Posts Tagged ‘Fritz Thyssen Foundation’

The Lies of Doctor Schleusener oder Die Lügen des Jan Schleusener

So how do I know that Dr. Jan Schleusener is a liar? Because, it is I of whom he lies! Also of Hans Heinrich Thyssen. But ‘Heini’ is no longer with us, so, as his biographer, I inherit a responsibility to question any libellous accusations concerning our personal and professional relationship, as well as about my credibility as an author.

The lies in question are contained in a book titled ‘The Expropriation of Fritz Thyssen’, written by Schleusener, published in March 2018 by Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag and funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. In this book, Jan Schleusener states that ‘Heini’ and I ‘fell out’, due to his ‘cancellation of his commission’ for my writing his biography. Schleusener even gives the page numbers of the German edition of my book, ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie’, on which he falsely claims I confirmed this situation. Furthermore, Schleusener insists that my book contains vast swathes of ‘polemic revenge’ against ‘Heini’ and that it was obviously NOT written ‘sine ira et studio’. He then asserts that while I studied many pertinent sources, I interpreted them one-sidedly and ‘took into account only those aspects’ that supported what he purports to have been my ‘intention to scandalise’.

The truth is that the cancellation was subsequently rescinded without ever having been the cause of friction. I got on incredibly well with ‘Heini’ Thyssen (as did Caroline Schmitz, my German ‘collaborator’) and had no reason to be vengeful; quite the opposite in fact. This is explained in some detail in my book, while Dr Schleusener made no attempt to contact me or clarify the situation when researching his book. So there can be little doubt that his accusations are not only false but also malicious and designed to damage my reputation and credibility as an author, and as such they qualify as libellous.

I would also assume that as he is an academic, albeit a junior and undistinguished academic, Dr Schleusener’s students, the relevant seats of learning who reward him and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation would all expect him to adhere to certain standards of honesty and professionalism, which he obviously isn’t respecting. This is of particular concern when it comes to his coverage of history relating to the Third Reich. So Dr Schleusener presumably considers lying to be an acceptable practice, regardless of the subject or period. This was manifest in his dismissive response to my e-mails demanding a retraction and apology, while his publisher saw fit to ignore my request altogether; which doesn’t bode well for the accuracy of their whole academic series of Thyssen books.

Finally, I would like to address Dr Schleusener’s accusation of my having ‘scandalised’ evidence, as I had no reason to do so; the story being quite sufficiently scandalous without the need to resort to exaggeration. As a point of interest, it was ‘Heini’ himself who suggested the cover line, ‘Shame and scandal in the family’ as a title. And as far as our friendship was concerned, I should remind Dr. Jan Schleusener of the last paragraph of my book: ‘In my role as Heini Thyssen’s confessor, it was a family I had become part of and would no doubt continue to do so. I would also never raise a glass of red wine to my lips without thinking of him.’ Hardly the reflection of a man bent on revenge.

 

 

Hans Heinrich (‘Heini’) Thyssen-Bornemisza and David R L Litchfield at Villa Favorita, Lugano, Switzerland, 1989 (photo copyright Nicola Graydon)

Weshalb ich weiss, dass Dr Jan Schleusener ein Lügner ist? Weil ich es bin, über den er lügt. Und ebenso über Hans Heinrich Thyssen. Aber „Heini“ weilt nicht mehr unter uns, und so erbe ich als sein Biograf die Verantwortung dafür, jedwede verleumderische Anschuldigung über unser persönliches und professionelles Verhältnis – sowie über meine Glaubwürdigkeit als Autor – zu hinterfragen.

Die erwähnten Lügen sind in Dr Schleusener’s Buch „Die Enteignung Fritz Thyssens“ enthalten, welches vom Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag im März 2018 veröffentlicht und von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung gefördert wurde. In diesem Buch behauptet Jan Schleusener, es habe ein „Zerwürfnis“ zwischen „Heini“ und mir gegeben, nachdem er den Auftrag an mich für das Schreiben seiner Biografie „wieder zurückgezogen“ habe. Schleusener verweist sogar auf bestimmte Seiten der deutschen Ausgabe meines Buches „Die Thyssen-Dynastie“, wo, so gibt er fälschlicherweise an, ich diese Situation bestätigt hätte. Weiterhin besteht Schleusener darauf, mein Buch enthalte „in weiten Strecken“ eine „polemische Abrechnung“ mit „Heini“, und dass es „überdeutlich nicht sine ira et studio geschrieben“ sei. Sodann beteuert er, dass ich zwar „viele einschlägige Quellen studiert“ hätte, diese aber „einseitig“ auswerten würde, um meine „skandalisierenden Absichten“ zu stützen.

Die Wahrheit ist, dass die Absage später zurück gezogen wurde, ohne jemals Friktionen hervor gerufen zu haben. Ich habe mich mit „Heini“ Thyssen überaus gut verstanden (und genauso ging es auch Caroline Schmitz, meiner deutschen Mitarbeiterin) und hatte keinerlei Grund, irgend eine Rache an ihm zu üben; ganz im Gegenteil. Die genauen Umstände unserer Beziehung habe ich in meinem Buch geschildert, aber Dr Schleusener hat während er seine Studie erarbeitete weder versucht, mich zu kontaktieren, noch die Situation klar zu stellen. Es kann also kaum ein Zweifel daran bestehen, dass seine Anschuldigungen nicht nur falsch sind, sondern obendrein böswillig und darauf ausgelegt, mein Ansehen und meine Glaubwürdigkeit als Autor zu schädigen. Als solche sind sie als verleumderisch anzusehen.

Ich würde auch annehmen – da er ein (wenn auch bisher wenig etablierter Nachwuchs-) Wissenschaftler ist -, dass seine Studenten, die Stätten der Gelehrsamkeit, bei denen er in Stellung ist, und auch die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, alle von ihm erwarten würden, dass er an gewissen Standards der Ehrlichkeit und Professionalität festhält. Dies tut er aber offensichtlich nicht. Das ist besonders bedenklich, wenn es um seine Forschungen zum Dritten Reich geht. So nehme ich an, Dr Schleusener erachtet das Lügen als eine zulässige Gepflogenheit, unbenommen des Themas oder erörterten Zeitraums. Dies wurde deutlich aus seiner abschlägigen Anwort auf meine E-Mails an ihn, in denen ich meiner Erwartung eines Widerrufs und einer Entschuldigung Ausdruck gab. Sein Verleger sah es als gänzlich unnötig an, mir überhaupt zu antworten. All dies sind keine guten Vorzeichen hinsichtlich der Genauigkeit dieser ganzen akademischen Serie von Büchern zum Thema Thyssen.

Schlussendlich möchte ich noch Dr Schleusener’s Anschuldigung behandeln, ich hätte gewisse Aspekte „skandalisiert“. In Wirklichkeit hatte ich gar keinen Bedarf, etwas zu skandalisieren, da die Geschichte selbst ohne jegliche Übertreibungen schon skandalös genug ist. Interessehalber: es war „Heini“ selbst, der den Titel-Slogan der englischen Ausgabe „Schande und Skandale in der Familie“ vorschlug. Und so weit es meine Freundschaft mit „Heini“ betrifft, so darf ich Dr Jan Schleusener an den letzten Paragraphen meines Buches erinnern: „In meiner Rolle als Heini Thyssen-Bornemiszas Beichtvater bin ich ein Teil dieser Familie geworden und werde es wohl immer bleiben. Und niemals werde ich ein Glas Rotwein an meine Lippen führen, ohne an ihn zu denken“. Nicht gerade die Gedanken eines Menschen, der auf Rache aus ist.

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Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 4: ‘The Thyssens. Family and Fortune’, by Simone Derix, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2016

Reviewing this book is a huge aggravation to us, as so much of it has been derived from our groundbreaking work on the Thyssens, published a decade earlier, for which the author grants us not a single credit. It is surprising that Simone Derix does not have the respect for professional ethics to acknowledge our historiographic contribution; especially since she stated in a 2009 conference that non-academic works, whilst creating feelings of fear amongst academics of losing their prerogative to interpret history, are taking on increasing importance.

Ms Derix herself is not the fearful type of course, though somewhat hypocritical. She appears to be preemptively obedient and committed to pleasing her presumably partisan paymasters, in the form of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. Alas, she is clearly not the smartest person either; writing, for instance, that Heinrich Lübke, Director of the August Thyssen Bank (he died in 1962), was the same Heinrich Lübke who was President of Germany (in that position until 1969).

But Ms Derix’s intellectual shortcomings are much more serious than simple factual errors, which should, in any case, have been picked up by at least one of her two associate writers, three project leaders, four academic mentors and six research assistants. She is in all seriousness trying to convince us that research into the lives of wealthy persons is a brand new branch of academia, and that she is its most illustrious, pioneering proponent. Does she not know that recorded history has traditionally been by the rich, of the rich and for the rich only? Has she forgotten that even basic reading and writing were privileges of the few until some hundred and fifty years ago?

At the same time, contrary to us, Derix does not appear to have had any first hand experience of exceptionally rich people at all, particularly Thyssens. Her sponsorship, earlier in her studies, by the well-endowed Gerda Henkel Foundation, was presumably an equally ‘arm’s length’ relationship. Rich people only mix with rich people, and unless Derix got paid by the word, there is no evidence that she ever in any way qualified for serious comment on their modus operandi.

What is new, of course, is that feudalism has been swept away and replaced by democratic societies, where knowledge is broadly accessible and equality before the law is paramount. Yes, her assertion that super-rich people’s archives are difficult to access is true. They only ever want you to know glorious things about them and keep the realities cloaked behind their outstanding wealth. To suggest that this series is being issued because the Thyssens have suddenly decided to engage in an exercise of honesty, generously letting official historians browse their most private documents, however, is ludicrous. The only reason why Simone Derix is revealing some controversial facts about the Thyssens is because we already revealed them. The difference is that she repackages our evidence in decidedly positive terms, so as to comply with the series’ overall damage limitation program.

Thus, Derix seems to believe she can run with the fox and hunt with the hounds; a balancing act made considerably easier by her pronouncement, early on, that any considerations of ethics or morality are to be categorically excluded from her study. The fact that the Thyssens camouflaged their German companies (including those manufacturing weapons and using forced labour) behind international strawmen, with the benefit of facilitating the large-scale evasion of German taxes, is re-branded by Derix as being a misleading description ‘made from a state perspective’ and which ‘tried to establish a desired order rather than depict an already existing order’. As if ‘the state’, as we democrats understand it, is some kind of devious entity that needs fending off, rather than the collective support mechanism of all equal, law-abiding citizens.

It is just one of the many statements that appears to show how much the arguably authoritarian mindset of her sponsors may have rubbed off on her. The fact that academics employed by publicly funded universities should be used thus as PR-agents for the self-serving entities that are the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation and the ThyssenKrupp Konzern Archive is highly questionable by any standards, but particularly by supposedly academic ones. Especially when they claim to be independent.

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In Derix’s world, the Thyssens are still (!) mostly referred to as ‘victims’, ‘(tax) refugees’, ‘dispossessed’ and ‘disenfranchised’, even if she admits briefly, once or twice in 500 pages, that ‘in the long-term it seems that they were able always to secure their assets and keep them available for their own personal needs’.

As far as the Thyssens’ involvement with National Socialism is concerned, she calls them ‘entangled’ in it, ‘related’ to it, being ‘present’ in it and ‘living in it’. With two or three exceptions they are never properly described as the active, profiting contributors to the existence and aims of the regime. Rather, as in volume 2 (‘Forced Labour at Thyssen’), the blame is again largely transferred to their managers. This is very convenient for the Thyssens, as the families of these men do not have the resources to finance counter-histories to clear their loved ones’ names.

But for Simone Derix to say that ‘from the perspective of nation states these (Thyssen managers) had to appear to be hoodlums’ really oversteps the boundaries of fair comment. The outrageousnness of her allegation is compounded by the fact that she fails to quote evidence, as reproduced in our book, showing that allied investigators made clear reference to the Thyssens themselves being the real perpetrators and obfuscators.

Yet still, Derix purports to be invoking German greatness, honour and patriotism in her quest for Thyssen gloss. She alleges bombastically that the mausoleum at Landsberg Castle in Mülheim-Kettwig ‘guarantees (the family’s) presence and attachment to the Ruhr’ and that there is an ‘indissoluble connection between the Thyssen family, their enterprises, the region and their catholic faith’. But she fails to properly range them alongside the industrialist families of Krupp, Quandt, Siemens and Bosch, preferring to surround their name hyperbolically with those of the Bismarck, Hohenzollern, Thurn und Taxis and Wittelsbach ruling dynasties.

In reality, many Thyssen heirs chose to turn their backs on Germany and live transnational lives abroad. Their mausoleum is not even accessible to the general public. Contrary to what Derix implies, the iconic name that engenders such a strong feeling of allegiance in Germany is that of the public Thyssen (now ThyssenKrupp) company alone, as one of the main national employers. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any respect for the descendants of the formidable August Thyssen, most of whom are, for reason of their chosen absence, completely unknown in the country.

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In this context, it is indicative that Simone Derix categorises the Thyssens as ‘old money’, as well as ‘working rich people’. But while in the early 19th century Friedrich Thyssen was already a banker, it was only his sons August (75% share) and Josef (25% share), from 1871 onwards (and with the ensuing profits from the two world wars) who created through their relentless work, and that of their employees and workers, the enormous Thyssen fortune. Their equal was never seen again in subsequent Thyssen generations.

Thus the Thyssens became ‘ultra-rich’ and were completely set apart from the established aristocratic-bourgeois upper class. They could hardly be called ‘old money’ and neither could their heirs, despite trying everything in their power to adopt the trappings of the aristocracy (which beggars the question why volume 6 of the series is called ‘Fritz and Heinrich Thyssen – Two bourgeois lives in the public eye’). This included marrying into the Hungarian, increasingly faux aristocracy, whereby, even Derix has to admit, by the 1920s every fifth Hungarian citizen pretended to be an aristocrat.

The line of Bornemiszas, for instance, which Heinrich married into, were not the old ‘ruling dynastic line’ that Derix still pretends they were. The Thyssen-Bornemiszas came to be connected with the Dutch royals not because Heinrich’s wife Margit was such a (self-styled) ‘success’ at court, but because the Thyssens had important business interests in that country. Thus Heinrich became a banker to the Dutch royal household, as well as a personal friend of Queen Wilhelmina’s husband Prince Hendrik.

The truth is: apart from such money-orientated connections, neither the German nor the English or any other European nobility welcomed these parvenus into their immediate ranks (religion too played a role, of course, as the Thyssens were and are catholics). Until, that is, social conventions had moved on enough by the 1930s and their daughters were able to marry into the truly old Hungarian dynasties of Batthyany and Zichy.

But until that time, based on their outstanding wealth, this did not stop the brothers from adopting many of the domains of grandeur for themselves. Fritz Thyssen, according to Derix, even spent his time in the early 1900s importing horses from England, introducing English fox hunting to Germany and owning a pack of staghounds. He also had his servant quarters built lower down from his own in his new country seat, specifically to signal class distinction.

These are indeed remarkable new revelations showing that the traditional image put out by the Thyssen organisation of bad cop German, ‘temporarily’ fascist industrialist Fritz Thyssen, good cop Hungarian ‘nobleman’ Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is even more misleading than we always thought.

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Truly lamentable are Derix’s attempts to portray Fritz Thyssen as a devout, christian peacenik and centrist party member. And so are her lengthy contortions in presenting Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza as the perfectly assimilated Hungarian country squire. She does, however, report that Heinrich’s wife had stated he did not speak a word of the language, which does not stop Felix de Taillez in volume 6 writing that he did speak Hungarian. ‘If you can’t beat them, confuse them’ was Heini Thyssen’s motto. Clearly, it has also become the motto of these Thyssen-financed academics.

Meanwhile, Derix’s book is the first work supported by the Thyssen organisation to confirm that Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza did retain his German (then Prussian) citizenship. She also does venture to state that his adoption of the Hungarian nationality ‘might’ have been ‘strategic’. But these gems of truthfulness are swamped under the fountains of her gushing propaganda designed to make the second generation Thyssens look better than they were. This includes her development of August Junior’s role from black sheep of the family to committed businessman.

On the other hand, the author still fails to explain any business-related details on the much more important Heinrich Thyssen’s life in England at the turn of the century (cues: banking and diplomacy). How exactly did the family come to be closely acquainted with the likes of Henry Mowbray Howard (British liaison officer at the French Naval Ministry) or Guy L’Estrange Ewen (special envoy to the British royals)? A huge chance of genuine transparency was wasted here.

Derix also fails to draw attention to the fact that the August Thyssen and Josef Thyssen branches of the family developed in very different ways. August’s heirs exploited, left and betrayed Germany and were decidedly ‘nouveau riche’, except for Heinrich’s son Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza and his son Georg Thyssen, who really did involve themselves in the management of their companies.

By contrast, Josef’s heirs Hans and Julius Thyssen stayed in Germany (respectively were prepared to return there in the 1930s from Switzerland when foreign exchange restrictions came into force), paid their taxes, worked in the Thyssen Konzern before selling out in the 1940s, pooling their resources and adopting careers in the professions. Only the Josef Thyssen side of the family is listed in the German Manager Magazine Rich List; but for unexplained reasons Derix leaves these truly ‘working rich’ Thyssens largely unmentioned in her book.

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Fortunately, Derix does not concentrate all her efforts in creative fiction and plagiarisation, but manages to provide at least some substantive politico-economic facts as well. So she reveals that Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza was a member of the supervisory board of the United Steelworks of Düsseldorf until 1933, i.e. until after Adolf Hitler’s assumption of power. This, combined with her statement that ‘Heinrich seems to have orientated himself towards Berlin on a permanent basis as early as 1927/8 (from Scheveningen in The Netherlands)’ pokes a hole in one of the major Thyssen convenience legends, that of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza having had his main residence in neutral Switzerland from 1932 onwards (i.e. conveniently from before Hitler’ assumption of power; having ‘left Germany just in time’); though this does not stop Derix from subsequently repeating that fallacy just the same (- ‘If you can’t beat them, confuse them’-).

Fact is that, despite buying Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland in 1932, Heinrich Thyssen continued to spend the largest amounts of his time living a hotel life in a permanent suite in Berlin and elsewhere and also kept a main residence in Holland (where Heini Thyssen grew up almost alone, except for the staff). His Ticino lawyer Roberto van Aken had to remind him in 1936 that he still had not applied for permanent residency in Switzerland. It was not until November 1937 that Heinrich Thyssen and his wife Gunhilde received their Swiss foreigner passes (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, page 116).

Derix also readjusts the old Thyssen myth that Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza went their separate ways in business as soon as they inherited from their father, who died in 1926. We always said that the two brothers remained strongly interlinked until well into the second half of the 20th century. And hey presto, here we have Simone Derix alleging now that ‘historians so far have always assumed that the separation had been concluded by 1936’. She adds ‘despite all attempts at separating the shares of Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the fortunes of Fritz and Heinrich remained interlocked (regulated contractually) well into the time after the second world war’.

But it is her next sentence that most infuriates: ‘Obviously it was very difficult for outsiders to recognise this connection’. The truth of the matter is that the situation was opaque because the Thyssens and their organisation went to extraordinary lengths and did everything in their power to obfuscate matters, particularly as it meant hiding Fritz Thyssen’s and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s joint involvement in supporting the Nazi regime.

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Amongst the Thyssens’ many advisors, the author introduces Dutchman Hendrik J Kouwenhoven as the main connecting link between the brothers, who ‘opened up opportunities and thought up financial instruments’. He worked from 1914 at the family’s Handels en Transport Maatschappij Vulcaan and then at their Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart (BVHS) in Rotterdam from its official inception in 1918 to his sacking by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza during the second world war.

The asset management or trust company of BVHS was called Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor (RTK), which Derix describes as ‘repository for the finance capital of the Thyssen enterprises, as well as for the Thyssens’ private funds’. She does not say when it was created. ‘Its offices and all the important papers that Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had lodged (at RTK) were all destroyed in a German aerial bombardment of Rotterdam on 14.05.1940’, according to Derix. To us this sounds like a highly suspicious piece of information.

Of the files of BVHS she curtly says that ‘a complete set of source materials is not available’. How convenient, especially since no-one outside the Thyssen organisation will ever be able to verify this claim truly independently; or at least until the protective mantle of Professor Manfred Rasch, head of the ThyssenKrupp Konzern Archive, retires.

Derix alludes to ‘the early internationalisation of the Thyssen Konzern from 1900’, ascribing her knowledge of its bases in raw material purchases and the implementation of a Thyssen-owned trading and transport network to Jörg Lesczenski, who published two years after us (and whose work, like that of Derix herself, was backed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation). But she leaves cross-references aside concerning the first tax havens (including that of The Netherlands) which were set up in the outgoing 19th century, conveniently referring this area to ‘research that should be carried out in the future’.

Derix names the 1906 Transportkontor Vulkan GmbH Duisburg-Hamborn with its Rotterdam branch (see above) and the 1913 Deutsch-Überseeische Handelsgesellschaft der Thyssenschen Werke mbH of Buenos Aires (by the way: to this day ThyssenKrupp AG is a major trader in raw materials). She also states that American loans to the Thyssen Konzern started in 1919 via the ‘Vulcaan Coal Company’ (failing to mention that this company was based in London).

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According to Derix, August Thyssen began transferring his shares in the Thyssen companies to his sons Fritz and Heinrich in 1919, first those of Thyssen & Co. and from 1921 onwards those of the August Thyssen smelting works. She then adds that existing Thyssen institutions outside of Germany were used in order to carry out this transfer.

From 1920 onwards, Fritz Thyssen began to buy real estate in Argentina. Meanwhile, the Thyssens’ Union Banking Corporation (UBC), founded in 1924 in the Harriman Building on New York’s Broadway, is described solely in the language of the ‘transnational dimension of the Thyssens’ financial network’ and as being ‘the American branch of the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart’.

We had already detailed in our book how Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, via Hendrik Kouwenhoven, set up in Switzerland the Kaszony Family Foundation in 1926 to lodge his inherited participations and the Rohoncz Collection Foundation in 1931 to place art works he bought as easily movable capital investments from 1928 onwards. Now Derix writes that the Rohoncz Foundation too was founded in 1926. This is astonishing, since it means that this entity was set up a whole two years prior to Heinrich Thyssen buying the first painting to find its way into what he called the ‘Rohoncz Castle Collection’ (despite the fact that none of the pictures ever went anywhere near his Hungarian, then Austrian castle, in which he had stopped living in 1919).

The timing of the creation of this offshore instrument just proves how contrived Heinrich’s reinvention as a ‘fine art connaisseur and collector’ really was.

Derix even freely admits that these Thyssen family foundations were ‘antagonists of states and governments’. However, just like Johannes Gramlich in volume 3 (‘The Thyssens as Art Collectors’), she too leaves the logistics of the transfer of some 500 paintings by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza into Switzerland in the 1930s completely unmentioned, including the fact that this represented a method of massive capital flight out of Germany. The associated topics of tax evasion and tax avoidance stay completely off her academic radar; ignoring our documented proof.

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In another bold rewriting of official Thyssen history the author states that the Thyssen brothers frequently acted in parallel in their financial affairs. And so it was that the Pelzer Foundation and Faminta AG came to be created , by Kouwenhoven, in Switzerland, on behalf of Fritz Thyssen and his immediate family. (Derix is hazy about exact dates. We published: 1929 for Faminta AG and the late 1930s for the Pelzer Foundation).

Derix points out that these two instruments also allowed secret transactions between the Thyssen brothers. She adds enigmatically that ‘Faminta protected the foreign assets of the August Thyssen smelting works from a possible confiscation by the German authorities’, whilst withholding any reference to a time scale of when such a confiscation might have been on the cards (is she suggesting a possibility prior to Fritz Thyssen’s flight in September 1939, i.e. anytime during the period 1929-1939?).

At the same time, in the 1920s, Fritz and Amelie Thyssen established a firm base in the south of the German Reich, namely in Bavaria – far away from the Thyssen heartland of the Ruhr – which Derix brands as a fact which has ‘so far been almost completely ignored by historians’. Of course, not only was this most royalist of German states close to Switzerland, but it was also, at that time, the cradle of the Nazi movement. Adolf Hitler also much preferred Munich to Berlin.

All the family’s financial instruments, meanwhile, continued to be administrated by Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor in The Netherlands. ‘These new Thyssen banks, companies, holdings and foundations created since the 1920s were connected to the Thyssen industrial enterprises (in Germany) through participations’, Derix continues.

These enterprises etc. were also supportive of the rising Nazi movement of course, such as when their Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart around 1930 demonstrably made a loan of some 350,000 RM to the Nazi party, at a time when both Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had controlling interests in BVHS.

According to Derix, it was starting in 1930 that Heinrich Thyssen sold his shares in the United Steelworks to Fritz while Fritz sold his Dutch participations to Heinrich and as a result Heinrich Thyssen alone was in control of the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart from 1936 onwards.

Specifically, it was a Thyssen entity called Holland-American Investment Corporation (HAIC) which facilitated Fritz Thyssen’s capital flight from Germany. According to Derix, ‘(in the autumn of 1933, the Pelzer Foundation acquired) shares in HAIC from Fritz and therefore his Dutch participations which were pooled therein. This was done in agreement with the German authorities who knew of HAIC. But in 1940, the Germans found out that there was a considerable discrepancy between the 1,5 million Reichsmark of Dutch participations held in HAIC as had been stated and the actual, true value, which turned out to be 100 to 130 million RM.’

This is staggering, as the modern day equivalent is many hundreds of millions of Euros!

Considering that Heinrich’s wife stated that he had taken some 200 million Swiss Francs of his assets into neutral countries, this would mean that, together, the Thyssen brothers possibly succeeded in extracting from Germany the cash equivalent of close to the complete monetary value of the Thyssen enterprises! This is not, however, a conclusion drawn by Simone Derix.

One begins to wonder what there was actually left to confiscate from Fritz Thyssen once he fled Germany at the onset of war in 1939. Derix admits that his flight happened not least because he preferred to complete his self-interested financial transactions from the safety of Switzerland, with the help of Heinrich Blass at Credit Suisse in Zurich.

Although we had managed to unearth several leads, we did not know that the real overall extent of the Thyssen brothers’ capital flight was quite this drastic. For Simone Derix to point this out on behalf of the Thyssen organisation is significant; even if she fails to draw any appropriate conclusions, as they would most likely be at odds with her blue-sky remit.

Truly, and in the words of the far more experienced Harald Wixforth no less: for these ‘mega-capitalist(s) (…) the profit of their enterprises (i.e. their own) always assumed far greater priority than the public’s welfare’.

Needless to say that we await Harald Wixforth’s and Boris Gehlen’s volumes on the Thyssen Bornemisza Group 1919-1932, respectively 1932-1947 with great interest.

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In this readjusted official light, Derix’s admission that Fritz and Amelie Thyssen’s ‘expropriation’ in late 1939 ‘did not directly result in any curtailment of their way of life’ no longer comes as any surprise.

The author also finally reveals for the first time official departure details of Fritz Thyssen’s daughter Anita, her husband Gabor and their son Federico Zichy to Argentina. Apparently they travelled from Genua, sailing on 17.02.1940 on board the ship Conte Grande, bound for Buenos Aires. In order to provide her with befitting financial support, shares in Faminta AG had been transferred to the Übersee-Trust of Vaduz shortly beforehand, of which Anita Zichy-Thyssen, a Hungarian national, was the sole beneficiary.

Derix then states that by April 1940, Fritz Thyssen ‘used his political knowledge on the German Reich and the German armaments industry as an asset that he could use in exchange for support for his personal wishes’. But what exactly were those wishes? The hubristically delusional Fritz obviously thought he could get rid of Hitler as easily as he had helped him get into power. For this, he was prepared to share German state secrets with French Foreign Minister Alexis Leger and Armament Minister Raoul Dautry in Paris. But for Derix, rather than being anything as contentious as active treason or an expression of power, his behaviour is nothing more than an ultra-rich man’s legitimate right to express his elevated lifestyle choices.

While all previous Thyssen biographers, apart from us, have purported that Fritz and Amelie Thyssen suffered tremendous ‘excrutiations’ during their time in concentration camps, Derix confirms our information that they spent most of their German captivity in the comfortable, private sanatorium of Dr Sinn in Berlin-Neubabelsberg. She writes that they were kept there ‘on Hitler’s personal orders’ and ‘on trust’, though Fritz and Heinrich’s personal friend Hermann Göring, during his post-war allied interrogations, stated that their privileged treatment had been down to his initiative. After Neubabelsberg, they were taken to different concentration camps, but Derix is now forced to admit that they enjoyed ‘a special status’ which is retraceable ‘for each and every location’. Which makes one wonder, why German historians previously felt the need to misrepresent these facts.

Derix’s list of Fritz Thyssen’s allied, post-war interrogations is particularly noteworthy. It illustrates the seriousness in which he was considered to have been guilty of (albeit blue collar) war crimes, which should have been punishable by incarceration:

In July 1945 he was taken to Schloss Kransberg near Bad Nauheim, namely to the so-called ‘US/UK Dustbin Centre for scientists and industrialists’. In August, he went on to Kornwestheim before being taken, in September, to the 7th Army Interrogation Center in Augsburg.

Derix also vagely asserts that Fritz Thyssen was interrogated at some point ‘in 1945’ by Robert Kempner, chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials.

Thyssen suffered a collapse and had to go into medical care. He was taken to the US prisoners’ camp of Seckenheim, then to Oberursel. His health deteriorated. From April to November 1946 he went through various hospitals and convalescent homes between Königstein (where he made a surprise recovery) and Oberursel. From November 1946 onwards, he was at the Nuremberg follow-up trials as a witness (one presumes in the cases of Alfried Krupp and Friedrich Flick amongst others), while receiving continuous hospital treatment in Fürth.

On 15.01.1947 Fritz Thyssen was released to join his wife Amelie in Bad Wiessee. This was followed by his German denazification proceedings in Königstein, where he and Amelie lived at the sanatorium of Dr Amelung. In that court, as befitting his insincere character, Fritz Thyssen described himself as penniless.

Meanwhile, according to Derix, Anita Zichy-Thyssen made contact with Edmund Stinnes, who lived in the US and his brother-in-law Gero von Schulze-Gaevernitz, a close collaborator of US-secret service chief Allen Dulles. In the spring of 1947, ‘hoping to facilitate exit permits for her parents to go to America’, she met former US-senator Burton K Wheeler in Argentina, who travelled to Germany in 1948 ‘in order to help Fritz Thyssen out of his denazification problems’. It is certainly an aspect of high-level influence which we documented even more intensively, but which, astonishingly, Johannes Bähr in volume 5 (‘Thyssen in the Adenauer Period’) of the series has totally rejected.

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Another Thyssen who should have had problems with his denazification, but didn’t, was Heinrich’s son Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza.

While his brother Heini Thyssen went to the German school in The Hague, Stephan had boarded at the Lyceum Alpinum in Zuoz, Switzerland, where most pupils were from German speaking Switzerland, The Netherlands and the German Reich, respectively were Germans living abroad. Consequently, the school ran three houses named ‘Teutonia’, ‘Orania’ and ‘Helvetia’. After studying chemistry in Zurich and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became an assistant at a research laboratory of the Shell Petroleum Company in St Louis. He then wrote his dissertation at Budapest University and began working in natural resources deposit research.

Since 1932, whilst living in Hanover, Stephan worked for Seismos GmbH, a prospecting company founded in 1921 by Deutsch-Lux, Phoenix, Hoesch, Rheinstahl and Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks AG. Derix writes: ‘From 1927 Gelsenkirchener, which belonged to the United Steelworks founded in 1926, was the main shareholder, holding 50% of the shares. This means Seismos came under Fritz Thyssen’s part of the family inheritance. (…) In the 1920s, prospecting groups of Seismos worked for oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell or Roxana Petroleum in Texas, Louisiana and Mexico, looking for Oil. (…) Its radius then extended to the Near East, South-Eastern Europe and England’.

In 1937, Seismos was bought for 1.5 million RM by Heinrich Thyssen and incorporated into his Thyssensche Gas- and Waterworks. During the war, according to Derix, the company was ‘involved in the exploitation of raw materials in the (Nazi) occupied territories (…) During their withdrawal from the Eastern Ukraine during the 1943 tank battle of Kursk they had to leave behind much equipment’.

So, of no little importance for a company which so far, in Thyssen-backed histories, had been portrayed, if at all, as being of little consequence.

And not for the secretive Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza either, whose son Heini Thyssen shortly after the war would get his Swiss lawyer Roberto van Aken to lie to the US visa application department thus: ‘From the advent of the Nazis’ rise to power, and particularly from 1938 onwards, Dr Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s (…) corporations were directed with the definitive purpose of minimising the Nazi armament efforts’ (The Thyssen Art Macabre, page 207).

It is, if anything, in that same obfuscating spirit that Derix still conceals the fact that the Seismos company moved its headquarters from Hanover to the Harz mountains during the war, where the Nazis’ weapons of mass destruction program (V-rockets) would come to be based.

Derix reveals that Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza was a member of the Nazi Aircorps and confirms he was a contributing member of the SS. Nazi officials apparently declared Stephan Thyssen’s political stance to be ‘beyond all doubt’. But Derix cannot bring herself to even mention, let alone detail his additional involvement with another company, namely Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG (MABAG) of Nordhausen, also in the Harz.

We had already established that Stephan Thyssen had become chairman of the supervisory board of MABAG in the early years of the war. This company, in conjunction with IG Farben, ‘had built a vast network of caves and tunnels in the Kohnstein mountain near Nordhausen equipped with tanks and pumps (…). From Februar 1942, Armaments and Munitions Minister Albert Speer recommended all possible support for the development of rockets. This represented massively ambitious armaments manufacturing plans and a great deal more work for MABAG, who, under the control of the Wehrmacht, were now also producing turbo fuel pumps for V-rockets’ (The Thyssen Art Macabre, page 160).

We had speculated that Stephan’s position of chairman of MABAG must have been due to a major investment made by his father Heinrich. While Simone Derix entirely fails to address any aspects of this topic, the lawyer and historian Frank Baranowski has unearthed a highly important document and explains on his website:

‘In 1940, the Deutsche Petroleum Konzern, following a change in their management, divested itself of all its works which did not fit into their framework of petroleum and coal extraction, including MABAG. Deutsche Bank negotiated the transfer of the share capital of 1 million Reichsmark into various hands. The majority was acquired by the solicitor and notary Paul Langkopf of Hanover (590,000 RM), which was most likely done on the orders of a client who wished to remain anonymous. Smaller share parcels were held by the Deutsche Bank in Leipzig (158,000 RM) and in Nordhausen (14,000 RM) as well as by Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza in Hanover (50,000 RM). On 14.09.1940 MABAG elected its new supervisory board: Director Schirner, Paul Langkopf, Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Leipzig bank director Gustav Köllmann. (MABAG came to see itself as a company entirely geared to the production of armaments, …..including grenades, grenade launchers …….and turbo pumps for the A4-rockets)’.

It just so happens that Paul Langkopf was a professional whose services had been engaged by various members of the Thyssen family over the years. It can be presumed with near certainty that the ‘anonymous’ shareholder was Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The secrecy of the transaction fits his style completely. And while Baranowski’s and our views on the use of forced labour by MABAG differ, his evidence is another indication towards the fact that Heinrich was definitely 100% pro-Nazi during the war, even while he was apparently retiring from the world, far away in his Swiss safehaven, pretending to have nothing to do with anything.

The great Simone Derix, meanwhile, prefers to concentrate on relatively trivial revelations such as the fact that Stephan’s mother Margit also lived in Switzerland with her second husband, the ‘germanophile’, ‘antisemitic’ Janos Wettstein von Westersheimb, who lost his job at the Hungarian embassy in Berne when the war turned in 1943. Apparently, she lobbied ‘for Stephan to be allowed out of Germany (after the war) via Heinrich Rothmund, who during the war had been responsible in large parts for the anti-Jewish asylum policies of Switzerland’.

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Finally Simone Derix covers two other important topics in her book – as did we, albeit to a different degree -; namely: 1.) The Thyssens’ pre-war London gold deposits and their fate during, respectively after the war and 2.) the removal of the Thyssens’ and Dutch royals’ share certificates from the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam to the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin during the war, and their return to Rotterdam after the war, through an illegal act by a Dutch Military Mission, code named ‘Operation Juliana’. We will analyse the coverage of those topics more adequately in our reviews of Jan Schleusener’s, Harald Wixforth’s and Boris Gehlen’s forthcoming volumes.

In both matters, members and associates of the Thyssen family played questionable roles, using their high-level (diplomatic and other) positions, to help the Thyssens play off one host nation against another, in their pursuit of limitless personal advantage. Simone Derix only takes her critical analysis as far as to say that these interferences allowed smaller states such as The Netherlands or Switzerland to pressurise victorious powers of the second world war in order to safeguard their own national interests in the Thyssens’ fortune.

While our book has been called a possible ‘handbook for revolution’, Derix describes hers as ‘a model showing the way concerning the central, investigative strands for a history of the infrastructures of wealth’. She evokes the driving forces of ‘jealousy’ à la Ralf Dahrendorf, by the general public towards the super-rich, while ignoring the concept of ‘anger’ at their selfish sense of perennial legal immunity, as described by many such as Tom Wohlfahrt.

Simone Derix’s writing style is very clear and during her book presentation at the Historisches Kolleg in Munich, the suave voice of the specially engaged Bavarian Radio reader made the passages sound like high literature, marinated in integrity. However, this academic, who was introduced to the audience by Professor Margit Szöllösi-Janze as ‘elite researcher’, definitely arrogates to herself a greater authority in broadcasting historical judgements than she is currently entitled to.

At the subsequent podium conversation with the historian and journalist Dr Joachim Käppner of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Derix rejected the concepts of power and of guilt unequivocally on behalf of the Thyssen family. In doing so, however, she had to be coaxed by Käppner repeatedly to focus her extremely hesitant flow of answers, which gave every impression, nevertheless, of having been pre-agreed.

Let’s hope Simone Derix does not remain the only contributor of the series to formulate answers to these important questions – But with more honesty, hopefully, if not greater independence from the questionable role of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Fritz Thyssen and Hermann Göring in Essen, copyright Stiftung Ruhr Museum Essen, Fotoarchiv

Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and Hermann Göring at the German Derby, 1936, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Batthyany-Clan, ca. 1930s, third from left Ivan Batthyany, husband of Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Hendrik J. Kouwenhoven, general representative of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, copyright Stadsarchief Rotterdam

Three Thyssen brothers in harmony: from left Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, August Thyssen Junior, Fritz Thyssen, Villa Favorita, Lugano, September 1938, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

 

Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza with his wife Ingeborg, Hanover, ca. 1940s (Foto Alice Prestel-Hofmann, Hanover), copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, Year End Report 1929, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, Supervisory Board and Management Board 1929, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, Bank Counters, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, 1929, Reception Room, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, 1929, Steel Vaults, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

But why?

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

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

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

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

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

So why now? And why in Spain?

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

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

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

So why Spain?

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

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

And why now?

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

 

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Simone Derix Shrouds Thyssen Guilt – Rechnitz Revisited II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Derix alleges this was instead done for tax reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None of this is mentioned by Simone Derix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

Yet Derix fails to comment critically on this important issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Why do they not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Footnote: The following statements were made in the past:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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The 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“ (www.buchimpressionen.de), 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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