS-Hauptscharführer Franz Podezin receives a call.

(Note DL: Why at this time of night?!  Why didn’t you talk to the Jewish survivor whose details we gave you: Gavriel Livne. Or Gabor Vadasz, who lost his father and uncle in the atrocity, and whom your father may wish to visit, as he also lives in Budapest).

As the noise in the party hall is too great, he has to go into an adjoining room, the conversation lasts barely two minutes, Podezin says: “Yes, Yes!”, and he ends with the words “bloody disgrace!”.

(Note DL: This supports one of the two most popular excuses for the slaughter of Jews. The first is ‘we were only obeying orders’, the second is ‘they had typhoid, so we had to kill them to stop it spreading’).

He orders Hildegard Stadler, she is the leader of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) (League of German Girls) and Podezin’s lover, to bring ca. ten to thirteen party guests to a room. “The Jews from the train station”, he tells them, “have contracted typhoid and have to be shot”. Nobody contradicts him. The weapons master, Karl Muhr, hands out guns and ammunition to the party guests. It is shortly after 11 pm. There are three cars waiting in the castle courtyard. Not all the people from the group fit into them, some go by foot. It is not far, after all.

(Note DL: Weapons master? This wasn’t a hunting lodge. It was a front line fort full of SS troops that was about to be overrun by the Red Army!).

“It is our duty to remember, so that it does not happen again”, says the catholic priest of Rechnitz in front of the Kreuzstadl, the memorial site, most mourners are wearing a kippah, petrol engines howl in the background, it sounds like a hundred defect lawn mowers, there is high activity on the speed arena ‘Ready to Race’, the nearby cart circuit. It is Sunday, the sun is shining. The inhabitants of Rechnitz stay away from the memorial event,

(Note DL: Were any of the Batthyanys there apart from you? Was Francesca Thyssen there? Sacha did not stay in Rechnitz, but at Bernstein Castle, originally owned by Janos Almasy, fascist sympathiser and Unity Mitford’s lover).

they eat icecream in the icecream parlour, wearing short trousers for the first time this year, only the mayor is present. Engelbert Kenyeri, a portly, friendly man, stands somewhat to one side in his best suit, locking his hands over his stomach. “Of course I would love to know where the grave is”, he tells me the next day in his office, which is much too big,

(Note DL: Too big for what? Or do you believe his status was insufficient for such an office?).

he is different from his predecessor in that he supports the Aufarbeitung of the massacre. “As long as the victims have not been found, the rumours won’t disappear”. Some people say the Jews were thrown into the artificial lake, they were cemented over a long time ago, say others, or are underneath the school’s football pitch. Each year, people with divining rods walk over the fields in zigzags and report strange vibrations. The “New York Times” has been here, so has CNN, the small village in the southern Burgenland is world-famous – but nobody comes for the dry riesling, which is produced here, everybody comes because of the mass grave, which nobody knows where it is. And the villagers keep stumm.

(Note DL: Oh, so it’s their fault, not yours and the Thyssens’. We told you the Russians had already published a full report of the atrocity and where the bodies were buried. Why do neither you nor the Austrian authorities mention this or approach them? Isn’t it interesting that it was an Austrian academic, Stefan Karner, who came back with the news to Eduard Erne that the Russians had destroyed the files?).

The search for the grave is becoming a curse for Rechnitz. In the 65 years since the crime Rechnitz has become a symbol for the way Austria has dealt with its national-socialist past. Whoever says Rechnitz, means blocking out.

(Note DL: So why are you basing yourself on their evidence?).

I call my father. I say to him, you knew that Aunt Margit was there that night, and you knew about the massacre.

“Yes”.

But you never thought that she might have had something to do with it?

“Is this an interrogation?”

I’m only asking.

“No. I never thought that there might be a connection between the party and the massacre, which is what everybody seems to be saying lately. Wait a moment”, he coughs, I can hear how he takes a cigarette out of the packet.

You smoke too much.

“How is the little one?”

She is getting her third tooth, and she is crawling. Why did you never talk to Margit about the war?

“What should I have asked her? Hey, Aunt Margit, do you want some more wine? And, by the way, Aunt Margit, did you shoot Jews?”

Yes.

“Don’t be naive. They were courtesy calls. We talked about the weather, and she sniped at family members. ‘Rotten seed’, she would say, when she spoke about the Thyssens and the Batthyanys who, according to Margit, were all off their heads. ‘Rotten seed’, that was her best saying. Can you still remember her tongue?”

Archives in Russia

The first digs took place as early as 1946, even then all the witness statements about the grave contradicted one another. There was a hand sketch by two Rechnitz villagers who were both sure to know the location: close to a small piece of wood, called the ‘Remise’, that’s where the murdered Jews were said to be buried, but they were not found. There were aerial photographs from pilots of the Royal Air Force, who flew over the area shortly after the war. A grave of that size, with its freshly moved earth, would have been spotted, but the clouds were hanging low, on that day of all days, the view was bad, the photos unusable. Twenty years later the Austrian Interior Ministry (BMI) and the Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK) (Association for the Care of German War Graves) made a fresh attempt. A certain Horst Littmann led the excavations and found the bones of eighteen corpses at the Hinternpillenacker (name of a field) close to the abattoir. But Littmann did not find the mass grave that he was looking for. What he did find, however, was an anonymous threatening letter on his car window: “If you don’t stop you will soon lie where the others lie too”. In 1990, the Institute for Prehistory and Early History at Vienna University reopened the case. Once again, all the source materials and witness statements were checked over, there were renewed excavations, Margareta Heinrich and Eduard Erne made a documentary film about them. The two film makers banged on every door in the village, they checked out old people’s homes, searched far-flung Russian archives for additional evidence and posted newspaper adverts as far away as Israel: they appealed to anybody who knew anything about the Rechnitz massacre to contact them. Please. Urgently. They researched for five years: yet again nothing. The last earth tests and geo-electrical measurements were taken in 2006, using improved technology and expensive software. Blood-sniffing dogs were also used for the first time, they found animal bones, probably from chickens.

In the witness statements on the Rechnitz proceedings, file Vg 12 Vr 2832/45, Vienna County Archives, it says: Between midnight and three o’clock in the morning the lorry entrepreneur Franz Ostermann drives a total of seven times from the train station to Kreuzstadl, with 30-40 Jews each time, whom he hands over to four SA-men. The Jews are made to undress, their clothes pile up in front of the pit, they kneel down naked on the edge of an L-shaped grave, the ground is hard, the air is cold, it is a moonlit night.

(Note DL: Why did you make no attempt to speak to Jewish survivors?).

Podezin is standing there, Oldenburg too, fanatical national socialists both of them. And they shoot the Jews in the neck. A certain Josef Muralter, nazi party member, shouts, while shooting: ‘You pigs belong into the fire. You traitors of the fatherland!’. The Jews slump and fall down into the earth hole, where they are stacked on top of one another like sardines. In the castle, people are drinking and dancing, somebody is playing an accordion, Margit is young, and she likes having fun, and she wears the most beautiful clothes out of all of them. A waiter by the name of Viktor S. notices that the guests who reappear in the hall at 3 am are gesticulating wildly, they have red faces, SS-Hauptscharführer Podezin, the presumed leader, one moment ago he was shooting women and men in the head, now he dances boisterously.

Not all of the Jews are shot that night. Eighteen are kept alive for the moment. They are given the task of closing the hole with earth.  Grave digger services. Twelve hours later, on the evening of 25 March, they too are killed on the orders of Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, Margit’s lover, and buried near the abattoir at the Hinternpillenacker field. The Eighteen bodies are found in the spring of 1970 by the above mentioned Horst Littmann, exhumed and transferred to the Jewish cemetery in Graz-Wetzl.

Margit’s last evening

My second trip to Rechnitz takes place at the end of summer, the air is murky, the grapes are now red. I visit Annemarie Vitzthum on Prangergasse, she is 89 years old and possibly the last survivor who took part in Margit’s party, 65 years ago. She immerses herself in reminiscences: “I put on my very best clothes, we were sitting at round tables in the small hall on the ground floor, the Count and Countess right in the middle, Countess Margit looked like a princess, such beautiful clothes as she was wearing”. She says that men in uniform were coming in all the time, and leaving the party again, that she can’t remember their names, “it was a hurly-burly”, that’s what she told the public prosecutor as well, in 1947, when she was interrogated. “Everybody drank wine, everybody danced, I didn’t know that sort of thing, I was only a simple girl after all, only the telephone operator.” She says that she was accompanied home by a soldier at midnight and that the Countess had not left the castle by then.

(Note DL: That doesn’t mean she didn’t).

“That about the Jews”, says Mrs Vitzthum, we are eating her home-made apple cake, she says she only learned later on. Terrible. “The poor people, they say they were only bones”.

I visit Klaus Gmeiner. He was Aunt Margit’s forrester and was the last person to see her alive. Margit owned 1000 hectare of land in Rechnitz, and every year she came to hunt,  deer, wild boar, small game, “she was an excellent shot, an experienced Africa-hunter”, stag antlers hang on the wall of Gmeiner’s office, “she was very happy when she killed something, a mufflon ram or a deer, she was never happier”. Gmeiner, who like so many others in the village raves about Margit, says that in all those years they never once talked about the Nazi-period. They are in awe like subjects of a queen: that she was so generous, so friendly, so religious, so beautiful, she most certainly has nothing to do with the massacre. “We were hunting”, he recalls the night before she died, “she hit the mufflon with a precisely calculated shoulder shot”. He says the animal staggered another twenty, maybe thirty paces in her direction, he remembers it very well, only then did it fall down. “We said ‘Weidmannsheil’ (‘have good sport’) to one another and drank a little glass of wine in the hunting lodge. He still remembers – and Gmeiner’s voice, normally strong and full, starts breaking up, how she was complaining that night about many people asking her constantly for money. “That was her last sentence”. The next morning she didn’t come for breakfast. Klaus Gmeiner went up, 15. September 1989, and banged on her door, 10:15 am, Margit’s eyes were closed. Heart failure.

(Note DL: You told us he confirmed the fact that people were given land and money to keep them quiet. Not because she had a big heart!).

“How was Rechnitz? Did you find out anything?”, my father asks me on the phone. He sounds tired, a few weeks ago a young dog strayed into his house, he won’t leave his side, maybe that’s why. The people in the village called me Count, it’s strange. In Switzerland many people think that Batthyany is an Indian name, so they speak to me very slowly and overly clearly on the phone. And in Burgenland they almost curtsey to me. I prefer to be Indian.

“I don’t like that behaviour either”.

Witnesses allege that Margit’s husband Ivan, your uncle, was also at the party.

“In the family, they always said that he had been in Hungary that night”.

(Note DL: This makes it sound as if you want to cast some doubt as to Ivy’s presence. If you know so much about Margit, how come Ivy is so veiled?!).

I’m starting to think that everybody is manipulating the story for their own ends. The family doesn’t want to be drawn into it and withdraws. The media want the headlines of the blood-thirsty Countess, who massacres Jews, and the inhabitants of Rechnitz want to swipe the whole thing under the carpet. For them Aunt Margit is a holy woman – whoever talks about her, starts to weep.

“And what do you want?”

(Note DL: You know what I want? I want you to say sorry for your family’s involvement and silence. To display some remorse for such a crime. Unfortunately, this reads like a text-book example of damage limitation and guilt containment).

From Hell to Heaven

My father fled Hungary together with his parents in 1956, he was 14 at the time. “I am in Budapest and I see dead horses in the street”, since I was a boy, he always started the story of his flight with this sentence, and he told it often. “With two rucksacks we cross the border into Austria and travel on from there to Switzerland”. Joining Margit and Ivan, who took them into their home, Lugano, Villa Favorita, at the foot of Monte Bre: Heaven itself. “A driver was waiting for us at the station, I am taken to a room, I feel feverish, next morning I wake up, the sun shines directly onto the bed, there are palm trees in the garden, then Ivan comes in, my uncle, he asks me whether I would like to go for a ride in his Ferrari, and I’m thinking: Am I in Heaven?”

(Note DL: And how does he think the family and friends of the 180 Jews feel?).

In the protocols of the Rechnitz proceedings, file Vg 12 Vr 2832/45, one can read: Seven people are indicted with mass murder and torture, respectively crimes against humanity. Josef Muralter, Ludwig Groll, Stefan Beigelbeck, Eduard Nicka, Franz Podezin, Hildegard Stadler, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg.

(Note DL: But not one Thyssen or Batthyany. So that’s all right then. You can all sleep easily at night).

But the proceedings stall, because the two main witnesses are murdered in 1946. The first one is Karl Muhr: weapons master at the castle. In the night of 24 March, he hands over the guns and looks into the faces of the people who later committed the crime. One year later Muhr lies dead in the woods with a bullet through his head next to his dead dog – his house goes up in flames, the cartridge, which the police found at the scene of the crime, disappears. The second one is Nikolaus Weiss: an eye witness. He survived the massacre, flees and hides with a Rechnitz family in their barn. One year later he is travelling to Lockenhaus, his car is shot at and starts skidding, Weiss is dead on the spot. Since these two lynch-law killings the people of Rechnitz live in fear of reprisals. Nobody talks. The silence lasts to this day.

My father owes Margit a lot. She made it possible for him and his family to flee, she paid for his boarding school in St Gallen, later for his studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), he was indebted to her, that was the reason for the courtesy visits at Hotel Dolder. He would never have scorned her, although he suffered when he had to visit her. He would never have asked her uncomfortable questions.

The files of the proceeding read: On 15 July 1948 Stefan Beigelbeck and Hildegard Stadler are both acquitted according to paragraph 259/3 StPO. The accused Ludwig Groll is sentenced to eight years hard labour, Josef Muralter to five years and Eduard Nicka to three years. Podezin and Oldenburg, the two presumed main perpetrators, have fled. It is said that they have taken lodgings with Countess Batthyany-Thyssen in Switzerland, in a flat above Lugano. Interpol Vienna informs the Lugano authorities by telegram dated 28.08.1948: “There is the danger, that the two will flee to South America. Please arrest them”. The arrest warrants against the two evaders are published in the “Swiss Police Gazette”, page 1643, art. 16965 on 30.08.1948. But both have already left by then. In his concluding summary the Austrian public prosecutor, Dr Mayer-Maly, who was charged will clearing up the Rechnitz massacre, says: “The true murderers have not yet been found”.

Prefered horses to children

Aunt Margit was not just “rich”. She was infinitely rich. The Thyssen family, who she is said to have slagged off constantly, the ‘rotten seed’, has profited financially from the Second World War, from the coal of their Walsum pit, from steel, from banking. Margit had houses in Switzerland, Rechnitz and in Canada, as well as the apartment ‘Le Mirabeau’ in Monte Carlo – probably for tax reasons – on the terrasse of which I used to watch the sea and the racing track through the binoculars as a child. Like many rich Germans with shady pasts she too owned a hacienda in Uruguay with 2800 hectares of land and in Mozambique she owned the Mafroga estate, where a certain Günther-Hubertus von Reibnitz used to stay, a Baron – and a former member of the Waffen-SS.

Margit lived a life of luxury. She had countless affairs, her husband Ivan knew about it and he received nice sums of money for each of his wife’s bed-stories, in order to keep appearances, that’s what they say.

(Note DL: And Heini Thyssen claimed that Ivy fathered his first child!).

Because for Margit divorce was impossible, she was a devout catholic. Several times a year she undertook big trips, she loved the hunt and hunting parties even more and quite liked the one or other Kir Royal. But it was her horses that made her happier than anything else. Margit was Germany’s most successful horse breeder,

(Note DL: Nonsense. She ran Erlenhof into the ground. Also, the Thyssen family had “bought” it from its original Jewish owner, Moritz James Oppenheimer).

Nebos, her best stallion in her stables was racehorse of the year 1980 and famous for regularly snatching victories on the last furlongs. Margit had a closer relationship with Nebos than she did with her two children, Ivan, named after the father, and Christoph, called Stoffi. When her son Ivan died in a plane crash between Vienna and Lugano, she did not shed a single tear, an anecdote which gets told every year in my family. Margit did not know the concept of motherly love – she never embraced the two.

But she was generous. Aunt Margit gave money not only to my father and grand-parents, but also to other relatives. When she stayed in Vienna, she always ate at the Hotel Sacher, and many people from the family queued up with high hopes. She was also open-handed with her employees. She guaranteed her forester Klaus Gmeiner a life-long position. She donated a piece of woodland to the community of Rechnitz, which was later developed. And her former castle servants received plots of land, which was confirmed to me by Theresia Krausler, a former maid. “We all got something. Houses. Land. The masters gave things to all of us, nobody can complain. I still have one of Countess Margit’s dresses in my case, a velvet suit with little ties”. Aunt Margit turns peasant girls into land owners, for decades they lived without running water, suddenly they had a little piece of garden, a garage, a ballroom dress with little ties – they will never forget this. Every year “The Countess Margit” donated the Christmas tree on the Rechnitz main square, “she was a wonderful soul”, Mrs Krausler says with tears in her eyes, in her sitting room outside the village, a cuckoo clock is ticking on the wall.

(Note DL: You told us she had bought people’s silence, so why don’t you say it now?).

“The dog is crazy”, my father says on the phone. “He is uncontrollable. In the car he jumps to the front and sits on my knee. How is your article about Aunt Margit going?”

(Note DL: Still avoiding mentioning Ivy?).

It seems that information is starting to circle around that I’m writing about her. I received telephone calls from relatives, whom I have never seen. They say: “Why wake up old ghosts?” They believe it would do more harm than good.

“And what do you tell them?”

I answer: Working throught the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) is only possible, if one recounts again and again what has happened. Of course this sentence is not from me, its a quote from Hanna Arendt. Do you also think that there’s no point in doing the article?

“No. But I doubt that our relatives know anything”.

But that’s the point. Nobody knows anything because nobody ever asked. You all knew about this massacre, and you knew that Aunt Margit was there. But you were too polite to ask. You didn’t want to upset your chances with her.

“Hold on”. I hear the sound of a lighter, a little swishing, I think he must have dropped the handset, then his voice comes back on: “Are you still there?”

Of course I’m still here. It’s the money, isn’t it? It made all of you silent. Aunt Margit paid, and that’s why she had the power. She decided what would be talked about – and what would not be talked about. You are like the people of Rechnitz. Aunt Margit, without wanting to, had all of you in her hands.

Flight to South Africa

Margit was only questioned once by police about the massacre, that’s what the Swiss State Security File, entry C.2.16505 says too. On 07.01.1947 she made the following statement at the criminal section for Vorarlberg in Feldkirch: “Neither my husband nor I ever left the party. The next day, in the morning, I noticed a car that was loaded with clothes. I was told that Jews had been killed during the night, roughly two kilometers from our castle”. During the interrogation, she is also asked about Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, one of the alleged main perpetrators: “Oldenburg was at the castle all night long”, she says, “I can assure you that he had nothing to do with the matter”. She protects him, her lover, because Oldenburg has been seen by witnesses at the massacre. On 11.11.1946 she writes to her sister Gaby in crowded hand-writing: “So as not to be obvious, I have agreed with Oldenburg, 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?”. Two years later another letter to Gaby: “Oldenburg has a fantastic offer to go to Argentina and join the biggest dairy farm. He will be there by August”. She helped him flee, the alleged mass murderer, Oldenburg would come back to Germany only in the sixties, when he settled near Düsseldorf.

(Note DL: Tell me, exactly what did this huge family of yours do during the war?).

The other main perpetrator, SS-Hauptscharführer Franz Podezin, ducked down after the war in 1945 in the western occupation zone, and later worked as an agent for them in the GDR. He too came back to the West and moved to Kiel. Everybody who met Podezin, a convicted Nazi through and through during the war, described him as ice-cold and coarse. He lived in Kiel a very inconspicuous life as an insurance broker. He too will be helped to flee later on by Aunt Margit. When the public prosecutor of Dortmund in 1963 finally manages to open proceedings against Podezin for mass murder, he flees to Denmark and then from there, without problems, to Switzerland, to Basel, from where he blackmails Margit and Oldenburg: They must give him money for his flight, otherwise he will “drag” both of them “through the mud”. Sender: Hotel Gotthard-Terminus, Basel, Centralbahnstrasse 13. Podezin was last seen in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he lived quite officially as a tenant of a certain Josef Helmut Hansel, 74 Clifford Avenue, Limbro Park, not far from the Alexandra-Townships. I call.

Of course it’s naive, Podezin, born 1911, has surely been dead for some time – but what if he does pick up? What should I ask him? Where is the mass grave? What does Aunt Margit have to do with it? It rings, for a long time nothing happens, then: “Hello?”, a woman’s voice. “Yes, I did know Mr Podezin, a nice guy, very well read”, says Anette Wilkie in German, the daughter of Mr Hansel, with whom Podezin rented his flat. “ He was sporty and always dressed elegantly, at the end he had problems with his hips, poor man, he was limping”. Podezin, she says, had a camper van and many friends on the coast, he worked for a company called Hytec, hydraulic instruments, valves, pumps, which are used in construction sites in order to evacuate water.

Pits and graves – of course they were Podezin’s speciality.

The company that he worked for, Hytec, still works today with the German company Thyssen-Krupp. Whether Aunt Margit, nee Thyssen, helped him flee in the sixties and then also procured him the job in South Africa? Whether Ivan and Margit visited him there, after all they often went on Safari there, her ‘Africa-Room’ in her villa in Lugano was always crammed full of buffalo horns and ivory. “Mr Podezin left a box behind with private things”, says Anette Wilkie on the phone, “I kept it, in case somebody should call one day. Wait a moment please”. Steps. Silence. More steps. “There are pictures from his time in Africa and a few old clothes with a company logo. Nothing else”. Podezin died in the mid nineties,  according to Anette Wilkie three, four friends appeared at Hansel’s house for his funeral, all dead now, all German, who emigrated to South Africa after the war and met up once a week to play cards. Probably Skat.

Jewish propaganda

It is the end of autumn when I travel to Rechnitz for the last time. It is foggy, the houses, fields, the sky, everything grey, the grapes have been collected a long time ago. I join a family meeting.

(Note DL: Where? In Rechnitz? What about the house your family still own in Lugano, where another of your aunts first told you it was all a Jewish conspiracy, or that’s what you told me.).

Aunts, uncles, people whom I hardly know, we sit on long wooden tables, the massacre brings us together. Most of them can still remember Margit and Ivan very well, their travels, their houses, Margit’s horses, Ivan Batthyany’s vanity, and the longer I sit at this table, the more comfortable I feel. The way they all talk, their jokes, the old furniture, the porcelain, the silver sugar bowl – everything familiar.

“What the newspapers write is nonsense”, say the older ones, Elfriede Jelinek’s theater play “The Exterminating Angel”, which deals with Rechnitz and Margit, also presents a wrong picture. Margit, they say, has nothing to do with the massacre, “she was not much liked, that’s true, and was submissive to men”, she is said to have been sex-mad – but a murderer? “Certainly not”. And I nod my head, we all nod our heads, and when one person in the round, an older man, who welcomed me very nicely, although we didn’t know each other, and who looks so nice with his white hair, talks about Jews, about Jewish propaganda, everybody stops listening and they behave as if they can’t understand what he is saying. I too remain silent. I don’t contradict him either, when he says: “Maybe the massacre never happened?”

(Note DL: Funny, you told me on more than one occasion that pretty much all your family were convinced it was a Jewish conspiracy!).

We drink black tea and eat ham sandwiches. Everybody at the table is now talking loudly on top of everybody else, about the grave, about the search, the younger ones ask questions, the older ones evade them. “What’s the point of it all?” – “What for? – “What’s it got to do with us?” Shaking of heads. Silence. “More tea anybody?” Silence. “Enough has been written about the crimes committed on Jews already”, the old man defends himself, “the crimes of the Communists were just as bad”, and again everybody stops listening, nobody responds, “Jelinek is also a Jew, that’s why she writes this crap”. People make jokes, and everybody laughs, and I too laugh, as you laugh and nod in a family, two hours later we say our good-byes.

(Note DL: Jelinek is not Jewish!!).

Once again I get embraced very fondly, these people, this furniture, these cups, everything so familiar, “take good care of our family’s name”, one uncle says to me, who was silent all night long, “you must not disgrace it”. He touches my skin almost tenderly and puts his hand on my cheek, as my father always does it, it’s only later in the car that I feel miserable. There were many reasons why nobody talked to Aunt Margit about the massacre: blocking, laziness, the money.

And indifference.

Because the victims were “only” Jews, many people today still don’t concern themselves with this crime. I call my father and ask him what he thinks of that theory.

“No, I don’t think so”.

So why these remarks at the family meeting about the Jews and about Jelinek?

“He compared the crimes of the Nazis with the crimes of the Communists. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s legitimate”.

I am reminded of meeting an old man in the restaurant car travelling from Zurich to Vienna,   and speaking to him about my article at some length. His attitude was that the Jews would have died anyway, whether in the concentration camp or in this massacre – or of hunger. Before he left the train in Salzburg, he said to me: ‘What does it matter?’ and looked at me in a very puzzled manner.

“Will you be mentioning the family meeting in your article?”, my father asks me, “that will create bad blood”.

I don’t know yet.

(Note DL: You certainly haven’t written here what you told me you had discovered).

He who remains silent makes himself guilty

I am standing in front of Aunt Margit’s grave and am trying to remember her face, but I’m not able to. The wind is taking the last leaves off the tree, it is the middle of November, a few sun beams have fought their way through the overcast Ticino sky – and for a short moment Lake Lugano starts to shimmer. After all the meetings I am sure:

Aunt Margit did not shoot during that moonlit night of 24 March 1945. She did not murder Jews, as the English journalist David Litchfield and all the newspapers allege. There is no proof. There are no witnesses.

(Note DL: And author. I spent fourteen years writing ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ which you have yet to read. And how about Ivy and what about the witness statements that she liked witnessing the torturing and beating of Jews? So exactly what was it that she paid everyone to keep quiet about? Why did your family hide it and then say it was a Jewish conspiracy? What exactly have they been hiding?).

At midnight, Aunt Margit did not stand in the cold in front of that pit, where the naked men and women kneeled down in rows. She was laughing and dancing at the castle, when the emaciated bodies fell down and into the ground, she laughed and danced with the murderers, when they returned to the castle at three o’clock in the morning, while outside the murdered Jews were heaped on top of each other in a pit like sardines, somewhere in Rechnitz.

And while the 180 bodies were rotting, Aunt Margit travelled on a cruise ship through the summer-blue Aegean every year, drank Kir Royal in Monte Carlo and hunted deer in the autumnal woodlands of the Burgenland.

Aunt Margit enjoyed the rest of her long life, although she knew everything about the massacre. Rotten seed.’

(Note DL: And Ivy? And your father, who profited from her smelly money? Not once in this whole damage limitation and guilt containment exercise do you say what an appalling atrocity the Rechnitz massacre was! Even Georg Thyssen admitted this to the Jewish Chronicle, while your aunt Christine Batthyany in Hamburg and Professor Wolfgang Benz in Berlin were denying it ever happened).

End of Translation (copyright Caroline Schmitz)

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen

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