Posts Tagged ‘Francesca Habsburg’

Gibt es wirklich eine neue Thyssen Bescheidenheit am Horizont?

Es ist fast ein Jahrzehnt her, seitdem unser kontroverses Buch mit 500 Seiten über Thyssen erschien („Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos“), welches eine umfangreiche offizielle Antwort in Gang setzte, deren Logik manchmal schwer zu verstehen ist; es sei denn als Beteuerung der akademischen Glaubwürdigkeit der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung oder zur Beschwichtigung der Schuld der Thyssen Familie.

For zwei Jahren begann die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, mit Zustimmung ihres Kuratorium-Mitglieds Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza und der Unterstützung des ThyssenKrupp AG Konzern Archivs, endlich mit der Freigabe einer Serie von zehn Büchern (mit insgesamt mindestens 5,000 Seiten!) unter dem Titel „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“. Bisher sind drei Bücher erschienen (zwei davon waren Doktorarbeiten) und von uns rezensiert worden: Donges über die Vereinigten Stahlwerke, Urban über Zwangsarbeit und Gramlich über Kunst.

Dann wurde im November 2015, ausserhalb der chronologischen Abfolge, Band 5, „Thyssen in der Adenauerzeit. Konzernbildung und Familienkapitalismus“ herausgegeben. Der Status des Autors, Professor Johannes Bähr, sein bisheriges Werk und seine angebliche Verpflichtung zur Transparenz in der zeitgeschichtlichen Auftragsforschung hatten Hoffnungen auf eine wirklich kritische Analyse der Art und Weise aufkommen lassen, wie diese Familie, die eine der größten Kriegsgewinnler und Unterstützer Hitlers war, nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg in Deutschland ihre Macht zurück gewinnen konnte.

Leider spiegelt die fast Disney-artige und doch hochmütige Oberflächlichkeit des Buches wieder einmal die Stempelmarke eines vom Unternehmen authorisierten Werks allzu offensichtlich wider. Wir werden daher unsere Rezension bis zum Ende der Serie verschieben, nicht zuletzt da ca. 2017 (?) ein weiterer Band erscheinen soll, der sich mit der „Konfiszierung“ von Fritz Thyssens Vermögen während und dessen Rückerstattung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg auseinander setzt. Ohne diesen lässt sich Band 5 nicht wirklich rezensieren, angenommen es interessiert sich bis dahin überhaupt noch irgend jemand dafür.

Die weiteren Bände der Serie, die noch ausstehen sind auf der einen Seite Simone Derix, „Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen“ und Felix de Taillez, „Fritz und Heinrich Thyssen. Zwei Bürgerleben für die Öffentlichkeit“ (beide angekündigt für Juni 2016), wobei letzteres allein schon im Titel eine unglaubliche Kehrtwende signalisiert für eine Organisation, die es bisher ausließ, eine seriöse Darstellung von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza zuzulassen, der dunkelsten Persönlichkeit in der Familie, der die engsten Verbindungen – nicht zuletzt durch Bankenaktivitäten – mit dem verbrecherischen Nazi-Regime hatte.

Und schlussendlich handelt es sich noch um vier Werke, deren Erscheinungsdatum bisher unklar ist, nämlich: Jan Schleusener über die „Konfiszierung“ und Rückerstattung von Fritz Thyssens Vermögen; Harald Wixforth über die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe 1919-1932; Boris Gehlen über die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe 1932-1947; und Hans Günter Hockerts über die Geschichte der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.

Fast parallel dazu hat sich ThyssenKrupp (oder thyssenkrupp, wie es sich jetzt mit seinem neuen, filigranen Logo nennt) unter Heinrich Hiesinger einer großen Kampagne des Imagewechsels unterworfen. Hiesinger kämpft seit seiner Übernahme als Vorstand 2011 an mehreren Fronten gegen riesige Verluste aus früherem Mismanagement und Korruptionsskandalen, sowie den Folgen des rapiden Verfalls der europäischen Stahlindustrie.

Hiesinger’s Programm aus Rationalisierung und Transparenz ist von Martin Wocher im Handelsblatt als “neue Bescheidenheit der Ruhrbarone“ beschrieben worden (von denen es natürlich eigentlich schon lang gar keine mehr gab) und von Bernd Ziesemer in Capital als einen „verordneten Kultur- und Mentalitätswandel“, der es thyssenkrupp ermöglicht, aus der „Tradition der Korruption in der Stahlbranche“ auszuscheren.

Aber wie glaubwürdig und erfolgreich kann solch ein Kampf um das Aufpolieren des angeschlagenen Images von thyssenkrupp vor dem Hintergrund einer anhaltenden Intransparenz der Geschichtsschreibung des Unternehmens wirklich sein?

Fast als wollte sie die Widersprüchlichkeiten der Situation illustrieren ließ sich diesen Monat Francesca Habsburg, geborene Thyssen-Bornemisza, Enkelin von Heinrich, im Deutschen Fernsehen (“ZDF Hallo Deutschland Mondän: Wien”) als „schwer-reiche Thyssen-Erbin“ darstellen, „die kein Blatt vor den Mund zu nehmen braucht“. Als solche attackierte sie den österreichischen Staat als “heuchlerisch”, weil er den Namen Habsburg für den Tourismus ausnutze, sich jedoch weigere, ihre Kunstausstellungsaktivitäten mit Steuergeldern zu finanzieren. Dann setzte sie den Namen ihres Mannes herunter (und zwar durchwegs auf Englisch, nicht auf Deutsch!):

„Der Name Habsburg hat mich nicht beeindruckt. Ich war von ihm nicht überwältigt. Was mich beeindruckt hat, war mein Schwiegervater, und wie er die Familie zusammen gehalten hat. Ich glaube, die Familie hat erkannt, dass ich die Geschichte der Familie akzeptiert habe und dass sie durch mich eine komfortable [offensichtlich meinte sie finanziell komfortable] Zukunft hat“. (alle Zitate ungefähr aus der Erinnerung).

Aber natürlich ist es nicht die Geschichte der Habsburger, die Schwierigkeiten bereitet. Es ist die Geschichte ihrer eigenen, der Thyssen Familie und ihrer industriellen und Bankgeschäftsaktivitäten, aus denen sich ihr Vermögen herleitet, mit der sich Francesca Thyssen aus Demut tatsächlich einmal befassen sollte.

Thyssen ohne Stahl. Ein Symbol schwindender Unternehmensidentität.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Art, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family No Comments »

Is there really a new Thyssen humility on the horizon?

Nearly a decade has passed since the publication of our controversial, 500-page book on Thyssen („The Thyssen Art Macabre“), following which a large official response was set in motion, the logic for which is sometimes difficult to understand, except perhaps to reaffirm the academic credibility of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and assuage the Thyssen family’s guilt.

Two years ago, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, with the consent of its board member Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza and the support of the ThyssenKrupp company archives, finally started releasing a series of ten books (anything around 5000 pages in total!) entitled „Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century“. So far, three books have appeared (two of which were doctoral thesis) and were reviewed by us: Donges on the United Steelworks, Urban on Forced Labour and Gramlich on Art.

Then, in November 2015, somewhat at odds with the chronology, volume five, „Thyssen in the Adenauer Period. Concern Formation and Family Capitalism“ by Professor Johannes Bähr was issued. The author’s status, track record and purported commitment to transparency in company-commissioned research gave rise to hopes for a genuine, critical analysis of the regaining of power, after World War Two, in Germany, of a family who had been major war profiteers and Hitler supporters.

Unfortunately, the book’s almost Disney-style, yet haughty superficiality once again displayed all too obviously the hallmarks of a Thyssen-authorised work. We will thus be postponing our review until the end of the series, not least because another tome, out sometime around 2017 (?), is set to deal with the „confiscation“ of Fritz Thyssen’s assets during, and their restitution after World War Two, a topic without which volume 5 cannot really be fully appreciated, assuming that anybody out there will have the stamina to actually get that far.

The remaining books of the series to be published are on the one hand: Simone Derix, „The Thyssens. Family and Fortune“ and Felix de Taillez, „Fritz and Heinrich Thyssen. Two Bourgeois Lives for the Public“ (both due out in June 2016), whereby the latter title represents an unbelievable turn-around for an organisation which in the past has denied any serious representation of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the darkest character of the family, who had the closest bonds – not least through banking – with the evil Nazi regime.

And finally, four books, whose publication dates remain so far undisclosed: Jan Schleusener on the „confiscation“ and restitution of Fritz Thyssen’s fortune; Harald Wixforth on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group 1919-1932; Boris Gehlen on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group 1932-1947; and Hans Günter Hockerts on the history of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Almost in parallel, ThyssenKrupp (or thyssenkrupp as it is now known, with its new, filigree logo) has seen a major image change campaign taking hold under Heinrich Hiesinger who, since taking over as chief executive in 2011, has been fighting on several fronts against huge deficits from past mismanagement and corruption scandals, as well as the rapid decline of the European steel-making sector.

Hiesinger’s programme of streamlining and transparency has been described by Martin Wocher in Handelsblatt as „the end of the era of the self-aggrandising Ruhr barons“ (of which, of course, there have not really been any left for quite some time) and by Bernd Ziesemer in Capital as a „change in culture and mentality“ that is allowing thyssenkrupp to distance itself from the „tradition of corruption“ within the steel industry.

But how believable and successful can this fight for the polishing of thyssenkrupp’s tarnished image really be against a background of persistent opacity in the company’s historiography?

As if to illustrate the contradictions involved in the situation, Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, grand-daughter of Heinrich, this month on German TV’s „ZDF Hallo Deutschland Mondän: Wien“ feature, having let herself be described as a „super-rich Thyssen heiress“, who „has no need to mince her words“, used the programme to attack the Austrian state as „hypocritical“ for using the Habsburg name to help tourism while refusing to fund her art exhibition activities with tax payers’ money. She then denigrated her husband’s name by stating (in English rather than German throughout!):

„The name Habsburg did not dazzle me. I was not overwhelmed by it. I was overwhelmed by my father-in-law, and how he kept the family together. I think the family has come to understand that I have accepted the history of the family and that it has a comfortable [clearly meaning financially comfortable] future through me“. (all quotes approximate from memory).

Of course, it is not the Habsburg family history that is difficult to accept. It is the history of her own, the Thyssen family and their industrial and banking endeavours from which her fortune came, that Francesca Thyssen should, in fact, start being sufficiently humble to concern herself with.

Thyssen without steel. A symbol of their fast disappearing corporate identity.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Art, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family No Comments »

The Thyssen Dynasty – “As seen on TV”

Back in June 2010 we predicted that Germany was due to be subjected to a whitewash documentary about The Thyssen Dynasty; made by Broadway TV for transmission by ARD. We hoped our prediction would be proved wrong, but not a bit of it. In fact the program was even more of a ‘hagiography’ than we had foreseen. It appeared to have been yet another attempt by ThyssenKrupp, doubtless with the assistance and encouragement of The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, to clean-up their past, mainly by omissions rather than lies. Even the members of the Thyssen-Bornemisza main branch of the dynasty were obviously too embarrassed by the whole ghastly project to want to take part. The only exception was Francesca Habsburg who appeared in support of the accusations against Tita Cervera and charges of her responsibility for attempting to steal the family fortune and polute the Thyssens’ ‘noble’ reputation.

Meanwhile the same old historical myths were reheated and served up yet again. We were encouraged to believe that Fritz Thyssen had seen the error of his early support of Hitler and the Reich and paid a heavy price for his resistance. No mention was made concerning his tax evasion and illegal foreign currency transactions. They also claimed him to be considered a German hero for opposing the Versailles Treaty, the allied occupation of The Ruhr and the stringent reparation payments imposed by the allies. This was of course hardly something that could be considered unique. In fact Germany as a nation has been ‘somewhat remiss’ in paying their debts for either World Wars. We were also asked to believe that Fritz had really rather liked Jews and even had some as personal friends.

At the same time, Heini’s father Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza was treated with a great deal less generosity, presumably because, following our revelations, they were obliged to admit that throughout the war he had continued to profit from his industrial contribution in supplying armament for the Reich. It was also made to sound like an activity entirely independent of the Thyssen organisation. Predictably, no mention was made of his banking and financial contribution. They even got Federico Zichy-Thyssen to claim that his uncle’s behaviour had rubbed off on Heini and that his grand-mother had warned him ‘never to do business with Heini’. He didn’t mention that the same grandmother had joined the Nazi party three years before her husband and returned from South America after the war to take charge of the Thyssen organisation and found The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. But he did remind us how much unhappiness his fortune had brought him and how his children constantly fought over their inheritance; which must have sounded familiar to Francesca.

Then the story moved on to the Rechnitz Massacre for which the program makers wheeled in none other than Wolfgang Benz, the retired professor of antisemitism research at Berlin University; the same Wolfgang Benz who originally reacted to my feature in FAZ by denying that the massacre had ever taken place. Making no mention of his original claim, or why he had changed his mind. In an effort to eliminate Margit Batthyany-Thyssen as a suspect he insisted that only uniformed Nazis had been involved in the massacre, though he gave no evidence to support his claim. The program even claimed that Margit hadn’t known about the massacre until she was told the following morning. Paul Gulda, of all people, then insisted that Franz Podezin, one of the main perpetrator, had only been ‘following orders’! He even mentioned the ficticious telephone call that so many apologists claim to have instructed Margit’s lover to shoot the Jews. But the fact that she had helped two of the guilty to escape justice was ignored. I was mentioned as the author of ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ which was dismissed by the program as being inaccurate and disregarded by ‘experts’. They also claimed that I had accused Margit of actually shooting some of the victims of the massacre herself, which I didn’t, despite being quite convinced she did, but unable to prove such an accusation. They insisted it was not a book that should be taken seriously, without giving any reason why they were mentioning it in the first place.

Broadview TV then moved on to more recent times by claiming that Heini, who Simon de Pury described as the best collector of his time, had ‘donated’ his art collection to Spain, while Francesca insisted that the only reason why the Bermudan court case had collapsed was because his children had withdrawn all charges so that their father could die a happy man, despite Tita’s attempts to get her hands on all his money.

Finally the program makers brought ThyssenKrupp back into focus by getting its long-time Chief Executive Dieter Spethmann to say what a deeply wonderful company it was and how much it had contributed to Germany’s wealth, well-being and economic miracle. Since the documentary was shown, the company has announced plans to cut its global workforce by some 25% and admitted that the recent sale of shares was an effort to reduce its enormous debts.

It is doubtfull that even such a misleading documentary could have any effect on the fortunes of ThyssenKrupp or the Thyssen families (either Zichy or Bornemisza) but if the program had been more accurate and less misleading at least, ThyssenKrupp, The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, ARD and Germany’s academia may have retained some degree of credibility.

Portraits of Elisabeth and Dieter Spethmann by Warhol.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Art, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family No Comments »

‘Killing’ Thyssen Party

On the night of 27 November 2009, Francesca Habsburg (nee Thyssen) gave a party to celebrate her gold medal award by the county of Vienna, for her services to art. To present the niece of Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen), owner of Rechnitz Castle and hostess of the party in March 1945 during which 180 Hungarian Jews were murdered, with a gold medal, while the investigations are ongoing, is, in my opinion, extremely questionable. But for Francesca to indicate on her invitation that she expects her guests to come ‘DRESSED TO KILL’ is more than a step too far. Let us hope that it is purely the result of her arrogance and thoughtlessness, rather than some insulting gesture to the memory of the victims of the Rechnitz Massacre.

Unfortunately, I cannot voice my reaction as explicitly as I would like, for legal reasons. Interestingly, some of the Austrian commentators were also less than impressed:

23. November 2009, 17:08 (Andrea Schurian, DER STANDARD Printausgabe 24.11.2009)

‘Eine Frage der Ehre (Verdienstvolle Zeichen)

Wien preist seine ehrenwerten Bürgerinnen und Bürger in sieben Abstufungen; da gibt es Halsdekorationen mit und ohne Bruststernen; nur Bruststerne. Oder, in den hinteren Rängen: Medaillen. Das Goldene Verdienstzeichen des Landes Wien ist eine Medaille mit goldenen Strahlen, vergeben für große Verdienste. Danach kommt nur mehr Silber. Alles klar so weit.

Am Donnerstag vergoldet Wien der Kunstmäzenin Francesca Habsburg-Lothringen, née Thyssen- Bornemisza, ihre großen Verdienste mit einer solchen Medaille. Mit ihrer Kunststiftung namens T-B A21 tut sie viel für die Kunst – und die Künstler (mitunter auch die öffentliche Hand) viel für sie und ihren Ruhm.

Kurzum: Alles sehr verdienstvoll. Auch die superlative Goldmedaillen-Party alias DJ-Battle alias Wohltätigkeits-Event: sehr ehrenvoll. Eintritt für einfache Charity-Dancer von 50 Euro aufwärts, einen Zehnpersonentisch gibt es für minimum 1000 Mäuse. Klamottencode: Dressed to kill. Auch klar.

Nur das mit der Location war nicht so ganz klar. Das Mak [Museum für angewandte Kunst] werde Schauplatz der DJ-Sause, hieß es im Profil. Aber Peter Noever wollte nicht so gut sein und das Museum gratis zur Verfügung stellen. Weil: warum? Und zu wessen höherer Ehre?

Andererseits: Wie kann man sich denn so richtig toll fühlen, wenn es die anderen nicht so gut mit einem meinen? Die Party findet nun in der Ankerbrotfabrik statt. Eine Frage der Ehre. Klar.’

Mrs Habsburg

Mrs Habsburg

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Family No Comments »

Thyssen Truth Must Come Out Before More Tax Money Goes In (by Caroline Schmitz)

I recently came across an article about August Thyssen in the summer series on famous scions of the Lower Rhine region, published by the Rheinische Post newspaper, under the promising headline ‘A Globaliser From The Start’. But it contained the sentence ‘After the World War, August Thyssen lost his foreign participations’. As somebody who has studied the Thyssens for some fourteen years now, it was the kind of throw-away remark that sharply reminded me once again of the systematic manipulation of history that has accompanied this dynasty’s personal and corporate affairs for a very long time.

If you wish to get a very basic idea of what I’m talking about, go to German Wikipedia and check out the entries for Alfred Krupp, Hugo Stinnes, Friedrich Flick and August Thyssen; all four legendary German industrialists of similar status and place in history. Krupp warrants 5 illustrated pages, Stinnes 11, Flick 10, but Thyssen barely manages to make three quarters of a page! Why should this be so? The chief publicist and archivist of ThyssenKrupp, Professor Manfred Rasch, is more than capable of producing lengthy features on the founder of the Thyssen empire at opportune moments in local publications, such as Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which are hugely sympathetic to the image of a company that still remains one of the major employers in the Ruhr area, as well as far beyond. So why does he not ensure that extensive and accurate information is available on a more general level?

The answer is: because there are many black holes in this dynasty’s history which would be too difficult to broach. Instead, gloss-overs and simplifications have been produced over the years by the official guardians of the Thyssen legacy and reproduced by unwitting journalists and historians. But even the most consistently spin-doctored histories are eventually bound to come unravelled. This is particularly true in times of bust such as today, when money becomes scarce and people re-examine their loyalties; as long, of course, as they can enjoy the freedom of democracy rather than being forced into the shackles of authoritarian rule so admired by the likes of Ecclestone, Mosley & Co.

One reason why the Thyssens have always purported to have ‘lost everything’ in the war (for the family members tend to ‘go the extra mile’, insisting all was lost, not just the foreign assets) is to excuse their involvement in arming the German Empires of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler respectively. If it were shown that they actually profited from those regimes, the Thyssens would receive far less sympathy and respect than they do when portrayed as the sacrificial victims of the conflicts, who had to rebuild their fortunes each time from scratch by the sweat of their own brows. The latter being very much the picture painted on the new website of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

In actual fact, while other industrialists were punished for their support of the Reich, the Thyssens were not. They were even compensated for their losses. After World War I, this included their Lorraine ore mines and steel works, which the French insisted they give up. Heini Thyssen himself admitted to David and myself that far from his family losing, for instance, his grand-father’s Brazilian interests after 1918, he was able to liquidate some of them in the 1970s at vast profit. Despite such good fortune, ‘foreign assets’ have always been a particularly contentious issue in the Thyssen historiography, not least because this most quintessential of German dynasties, whose name still remains one of those inextricably linked with the fatherland’s deepest sense of national prosperity, honour and pride, has continuously reaped the benefits of German industry, while simultaneously refusing to admit allegiance to the country.

While the destruction of August Thyssen’s personal files after his death in 1926 ensured the public could never realise that this supposed German patriot had in fact moved his ultimate ownership structures abroad before 1914, a more overt public relations exercise was necessary after 1945 when the magnitude of the Nazis’ criminal activity came to light. That is why official communiques began to over-engineer Heinrich Thyssen’s cosmopolitan credentials, giving assurances that he ‘had distanced himself from Germany as a young man’, that he ‘became a Hungarian in 1906’, that he ‘gained a doctorate in philosophy in London’ and that he ‘settled in Switzerland in 1932’. On closer inspection even of the official sites, however, inconsistencies soon start to appear for all of these claims.

As far as Heinrich’s nationality is concerned, ThyssenKrupp AG has for some time now resorted to the line: ‘He kept his Hungarian citizenship until he died, but nevertheless acted ‘deutsch-nationally’ at times in the 1920s and 1930s. For this vague statement to be allowed to paraphrase the activities of such an important (if shielded) figure of 20th century history is quite simply astonishing. And of course it can in no way explain how German works owned by Heinrich Thyssen were still able to claim war damages from the allied government for Germany in 1946 on the basis of Heinrich being ‘a German abroad’. The fact is: Heinrich Thyssen lived in Lugano from 1938 (not 1932! – more of this later) until his death in 1947, controlling his German interests with the help of visiting managers and this makes him somebody who acted ‘deutsch-nationally’ (if this is what you want to call it), throughout Hitler’s time in power and beyond.

Turning to Heinrich’s academic title: the assertion of a doctorate in philosophy gained in London is pure fabrication. That is why it does not appear on the German websites, where it is clear and very acceptable to people that the doctorate was gained in Germany in the field of natural sciences. It is, on the other hand, very much emphasised in Spain, where the government’s expenditure of in excess of $600 million dollars on the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection seems to make it imperative to stress the founder’s alleged cultural and specifically non-German credentials.

Here on www.museothyssen.org, we also find echoes of Francesca Habsburg‘s recent attempts to designate August Thyssen as the true founder of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (even to the extent where a recent museum web-incarnation called him ‘August Thyssen-Bornemisza’!), thereby rebranding the whole dynasty as the art collectors she would like them to be (making her fourth in a row) rather than the industrialists and bankers that they really were. But the official website of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum also makes another announcement: ‘We know the collection was installed at Rohoncz Castle before Heinrich abandoned Hungary in 1919’. This is particularly worrying as the comprehensive catalogue of the museum squarely confirms the documentation in the Thyssen Archives showing that the first purchase made for the collection was in 1928 (unless that too has now been re-written!)

The smoke and mirrors at Museo Thyssen continue: ‘It is through the correspondence between August Thyssen and Auguste Rodin, namely in a letter from 1911, that we can see that August’s son Heinrich had by that time started his collection’. We have researched the same letters during the writing of our book but never came across anything that would confirm this. The official line basically intimates that with his transformation into a ‘Hungarian aristocrat’ in 1905 (the real dated being 1906-07), Heinrich Thyssen had also, somehow, acquired an art collection.

What seems clear to me is that people in charge of that museum are finally realising that they have a particularly grave problem on their hands. However, not knowing what to do about it, their inability to address serious issues breeds insecurity and confusion. That’s why another sentence has been added to the website: ‘We have few details about the first years of the collection’. While I guess it would be unfairly over-stressing the point if one reminded the Spanish tax payer once again, how much money he contributed and is still paying to the Thyssen Museum, the indelible facts concerning the early history of the collection are these: the Thyssen Collection was never at Rohoncz (Rechnitz). It was only named ‘Rohoncz Collection’ by Heinrich Thyssen with the specific aim of making it sound like an Austro-Hungarian heirloom. Unbelievably, the public as well as the media have bought this fiction decade after decade.

The staff of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung got equally confused in October 2007, when they ran David’s piece on Heinrich Thyssen’s daughter, Margit Batthyany, and her involvement in the murder of 180 Hungarian Jews at Rechnitz Castle in March 1945, which had been published two weeks earlier in The Independent. None of the many continental journalists and historians who subsequently busied themselves in denigrating our work, such as Anja Seeliger of Perlentaucher fame for instance, actually figured out that the reason why the two features were markedly different was not only because of overt censorship in Germany, but also because staff at FAZ saw fit to fact-check the article – the fruit of 14 years of research – against the grossly inaccurate (ThyssenKrupp AG / Museo Thyssen / Thyssen Family) Gospel According to Wikipedia, the same Wikipedia that has rejected our corrective suggestions outright.

Back at Frankfurter Allgemeine: out came 1938 as Heinrich’s settlement date in Switzerland, in went 1932 (to ensure that Heinrich’s presence in Germany after Hitler’s ascension to power could be denied). Out went the proviso that the collection was never at Rohoncz, in went the age-old phrase that it was housed there. Out came our statement that the Thyssens acquired the Erlenhof stud farm from the liquidators of the persecuted Jew, Moritz James Oppenheimer, in 1933. In went the fabrication that Heinrich Thyssen’s business empire was completely separate from August or Fritz Thyssen’s empire. While we are grateful to FAZ for publishing the feature, this type of inaccurate ‘editing’ of copy in a newspaper of such quality should be of concern to everyone.

And even today, two years after the publication of our book, the Spanish museum continues to insist that ‘Heinrich Thyssen’s enterprises were completely separate from the German steel industry’, when even ThyssenKrupp’s website has been admitting for a while now that Heinrich owned the Press- and Rolling Works Reisholz and the Oberbilker Steelworks, both plants that produced canon for Adolf.

Spain is also still holding on to the idea that Heinrich was ensconced in Switzerland from 1932 onwards, where he ‘opened the doors of his gallery to the public in 1936’. Apart from family archival evidence, Heinrich’s own war-time curator, butler and companion, Sandor Berkes, assured us that the gallery building remained unfinished until 1940 and was only opened to the public in 1948. As can be seen from the picture above, far from being locked away in his Swiss villa, in 1936 Heinrich was, amongst other things, happily socialising at the German Derby with his personal friend Hermann Göring, whom he also assisted with personal and Reich banking facilities.

With a background of such systematic disinformation, it does not come as a surprise that the personal assertions by Thyssen family members are also becoming more and more ‘retrograde’. Francesca Thyssen is quoted as explaining to the Austrian ‘News’ Magazine in November 2008 (available in hard copy version only, not online!): ‘Of course my great-uncle (Fritz) was truly deeply enmeshed in Nazi-crimes, that’s no secret. That’s why my grandfather (Heinrich) took the name Bornemisza from his wife, because he left this whole family. Because he wanted to be different and wanted to leave this family’. Or, in other words: Heinrich Thyssen foresaw the coming of the Third Reich by 27 years!…

I can understand that the various guardians of the Thyssen legacy would feel the need to rewrite the unacceptable history of this family. But I do not appreciate the fact that journalists, historians and those who should know better continue to encourage the belief in facts which they know to be untrue or should admit to be so since the publication of our book. As far as the Spanish public in particular is concerned, which is at this very moment being told by Guillermo Solana, the director of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, that new gallery space is urgently needed in Malaga and Sant Feliu de Guixols because the Madrid museum is ‘running out of space’, I feel the time has come to tell him that before any more tax funds are poured into Thyssen projects, the Thyssens might be more truthful about their past and that of the collection, while the Spanish government must admit how much they have and are paying the Thyssens for the display and storage of their paintings.

Celebrating the victory of Erlenhof's 'Nereide' at the 1936 German Derby. At the centre of the picture are (to the right) the winning horse's owner, Heinrich Thyssen (in grey top hat) and (to the left) his friend and associate Hermann Göring (in white suit to the left) (photo: Tachyphot Berlin, copyright: David R L Litchfield

Celebrating the victory of stud farm Erlenhof's 'Nereide' at the 1936 German Derby. In the centre of the picture are (to the right) the winning horse's owner, Heinrich Thyssen (in grey top hat) and (to the left) his friend and associate Hermann Göring (in white suit) (photo: Tachyphot Berlin, copyright: David R L Litchfield)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Art, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family No Comments »

Vienna University’s Impartiality In Question

During December 2008, I was invited by the Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre at the University of Vienna to take part in a discussion concerning her play ‘Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel)’ to take place in May 2009. Some four weeks prior to the event, I discovered one of the sponsors of the series of lectures and discussions under the title ‘Endless Innocence’ was to be Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen, in the form of her art foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (T-B A21). My introductory statement which I gave on the evening of 5 May in Vienna was largely in response to this situation.  It read as follows:

‘I would like to say how gratified I am to have played such a major part in persuading Francesca Thyssen to accept, as part of her financial inheritance, some responsibility for her family’s behaviour. I believe this to be manifest in her sponsoring of this event.

However, I would have been even more gratified if she had made an apologetic admission, as opposed to a financial contribution, for being that the Thyssens were sponsors of Rechnitz Castle and the Countess (and I do have documentary evidence of that fact with me tonight), I consider there to be something obscenely ironic about the fact that we are all sitting here, 64 years later, discussing the Rechnitz Massacre, or a play by Elfriede Jelinek, which includes the massacre, while yet again being sponsored by The Thyssens in the form of Francesca’s art foundation.

I am also forced to question how, as long as any doubt remains concerning the extent of the Thyssens’ involvement in the Rechnitz Massacre, Vienna University can accept her money while claiming impartiality.

Unfortunately, this conflict of interest is not a unique situation in the academic world, particularly in the case of Wolfgang Benz, head of Anti-Semitism Research at the Technical University of Berlin, and Richard Evans, Chairman of the Faculty of History at Cambridge University, who have both attempted to discredit my writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and my book, ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, published in Germany under the title ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie’, while accepting funding from the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.

I am sad to say that I consider this type of arrangement brings into question the credibility of academic historians.

I now have another question. If Countess Margit Batthyany, nee Thyssen, sponsored the murder of 200 Hungarian Jews as after-dinner entertainment and possibly even played an active role in their murder, and then Elfriede Jelinek writes a play involving the atrocity, which can also be characterised as entertainment, albeit intellectual entertainment, but which I’m sure everyone here considers a work of art, where does that leave the killing of the Jews?

As I hope and believe is obvious from my article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and my book ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie’, I consider it a crime against humanity. And no amount of art sponsorship, intellectual smoke screens or academic denial is ever going to alter that.’

I was subsequently informed that Francesca had promised the university to make a public statement, but had failed to do so, despite numerous reminders, prior to her departure to her house in Jamaica.
http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090515/social/social3.html

(For the German version of my statement, please go to ‘Events’).

Vienna University, Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre

Vienna University, Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre

The Reich and the Habsburgs working together in public & private partnership

The Reich and the Habsburgs working together in public & private partnership

Professor Janke of the Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre still experiencing difficulties appreciating what constitutes freedom of speech

Professor Janke of the Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre still experiencing difficulties appreciating what constitutes freedom of speech

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family No Comments »