Posts Tagged ‘Fritz Thyssen Foundation’

The Fritz Thyssen Foundation admits its role in banishing the shadows of the family’s Nazi past

The Thyssens have always denied the full extent of their Nazi past.

Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s side of the family achieved this by camouflaging his supportive industrial and banking facilities behind a dubious Hungarian nationality and Swiss residency, while claiming his brother Fritz to have been solely responsible for what little collaboration with the National Socialist regime the family was willing to admit.

The fact that Fritz Thyssen had co-operated with Emery Reves on a book entitled „I Paid Hitler“ made it easy to divert the spotlight onto his side of the family.

To save his own skin, Fritz and his lawyers alleged that the book had been authored by Reves rather than himself and that the representation of his guilt was grossly exaggerated. This strategy had some success and, at his denazification trial, Fritz Thyssen was judged to have been a „minor Nazi offender“.

A recent book funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (Felix de Taillez: “Two Burghers’ Lives in the Public Eye. The Brothers Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza”. Schöningh Verlag Paderborn), however, finds that an investigation by Norman Cousins in 1949 showed conclusively that „I Paid Hitler“ was much more authentic than Fritz Thyssen and his lawyers had argued.

Nonetheless, following Fritz Thyssen’s death, the executor of his will, Robert Ellscheid, in close co-operation with his unrepentant widow, Amelie Thyssen (an ex Nazi-party member from 1931 onwards), set the family firmly onto a path of uncompromising historical obfuscation.

On the occasion of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s entombment in the Thyssen family crypt at Landsberg Castle in the Ruhr on 27 June 1952, Ellscheid addressed the funeral guests as well as the assembled press thus (in the words of Felix de Taillez):

„He asked for help, in the name of the family and of all Germans, who had anything to do with the Thyssens, and in the interests of the whole nation, to work together so that the ‘criminal and untrue allegations’ about Fritz Thyssen would disappear from the public domain.

de Taillez eventually concludes: „The public rehabilitation of Fritz Thyssen was practically complete in 1959/1960 when Amelie (Thyssen) and Anita (Zichy-Thyssen) together put shares in the amount of 100 Million Mark into a charitable foundation for the promotion of scientific advances bearing his name, in order to give the remembrance of the deceased a permanently positive image“.

And finally: „The work of the foundation came soon to be recognised in Germany as well as abroad and thus the long shadows of Thyssen’s Nazi past disappeared from the public domain“.

In other words, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation now concedes that the Thyssen family had a darker Nazi past than previously admitted, that it made a conscious decision to white-wash Fritz’s (and by extension the whole family’s) Nazi past, and that the foundation played a role in doing so.

Thus the Thyssens and their advisors, in an unscrupulous and unjustifiably domineering way, once again abused the German nation for their own self-serving purposes.

We call upon the German government to take this admission by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, as well as our findings on the Thyssens’ support of National Socialist rule, into account when updating its position on the investigation of Nazi continuities in public life, Holocaust Remembrance and other related issues.

Thirty years ago such a request would have been unthinkable but now we feel entirely confident that the academic revelations made are coming about as a direct result of our investigative, historiographic and journalistic endeavours, over the past 25 years, concerning the history of the Thyssens, and that it was this that has obliged their corporate, if not their private, public relations machine to change direction.

As we have no intention of reducing our pressure on the Thyssen complex, it seems more and more likely that the family will indeed, eventually, be obliged to adopt a modern-day policy of full disclosure concerning their tarnished past, which will advance immeasurably our understanding of that period of history.

The Thyssen smoke and mirror constructs of the past 70 years are still being maintained to some extent and the breadth of material in the public domain that needs to be corrected is vast. But the first official step towards historical candour has now been made and our satisfaction in having played a part in bringing about this U-turn is immense.

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Fritz Thyssen and the forced sterilisation of 400,000 Germans (by Caroline D Schmitz and David R L Litchfield)

The Thyssens have always denied their involvement in Nazi ideology.

Following our book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ (2007), a group of German academics was commissioned by the Thyssen family and corporation, sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, to publish a series of books on the Thyssens. In the latest volume, Felix de Taillez writes that Fritz Thyssen, in November 1933, became a member of the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy at the Reich’s Ministry of the Interior. Other members included Roland Freisler and Heinrich Himmler.

In a manner described by Pinto-Duschinsky as „grey-washing“, the author then defends the indefensible by alleging that Fritz Thyssen accepted many roles on various boards of Nazi institutions, such as the Academy of German Law, only because he was „trophy hunting“ for titles. He writes that Thyssen never put any serious time and effort into the posts and never became involved in actual decision making.

But ignorance is no defence in a court of law and these were not any institutions. The Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy in July 1933 decreed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. It came into effect on 1 January 1934. This means that Fritz Thyssen gave his official support to an institution that was responsible for the forced sterilisation of 400,000 German citizens.

By extension, his function as a national role model helped bolster and legitimise the fundamental corruption of medical and legal ethics that formed the basis of the implementation of the Holocaust of 11 million Jews, Slavs, Russians, Romani people, as well as disabled, homosexuals, communists, christians and freemasons of German and foreign ethnicity.

It has taken 70 years for this information concerning Fritz Thyssen’s involvement in Nazi racial policies to be mentioned in an official Thyssen publication. This adds to all the information published by us on his and his brother Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s financing of the Nazis, their arming of and banking for the regime, their use of forced labour, the family’s membership in National Socialist institutions including the SS, their profiteering from the persecution of Jews and their participation in the facilitation of exterminations.

To this day, the victims of the Nazi forced sterilisation programme, including the Federal Cross of Merit holder Dorothea Buck-Zerchin, have not been recognised in law as victims of Nazi persecution and have not received adequate compensation. This might of course be due to lingering Nazi continuities. 20,000 victims are still believed to be alive.

The continued „grey-washing“ carried out by their official historiographers means that the „transnational“ Thyssens can still refuse to accept their family’s co-responsibility and share of guilt for the crimes of the Nazi regime. They thus persistently reject the request to fairly lighten the load of remembrance carried by the German people. This is completely untenable, particularly in view of the fact that Holocaust remembrance as such has now been called into question by an increasingly radical Alternative für Deutschland party in Germany.

Holocaust remembrance must acknowledge that German people were also victims of the Holocaust. And it must acknowledge that „transnationals“ such as the Thyssens were also perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Thyssens need to start acknowledging their family’s historical responsibility truthfully and publicly and stop denying our historiographic contribution.

They also finally need to express remorse.

Dorothea Buck-Zerchin, a prominent victim of the Nazi forced sterilisation programme, which Fritz Thyssen officially supported (photo copyright Miguel Ferras, taz newspaper Berlin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thyssen Provenance à la Terlau or The Art of Academic Ineptitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Rechnitz Revisited I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rewriting History – Thyssen in the 20th century: Still an overall exercise in vindication or whitewash, with a good number of obvious omissions – but admittedly featuring the occasional, important and sometimes puzzling admission.

It has taken seven years since the publication of our crucial book about the Thyssens (in the Asso Verlag publishing company of Oberhausen/Ruhr) for the first instalment of the „official“ Thyssen response to appear, in the form of the first in a series of eight books, co-financed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the newly formed Thyssen Industrial History Foundation; orchestrated by the malevolent Prof. Manfred Rasch, chief archivist of ThyssenKrupp AG, whose prejudice is manifest in the fact that while our book is often referred to, it is never credited.

Prof. Rasch even manages to deny our existence by claiming that the late Baron Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza failed in his ambition to commission an authorised biography.

In 2014/5, following numerous delays, three volumes of the series have appeared: “The United Steelworks under National Socialism”, “Forced Labour at Thyssen” and “The Thyssens as Art Collectors“. We will review all three over the coming weeks.

The authors of the books are all, somewhat surprisingly, junior academics with no or limited previous knowledge or practical experience of their subjects and described as „independent historians“, who are said to be „closing the gaps“ in research concerning the history of the Thyssen Family, ThyssenKrupp AG and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group.

However, as the authors were commissioned, funded and assisted in their research by the same people, commercial organisations and related foundations, there can be no way in which they could be accurately described as „independent“ and such a claim is at best misleading and at worst fraudulent.

In the case of the major investor, in what often appears to be little more than an academic hagiography, it should be remembered that the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung was started by Amélie Thyssen, who had joined the Nazi party in 1931 – two years before her husband Fritz Thyssen – and who never publicly recanted or displayed any regret for her support of Adolf Hitler.

One also wonders why senior academics of proven knowledge and ability were not won over to deal with this important and sensitive program. One has to assume that it was either because the juniors were more „malleable“ or because more senior academics were not prepared to risk damaging their own reputations while polishing the Thyssens’ tarnished history.

Of course for the project’s supervising professors Margit Szöllösi-Janze (Munich University) and Günther Schulz (Bonn University) the lines of academic whoring must be extremely blurred, as so many general academic research projects in Germany in the past 55 years have been funded by this same Fritz Thyssen Foundation. It must be incredibly difficult to emancipate oneself from this ever primed sponsorship pump.

By contrast, when we visited the archives of ThyssenKrupp AG in 1998, not only did Manfred Rasch accuse us of forging our letter of introduction from Heini Thyssen, but he was also offensively un-cooperative and purported to have nothing to do with the history of the Thyssen family, who he spoke of derisively and said that „his“ archive contained no material that related to them. So the question is: what has changed for him to now be a contributor to such a project?

Presumably, it was the publication of „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ and the resulting adverse publicity in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as this appears to be the point in time when his, the family’s and the corporations’ academic program of damage limitation was conceived.

Guido Knopp, the éminence grise of German historiography, has said in one of his popular television programs that „our generation is not responsible for what happened under the Nazis, but we are responsible for keeping the memory alive of what happened“.

In light of the Thyssen story, this begs the question: how are we supposed to adequately research and remember the history of the Nazi period if people like the Thyssens sit on evidence for 70 years and reveal it only to a selected few under privileged, academic criteria, thus keeping it very much outside the perception of the general public?

The result of such an opaque approach to Aufarbeitung can only be an exercise in vindication and in this series, as with so many books supported in the past by the Thyssen organisation, there is plenty of that. And if not in fact, then in conjecture.

But as far as we can see there are also now important admissions being made, presumably in order to retain a modicum of credibility, or perhaps at the insistence of the more forward thinking members of the team. This fact vindicates the time and effort we expended in producing the first honest portrayal of the Thyssen family and its activities.

We are delighted that our book has had the intended effect, namely to force the organisation to depart from the old official version of events which refused to admit anything that could be considered negative and only ever represented the Thyssens in a light of selfless heroism and untarnished pride, particularly manifest in a claimed rejection of Nazi ideals.

Recently a 94-year-old German former Auschwitz camp administrator, Oskar Gröning, who had not been directly involved in the killings, was sentenced to four years in prison. He showed deep remorse and apologised for his involvement, not something often displayed by his co-accused, if ever.

It felt like a concerted effort to present an image of Aufarbeitung which is a new, more open and honest way, and one that is explicitly sympathetic with the victims. Or maybe Mr Gröning is just a very enlightened individual.

In addition to Gröning’s statement, the public prosecutor commented that far from being just about individual crimes, Auschwitz was very much about „a system“, and that „whoever contributed to that system was responsible“.

The Thyssens contributed in many ways and much more than many others to the Nazi system, for instance by helping to arm Hitler’s troops to the point where the Nazi terror regime could be implemented over much of Europe. Their descendants, who have profited and continue to do so, from their forefathers’ (and mothers’) ill-gotten gains, have far more reasons than the German general public today to apologise and certainly to remember.

The question is: will they ever make a comparable statement to the one Oskar Gröning has made?

And more importantly: if not, why not?

"He who pays the piper calls the tune". The eternal sponsor, Amelie Thyssen (copyright Fritz Thyssen Foundation)

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Why I am angry with the Thyssens (by Caroline D Schmitz)

When I left Germany to live in England in 1992, my fatherland was only just beginning to get over the end of the Cold War, during which the Aufarbeitung of the Nazi era had been put on hold. In England, I got the amazing opportunity to work with David Litchfield on a biography of the Thyssen family which took us 14 years to complete and publish in England, Spain and Germany.

Now I am back in Germany and am delighted to see that a new wind is blowing as far as the renewed Aufarbeitung is concerned. But still it meets with opposition from those scrutinised. And yet, the time really is over-ripe for the descendants of those once in power to come clean and say „yes, what happened was terrible, and our families are admitting exactly what important role they played in it, and we are sorry“.

Instead, the Thyssen family in particular is still spending vast sums to produce sanitised versions of their history and this is particularly hurtful for me as a German whose family members were soldiers in Hitler`s war, who died or were maimed and never ever received any support whatsoever to cope with their horrific wartime experiences. This tragedy has had an overarching and enduring negative effect on German society. And this is why I am so angry with the way the Thyssens are behaving.

Heini Thyssen`s widow Carmen Cervera this year brought out his „memoirs“ in Spain, which is mostly theatrical nonsense but has a few unintended, highly interesting pieces of information, which we will present on this website in the new year. In particular, we will contrast her „effort“ with the other big Thyssen Whitewash Project that has seen the first fruits ripen in 2014.

As our manuscript was circulating in 2006, Heini`s son Georg Thyssen set up the „Thyssen Industrial History Foundation“ and later teamed up with the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the ThyssenKrupp Archives under Manfred Rasch. They commissioned more than a dozen German academics under Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Günther Schulz and Hans Günter Hockerts to write a series of books on the Thyssens in the 20th century. So far, two volumes have appeared: „The United Steelworks under National Socialism“ by Alexander Donges and „Slave Labour at Thyssen“ by Thomas Urban. A third volume, “The Thyssens as Art Collectors” by Johannes Gramlich, is set to appear in March 2015 and some five more volumes thereafter.

Although these books do contain a number of admissions, the overall theme is still a denial of any wrong-doing on the side of the Thyssens. The smoke-and-mirror style convolutedness of the project`s mission statement can be seen from the summary of a conference held at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in June 2014.

Based on our research and in the interest of historical truth, we will in the coming months and years on this website provide our readers with a detailed critical analysis of this Thyssen-financed „Aufarbeitung“.

Freiburg im Breisgau following a British bombing raid, November 1944

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Is B r o a d v i e w TV’s Sebastian Dehnhardt helping the Thyssens to white-wash their history? (by Caroline Schmitz)

Back in February we learned that Broadview TV in Cologne was producing a documentary on the Thyssens to be shown on German television (ARD channel) later this year as part of their ‘German Dynasties’ series. This was interesting news, as we knew that for several years such a venture has been planned in Germany but had so far failed to materialise.Following the publication of our book, a major rewriting of the family and corporate history was initiated, co-sponsored by the Thyssen corporation (via Fritz Thyssen Foundation) and the Thyssen family (represented by Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza). Now Broadview TV was announcing that their film (see this Scanned Document) would feature ‘August, Fritz and Heini Thyssen’, making no mention of either Heini’s father Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a key figure of the story whose role we have researched and reported extensively, or Fritz’s wife Amelie, who was a committed Nazi, yet regained ownership and control of the corporation after Fritz’s death in Argentina (not in Germany) in 1951, while never publicly recanting her political beliefs.

Instead, Broadview TV announced that their emphasis would be on ‘Fritz Thyssen’s TRAGIC embroilment with the Third Reich’ as well as ‘the patron of the arts Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’.

For a brief moment we paused to think what Heinrich and Heini Thyssen, who had spent most of their lives aggressively denying their Germanness, would think about being turned back into ‘Germans’ posthumously! And hadn’t Fritz and Amelie always insisted they were stateless? In my opinion as a German it is wrong for the German public to be asked to accept this family back into their national consciousness as one of their own, without being given the chance of seeing an unbiased picture of BOTH their achievements AND their failings.

We are not in any way denying the Thyssens’ achievements. They created a vast industrial empire, thousands of jobs and careers as well as wealth for the German nation and beyond. To be more precise, August and his brother Josef did those things, as well as their workers, foremen and managers. But Fritz (& Amelie) and Heinrich Thyssen were big cogs, very big cogs indeed in the process that brought Adolf Hitler to power.  As such, the Thyssens’ ‘embroilment’ with the Nazis was NOT, I repeat NOT tragic for the Thyssens. The Thyssens were not victims. They were perpetrators. They supported the Nazis because they wished to eradicate Communism and Socialism and ensure their own profits and lifestyles.

The actual tragedy was the one that befell the people of Europe and of the wider world who died in their millions or survived to live on with their haunting memories. More often than not they were offered no support to come to terms with their experiences, while the Thyssens were allowed back into the position of role models. Now they’re reintroduced into the German media and, in our opinion, instead of owning up fully to their historic role, commission sanitised reports which airbrush inconvenient truths out of the public picture. This is evident in recent publications where embarrassing facts were circumvented or ignored.

We decided to contact Mr Dehnhardt to try and find out what kind of course he was planning to take with his documentary. Having written to him early in February we heard nothing. So we wrote to the Head of ARD, Mr Peter Boudgoust. He wrote back a very nice letter, saying he had passed our concerns on to the commissioning editors, in this case Christiane Hinz at WDR in Cologne. But we heard nothing from Mrs Hinz, even when emailing and phoning her.

Finally, after another letter to Mr Boudgoust, Mrs Hinz replied. She suggested our worries were ‘unfounded’, that the ‘POSSIBLE film about the Thyssens’ was still ‘ONLY AT A PROJECT STAGE’, that ‘all relevant historical points’ would be researched and that ‘if any questions arose that only [we] could answer’ they would ‘of course’ contact us. No apology was made for her previous silence.

Now finally – after 4.5 months – Mr Dehnhardt too has chosen to communicate with us, though rather pointedly, he has addressed his reply (see enclosed) to David only, not to myself, his German kinswoman, although our letter came from both of us. Once again, like Mrs Hinz before him, Mr Dehnhardt points out that ‘all relevant themes, including those from the time of the Third Reich’ will be dealt with, but adds ‘you have no right to expect for the interpretations derived from your research to be given an automatic platform in our programme’.  He also bemoans our sceptical approach, stating that it is ‘devoid of any reality’, particularly in view of the fact we ‘know nothing about the concept, form and content of [his] film’. Meanwhile, however, he still fails to communicate any of the concept, form and content in the professional manner that we would expect.

The word ‘interpretation’, of course, is a very interesting choice in this context, as it carries all the connotations of ‘spin’. The fact is that if you leave Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and Amelie Thyssen out of the picture, you refuse to deal with real historical issues, namely those of managing German companies throughout the war from a Swiss safehaven, including the use of slave labour, international Nazi banking, the Rechnitz Massacre, the Thyssens’ post-war protection from Allied retribution, etc, etc, etc. These are straightforward facts; not ‘interpretations’.

Mr Dehnhardt has been criticised in the past for producing a documentary in which the views were said to have been over-emotional and unbalanced. Kultura Online Magazin found that his film on the battle of Stalingrad did not give a voice to the Russian side and only described the results but not the reasons for the historic developments in question. When confronted with this criticism, Mr Dehnhardt replied: ‘I think the individual [German] soldier also has the right to be a victim, especially in the context of Stalingrad. My film shows that he was only a small cog in a big machine’.

Here Mr Dehnhadt is right. But this statement begs the question as to how he will deal with the ‘big cogs’ when it comes to his documentary on the Thyssens. Will he still have the likes of his father (or my father and uncles for that matter) in mind or will he now bow to the power and influence of the cosmopolitan ‘big cogs’? Will he tell the German public the tale of Fritz Thyssen suffering in a concentration camp, although we established he was under comfortable, protective custody while his brother Heinrich continued to supply the Nazis with coal, submarines and aerial torpedoes from the safety of Switzerland? And will he tell people what an art expert Heini Thyssen was when we showed that Heini Thyssen himself told us his father had bought the collection simply in order to transfer money out of Germany and Thyssen art has been used and abused as a convenient veneer behind which to hide a guilty past ever since?

We shall have to wait and see. But after our experiences of looking into all things Thyssen for over fourteen years, we remain sceptical, particularly since Mr Dehnhardt makes several films on different subjects every year. In this short space of time he could not possibly have enough insight into a vast topic such as Thyssen to offer anything but a simplified view. A view that is in danger of misrepresenting the past in a way that will once again allow the Thyssen big cogs to indulge their privileges while shunning their historic responsibilities.

We really hope to be proved wrong, because for the last seventy plus years the German public has been misinformed regarding Thyssen. We believe that while they may not like the image of the Thyssens that we have revealed, it is up to them, not to what might prove to be a Thyssen-influenced media company, to decide.

The programme was finally aired on 8 November 2010.


eldeadpixel writes: Thanks for this good article. I wonder if that documentary will be shown here in Spain… Keep us up to date!

Sebastian Dehnhardt, film producer and managing director of Broadview TV, Cologne

Four and a half months for a reply - And they call us 'illogical'...

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