Posts Tagged ‘Georg Thyssen’

The Thyssen Art of Tax Avoidance . . . and Philanthropic Feudalism

During our research for ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, we became witnesses to the art of what is now being called ‘aggressive’ tax avoidance, as a result of our participation in a lengthy masterclass with one of the world’s leading exponents. It was Heini Thyssen himself who admitted to us that his primary mission in life had not been the collecting of art or the maintenance of an industrial fortune, but the avoidance of paying tax. Indeed on page 319 of our book we quoted his astonishingly frank statement word for word: ‘I am a tax evader by profession. If you wanted to be correct, I should be in jail’.

The most intensive part of this masterclass came when Heini chose to take his son Heini Junior (Georg Thyssen) to court, in order to break up a Bermudan trust and regain control of the family fortune. This was not only a structure that had been designed to make such disassembly as difficult as possible and thus protect the fortune from alimony claims, irresponsible siblings and, in Heini’s case, his own extravagance, but it was also meant to minimise its exposure to tax liabilities.

I was astonished that, considering the financial importance of this process to the Thyssen-Bornemiszas, the cost of which, one way or another, they would all be contributing to, not one member of the family displayed any interest in visiting the island, to see if their legal and financial representatives were handling the task with due diligence; a process that would eventually result in a legal bill of some $150,000,000. So I offered to go on their behalf, in the knowledge that the very rich rarely do anything for themselves, even collect art; preferring to have others do things on their behalf.

It was in Bermuda that Caroline and I got to know Heini’s barristers, Queen’s Counsellors Michael Crystal and Robert Ham and their local solicitors, Appleby Spurling & Kempe; experts in tax efficient, financial logistics – and in whose gardens we would complete each day’s activities with refreshing bottles of chilled champagne. Then, more recently, I was reminded once again of their existence when a vast cache of their highly privileged clients’ records were mysteriously leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from the offices of what had now been rebranded as simply Appleby. This resulted in a spectacular media exposure which has come to be known as the ‘Paradise Papers’.

Around the same time that this financial pasta was beginning to slide off the edge of the plate, the less financially privileged were starting to realise just how iniquitous the super rich really can be. There is increasingly a perceived imbalance reminiscent of feudal conditions, which seem to be favoured not least by those whose marriage has led them to co-opt scions of defunct aristocratic dynasties. The highly paid advisors, meanwhile, had started putting strategies into place in order to meet the PR-challenges of the forced increase in transparency now being applied to offshore financial instruments and their wealthy users.

With this backdrop, Heini Thyssen’s daughter, ’The Archduchess’ Francesca von Habsburg, whose name featured prominently in the ‘Paradise Papers’, wasted no time in announcing to the world her own seemingly admirable ‘mission statement’. This was to use part of her estimated $350,000,000 personal fortune, – inherited from her father, some of which was provided by the Spanish tax payers, when he sold them half his art collection – to save the world’s oceans from pollution.

She also began referring to herself as an ‘executive producer’ and ‘agent of change’.

Soon her London-based organisation TBA21-Academy was said to be ‘curating a top level conference at the Bonn Art Museum’ (a publicly funded organisation!) at the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But in truth this was but a one-day coming together of some of the privileged recipients of her ‘altruism’.

In order to assist her in such an intellectually complex activity, she had recruited the services of a major Broadway-based public relations organisation called Resnicow and Associates, which specialises in ‘online strategy’, ‘core missions’ and ‘sponsorship“; though considering her exceptional wealth one would not have thought that Francesca Habsburg-Thyssen needed the latter. But I know from my own experience that she has invariably asked others to contribute financially to her various socio-cultural activities over the years. And this has also included those in control of public funds.

Meanwhile, I noticed that she still had her British Virgin Islands-based Fragonard art sub-trust in place, into which her inherited Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection share had been placed in 1993 and which was said to have engendered a presumably Cayman Islands-based trust with the assistance of Appleby Trust Cayman Limited in 2008. Then there is the Alligator Head Foundation Jamaica. She also continues to enjoy the amenities of Thyssen Bornemisza Group (TBG) AG Zurich, TBG Holdings Limited Bermuda, Favorita Investment Limited Malta and other such tax-efficient facilities.

The apple seemed not to have fallen far from the tree and her father’s influence possibly continued to affect Francesca Thyssen’s exposure – or not, as the case may be – to tax in Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Jamaica or anywhere else she may see fit to lay her head.

And it looks as if even a supra-national entity such as the United Nations may be ‘endorsing’ her enterprise in philanthropic feudalism, which would be viewed with a distinct lack of sympathy by polemicists, such as myself and my collaborator. Indeed the latter told me: ‘Aggressively avoiding the payment of tax can hardly be considered helpful to governmental agencies who are responsible for the protection of the environment. Using tax payers’ money to fund one’s own, indulgent self-promotion is even less so’.

But presumably Resnicow is intending to garner sufficient public enthusiasm for Francesca Habsburg’s cultural endeavours in the months ahead to successfully persuade those who care, that should she indeed be aggressively minimising her exposure to the payment of tax, she will nevertheless be perceived as a true philanthropist, acting only in the public’s cultural and environmental interests.

And Resnicow will surely be able to help with disaster management advice, if German academia and the media is ever obliged to accept the truth of our account of where Francesca Thyssen’s fortune comes from. Or if she is held accountable for fulfilling her promise of assisting in locating the graves of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave labourers put to death by the SS ‘guests’ of her Aunt Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in the grounds of the family’s Rechnitz castle in 1945.

Meanwhile, one should perhaps be reminded that the last time there was a Thyssen financial interest on Broadway was during the Second World War, when it was the location of the Thyssen family’s Union Banking Corporation in which they and, so it was rumoured, a number of prominent Nazi party members kept a few million emergency dollars, and Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W Bush, was a director!


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

Die Unerlässlichkeit der “Impertinenz” oder Eine Erläuterung an eine Berliner Buch-Bloggerin über Sacha Batthyany und die Thyssen-Bornemiszas (von Caroline D Schmitz)

Die Aggressivität der Reaktion vieler deutsch-sprachiger Kommentatoren auf unseren Artikel im Feuilleton der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung im Jahr 2007, „Die Gastgeberin der Hölle“ (im Britischen Independent unter dem Titel „The Killer Countess“ erschienen), hat mich immer zutiefst schockiert. Hier war die mächtige Thyssen-Dynastie, die stets ihre überragende Beteiligung am nationalsozialistischen Regime nicht nur verschwieg, sondern vielmehr durch die Verbreitung irreführender Berichte pro-aktiv leugnen ließ. Und da waren wir, ein englischer Autor und eine deutsche Investigatorin, die der Zufall 1995 in England zusammengebracht hatte, und die durch die Weitsicht weniger herausragender Persönlichkeiten, nämlich Steven Bentinck, Heini Thyssen, Naim Attallah, George Weidenfeld, Frank Schirrmacher und Ernst Gerlach, in die glückliche Lage versetzt wurden, den alles bestimmenden Narrativ des unternehmerisch-akademisch-medialen Establishments in Sachen Thyssen zu durchbrechen und die Wahrheit vor der endgültigen Verschüttung zu bewahren.

Wir waren von Anfang an „impertinent“ im ursprünglichen Sinne des Wortes, nämlich „nicht (zum Establishment) dazu gehörig“, und unsere Recherche fand stets an Original-Schauplätzen statt. Vom „Rechnitz-Massaker“ erfuhren wir nicht im Internet, sondern vor Ort von Ortsansässigen. Zum Zeitpunkt des Erscheinens unseres FAZ-Artikels wussten wir nichts von Eduard Erne, der bereits 1994 einen Dokumentarfilm über das Geschehen mit dem Titel “Totschweigen” gedreht hatte (und der zur Zeit beim Schweizer Fernsehen arbeitet) und auch nichts von Paul Gulda, der 1991 den Verein Refugius (Rechnitzer Flüchtlings- und Gedenkinitiative) ins Leben rief. Als wir beide dann 2008 beim Rechnitz-Symposium im Burgenländischen Landesmuseum in Eisenstadt trafen, verhielten auch sie sich uns gegenüber sehr ablehnend, was wir uns nur damit erklären konnten, dass sie vielleicht glaubten, von uns bewusst übergangen worden zu sein. Dies war nicht der Fall und es war vielmehr so, dass sie nunmehr durch unsere Arbeit einem viel breiteren Publikum bekannt waren als vordem. Warum also attackierten sie uns und nahmen die Thyssens und Batthyanys in Schutz, die ihre Arbeit bislang ganz offensichtlich abgelehnt oder ignoriert hatten?

Ein Jahrzehnt später nun erscheint mit „Und was hat das mit mir zu tun?“ eine umfangreiche Stellungnahme in Buchform seitens eines Mitglieds der Dynastie, die unter großem Aufwand beworben wird und international bis nach Israel und Nordamerika verbreitet werden soll. In Großbritannien soll das Buch (Übersetzerin: Anthea Bell) im März 2017 unter dem Titel “A Crime in the Family” (i.e. „Ein Verbrechen in der Familie“) bei Quercus erscheinen, ein Titel, der auffallend an den Untertitel „Schande und Skandale in der Familie“, der englischen Ausgabe unseres Thyssen-Buchs „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ erinnert, der auf einer Aussage Heini Thyssens uns gegenüber beruhte.

In seiner Pressearbeit gibt Sacha Batthyany serien-mäßig an, „durch Zufall“ auf die negativen Seiten seiner Familiengeschichte, und speziell auf das Rechnitz-Massaker, gestoßen zu sein. Alles sei „ein Geheimnis“ gewesen, bis er eines Tages angefangen habe, Dinge zu untersuchen, von denen er vordem überhaupt gar nichts gewusst habe, da er in der „wattierten“ Schweiz aufgewachsen sei, wo man z.B. vom Zweiten Weltkrieg quasi überhaupt nichts wisse… Dies von einem Journalisten, dessen Familie zum Teil durch die von der Schweiz aus gesteuerten Kriegsprofite der Thyssens finanziert wurde, der ein Mitglied einer der einflussreichsten europäischen (ursprünglich österreichisch-ungarischen) Dynastien ist, unter anderem in Madrid studiert hat, viele Jahre für große internationale Tageszeitungen gearbeitet hat (z.B. für die Neue Zürcher Zeitung), und der einen Großteil seiner Jugend nicht in Zurich, sondern in Salzburg verbracht hat, obwohl er diese Tatsache immer nur dann exklusiv preis gibt, wenn er gerade einmal dort oder in Wien spricht (bis ins Burgenländische, nach Rechnitz oder Eisenstadt, hat er es mit seiner Pressearbeit unseres Wissens nach noch nicht geschafft – der Rechnitzer Bürgermeister, Engelbert Kenyeri, ist im Übrigen vom Buch des Herrn Batthyany nicht gerade sehr angetan, wie es scheint).

Selbst die FAZ (Sandra Kegel), die sich bei ihrer ursprünglichen Berichterstattung gegen massive Anfeindungen unter anderem durch die Neue Zürcher Zeitung zur Wehr setzen musste, und ohne die eine deutschsprachige Version unseres Buches nicht zur Verfügung stünde, unterschlug nun unseren Anstoß und lobte, wie so viele andere, durch die Werbung des Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlags Animierte, das Batthyanysche Werk als selbstlosen Akt eigenmotivierter Aufrichtigkeit. Dabei gäbe es sein Buch gar nicht, wäre die FAZ damals nicht so mutig gewesen, unsere „Impertinenz“ zu erlauben und das Risiko der ernsthaften Rufschädigung durch ihre Media-Kontrahenten einzugehen.

Ende Mai entschied sich die Berliner Buch-Bloggerin „Devona“ (, nach 75 Roman-Rezensionen zum ersten Mal ein Sach-Hörbuch zu kommentieren, wobei ihre Wahl auf „Und was hat das mit mir zu tun?“ fiel. Dabei tätigte sie Äusserungen über die Rolle der Margit Batthyany geborene Thyssen-Bornemisza im Rechnitz-Massaker, die ihr in Anbetracht ihres rudimentären Wissensstands zum Thema nicht zustanden. Unter anderem beschrieb sie Margit’s Deckung zweier Haupttäter nach dem Krieg als bloße „Vermutung“. Daraufhin wiesen wir sie auf die Unrichtigkeit und grobe Fatalität ihrer Äusserung hin. Selbst die im Ausmaß völlig unzulängliche Kommentierung des Rechnitz-Massakers auf der offiziellen Webseite der Familie Batthyany räumt seit wenigen Jahren ein, dass diese Deckung geschah, wieso sollte also eine anonyme, aber eindeutig Familien-fremde Person etwas Anderes verbreiten?

Devona reagierte innerhalb kürzester Zeit höchst verärgert auf den Inhalt unserer kritischen Analyse. Danach revidierte sie ihre Reaktion. Jetzt störte sie nicht mehr so sehr der Inhalt unserer Kritik, als viel mehr unsere angeblich „impertinente“ Art. Und dann tat die Autorin von „Buchimpressionen“ etwas ganz Sonderbares, indem sie zunächst den deutschen Titel unseres Buches (“Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos”) von ihrer Platform eliminierte, mit dem wir unsere Stellungnahme abgeschlossen hatten, uns danach vorwarf, unsere Arbeit nicht in der deutschen Sprache zugänglich gemacht zu haben, und, als sie herausfand dass unser Buch doch seit 2008 in Deutschland veröffentlicht ist, sich schließlich weigerte, dies anzuerkennen, weil „bis zum heutigen Tag bei Wikipedia nicht auf eine deutsche Version verwiesen wird“.

Die Bloggerin schrieb nun, sie „werde nicht hinter jedem Kommentator bis ans Ende des Internets her recherchieren“. Dabei hatte sie es in Wirklichkeit nicht weiter als bis zur ersten Haltestelle geschafft. Unser Buch existiert auf deutsch, aber für Devona existierte es nicht auf deutsch, weil es nicht auf Wikipedia stand, dass es auf deutsch existiert. Dies war so bezeichnend für die Weigerung von Deutschsprachigen, sich mit dem sachlichen Inhalt unseres Buches auseinander zu setzen. War diese Informations-Verarbeitende nur zu faul oder wollte sie von der Richtigstellung gar nichts wissen? Devona’s Äusserungen waren in ihrer ungefilterten Emotionalität zutiefst aufschlussreich. Auch sprach sie plötzlich nur noch „Herrn Litchfield“ an, nicht mehr mich, als ob das Buch allein Produkt eines Engländers sei und nicht eine englisch-deutsche Koproduktion.

Wikipedia ist unserer Ansicht nach problematisch, unter anderem deshalb, weil die FAZ 2007 bei der Aufarbeitung unseres Artikels aus dem Englischen ins Deutsche, unter anderem nach Gesprächen mit dem überheblichen Leiter des ThyssenKrupp Konzern-Archivs, Professor Manfred Rasch, und nach Überprüfung relevanter Wikipedia-Seiten, einige Änderungen an unserem Text vornahm. Die wichtigste dieser Änderungen ist diese: Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza hat sich nicht 1932, also ein Jahr vor Hitler’s Machtergreifung endgültig in der Schweiz nieder gelassen sondern erst 1938, wie wir bei unseren Nachforschungen herausgefunden haben. Im Independent stand 1938. In der FAZ steht 1932. Menschen mit adequatem historischen Sachverstand wissen, was das bedeutet und die Rollen im Zweiten Weltkrieg, sowohl des Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza als auch der Schweiz, sind in unserem Buch ausführlich beschrieben. Unerfahrenen Menschen sei nur so viel gesagt: es ist ein Umtausch, der winzig erscheinen mag, der in seiner Bedeutung aber zugleich fundamental und monumental ist.

Devona empfand unsere Richtigstellung ihres Blogeintrags als „unverschämt“, obwohl sie nicht mehr war als strikt. Und sie weigerte sich emphatisch, sich gebührend mit der Sache auseinander zu setzen. Das „Unverschämte“ in dieser Angelegenheit, aber, liegt nicht bei uns. Das „Unverschämte“, das „nicht zur Menschlichkeit dazu gehörige“ liegt in den Verbrechen, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs im Namen des deutschen Volkes geschahen. Die Impertinenz liegt in der Tatsache, dass die Thyssens (die in die Batthyany-Dynastie eingeheiratet und Teile dieser finanziert haben) dem anti-demokratischen, extremst menschenverachtenden Nazi-Regime Beihilfe geleistet haben, und dass sie Rahmenbedingungen geschaffen haben, in denen die monströsen Verbrechen vor allem gegen die Juden, aber auch die gegen andere Völker, inklusive denen gegen das deutsche Volk und seine Ehre, stattfinden konnten. Es ist unverschämt, dass sie 70 Jahre lang geschwiegen, ihre Rolle verleugnet und ihre Taten glorifiziert haben. Es ist impertinent, kurzum, dass sie die Allgemeinheit hinters Licht geführt haben und dies in großen Teilen auch weiterhin tun. Es war nur auf Grund dieser Verhaltensweise, dass diese Vermutung der Unschuld der Margit Batthyany-Thyssen durch diese Buch-Bloggerin zu diesem Zeitpunkt immer noch möglich war.

Die betreffenden Familien genießen eine komfortable Vormachtstellung in der Gesellschaft, im öffentlichen Diskurs und „Ansehen“, begründet auf ihrer Zugehörigkeit sowohl zur Welt des wirtschaftlichen Privilegs als auch zur Aristokratie, die allerdings sowohl in Deutschland als auch in Österreich längst obsolet ist und in einer Demokratie nur toleriert werden kann, wenn sie sich einwandfrei demokratisch verhält. Eine entscheidende Rolle spielt auch, dass thyssenkrupp heute noch einer der größten deutschen Arbeitgeber ist, und dass die deutsche Kohle- und Stahlindustrie, die unter anderen das Land nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg vor dem totalen Kollaps rettete (wie Herbert Grönemeyer in „Bochum“ singt: „Dein Grubengold hat uns wieder hoch geholt“), nach 1945 fatalerweise von den Thyssens weiter beherrscht werden durfte.

Im erz-konservativen Österreich nehmen die Batthyanys (als deren Teil Sacha Batthyany sich eindeutig sieht und gesehen wirrd, da er sich auf ihrer Homepage in ihrer Mitte abbilden lässt und von ihnen abgebildet wird – hintere Reihe zweiter von rechts, im großen Gruppenfoto der Mitglieder der jüngeren Generation) weiterhin eine Sonderstellung ein, die sich aus ihrer langen feudalen Geschichte herleitet (der gegenwärtige Familienchef Fürst Ladislaus Pascal Batthyany-Strattmann, ist päpstlicher Ehrenkämmerer!…).

Im Angesicht dieser Vormachtstellung begnügt sich die Allgemeinheit „pertinent“ damit, in ihrer untergeordneten Rolle als Empfänger Thyssenscher und Batthyanyscher Misinformation zu verharren. Ein Mitglied der Dynastie, Sacha Batthyany, hat nunmehr ein Buch geschrieben, das vorgibt, eine ehrliche Auseinandersetzung mit der Vergangenheit zu sein. Aber nicht jeder scheint überzeugt zu sein, dass es das wirklich ist (siehe v.a. Thomas Hummitzsch in “Der Freitag”, aber auch Michael André auf Getidan, und sogar Luzia Braun, Blaues Sofa, Leipziger Buchmesse).

Die meisten Kommentatoren des Rechnitz-Massakers geben an, sich einig zu sein, dass die Gräber der Opfer gefunden werden müssen. Doch während Ortsansässige behauptet haben, zu wissen, wo sich die Gräber befinden und die ursprünglichen russischen Grabungen die Gräber genau lokalisiert hatten, scheint es so, dass nicht alle einflussreicheren Mitglieder der Gemeinschaft, sowohl in der Vergangenheit wie auch in der Gegenwart, gleichsam bereit sind, zu solch einer Transparenz bei zu tragen.

Während es wie eine Utopie anmutet, darauf zu hoffen, dass sich dies irgendwann ändert, so haben sich die Zeiten seit 2007, als unser Buch erstmals erschien, doch rapide gewandelt. thyssenkrupp ist ein kranker Koloss, dessen Name schon bald nach einer Übernahme von Teilen oder insgesamt in dieser Form vielleicht keinen Bestand mehr haben könnte. Und die deutsche Rechtsprechung in Sachen Strafverfolgung der Nazi-Verbrechen geht nicht mehr automatisch von der Unschuldsvermutung aus, wenn eine aktive Tötungsbeteiligung nicht nachgewiesen werden kann. Eine Präsenz und Rolle im übergreifenden Verbrechen genügt, wobei das Verwaltungsbüro fernab der Gaskammer nah genug ist, um den unerlässlichen Beitrag zur Funktionsfähigkeit des Tötungsapparats nachweisen zu können. Genauso verhält es sich im Fall Rechnitz mit dem, durch die SS requirierten aber weiterhin Thyssen-finanzierten Schloss, und der Rechnitzer Mordgrube der Nacht vom 24. auf den 25. März 1945.

Immer noch werden vor allem die kleinen Fische vors Gericht gezogen, Menschen wie John Demjanjuk, Oskar Gröning und Reinhold Hanning. Doch die Uhr der historischen Aufrichtigkeit tickt unablässig auch für die Großen, die immer noch nicht freiwillig ihre Vergangenheit vollumfänglich aufarbeiten. Diejenigen Thyssens und Batthyanys, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs eine unrühmliche Rolle spielten, sind tot. Es ist die demokratische Pflicht ihrer Nachfahren, das Netz der Misinformation zu durchbrechen und nicht nur die positiven Seiten ihrer Geschichte hervor zu heben, sondern sich auch den negativen zu stellen. Nur durch ihr Geständnis können aus diesem Teil der Geschichte die letzten Lehren gezogen werden und eine langfristige Heilung und Versöhnung geschehen.

Genau das aber scheinen die Thyssen-Bornemiszas und Batthyanys nicht zu wollen, möglicherweise weil eine freie, aufgeklärte, demokratische Öffentlichkeit nur beherrscht werden kann, wenn man sie manipuliert, verunsichert und entzweit. Die Geschichte des Holocaust könnte längst aufgearbeitet worden sein, wenn diese Familien sich nicht ihrer Verantwortung entzogen hätten. Dem deutschen Volk bliebe die Weiterführung des Alptraums der tröpfchenweisen Aufarbeitung erspart, die so unendlich zermürbend und im Endeffekt kontraproduktiv ist, wenn diese Familien endlich reinen Wein einschenkten und unser Buch als korrekte, unabhängige, historische Aufzeichnung akzeptierten.

Die Namen Thyssen und Batthyany sind in den Urseelen der Deutschen und Österreicher unabdingbar mit dem Gefühl von Stolz und Ehre verbunden, aber diese Familien (die Thyssen-Bornemiszas über ihren Kopf Georg Thyssen, Kuratoriumsmitglied der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung und Unterstützer der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“, die bisher das Rechnitz-Massaker überhaupt nicht erwähnt, und die Batthyanys über ihren Kopf Graf Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattmann, Unterstützer der Bände „Die Familie Batthyany. Ein österreichisch-ungarisches Magnatengeschlecht vom Ende des Mittelalters bis zur Gegenwart“, der jegliche Beteiligung Margit Batthyany-Thyssens am Rechnitz Massaker glattweg bestreitet!), statt sich ehrenvoll zu verhalten, vermeiden eine unabhängige Untersuchung und kontrollieren ihre Zusammenarbeit in autorisierten Veröffentlichungen der Geschichtsschreibung.

Ihre Abschirmung führt dazu, dass selbst Deutsche und Österreicher, die anti-Nazi sind, oder es zumindest vorgeben, das ganze Ausmaß des Holocaust nicht erkennen können und deshalb die echte Bandbreite der Nazi-Verbrechen, wie z.B. im Fall des Rechnitz-Massakers, unfreiwillig decken, ein Vorgang, der letztendlich wie eine stillschweigende Billigung erscheinen kann.

Im Falle der Deutschen und Österreicher ist dies natürlich besonders verheerend. Aber diese Art von Ausweichmanöver muss auch gerade für Bürger angeblich „neutraler“ Länder wie der Schweiz, und insbesondere für Sacha Batthyany, absolut kontraindiziert sein. Auch ist die Anzahl der in seinem Buch und seiner Pressearbeit enthaltenen Äusserungen, die beleidigend sind, wie z.B.: „Mirta und Marga hatten den Holocaust, an den sie sich klammerten – was hatte ich?“, vollkommen inakzeptabel.

So lange Sacha Batthyany für die fragwürdige Aufrichtigkeit seiner Enthüllungen weiterhin Sympathie einfordert statt Schuld zu bekennen, so lange werden wir in dieser Sache beharrlich sein. Das ist keine „Impertinenz“, sondern unsere heilige Pflicht.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freiburg im Breisgau following a British bombing raid, November 1944

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Warum ich mich über die Thyssens ärgere (von Caroline D Schmitz)

Als ich 1992 Deutschland verließ und nach England zog hatte mein Vaterland gerade erst begonnen, den Kalten Krieg, während dessen die Aufarbeitung der Nazi Vergangenheit zum Erliegen kam, hinter sich zu lassen. In England hatte ich die unfassbare Gelegenheit mit David Litchfield an einer Biographie der Thyssen Familie zu arbeiten, für deren Vervollständigung und Publikation in England, Spanien und Deutschland wir 14 Jahre benötigten.

Jetzt bin ich zurück in Deutschland und freue mich zu sehen, dass ein neuer Wind in Sachen Aufarbeitung weht. Aber dem stehen die Hinterfragten teils immer noch mit erheblichem Widerstand entgegen. Dabei ist die Zeit nunmehr überreif für die Abkömmlinge derer, die damals in verantwortlichen Positionen waren, zu sagen „Ja, was passierte war schrecklich, und unsere Familien geben zu, was genau ihre Rolle dabei war und wir bekennen, dass es uns leid tut“.

Statt dessen geben speziell die Thyssens immer noch große Summen aus, um geklitterte Versionen ihrer Geschichte zu produzieren. Das ist besonders schmerzhaft für Leute wie mich, da meine Familienmitglieder Soldaten in Hitler`s Krieg waren, getötet wurden oder verletzt, und sie zu keinem Zeitpunkt auch nur die geringste Unterstützung erhielten, um mit ihren höchst traumatischen Kriegserlebnissen zu Rande zu kommen. Das ist eine Tragödie, die einen überwältigenden Langzeiteffekt auf die deutsche Gesellschaft hat. Und darum ärgere ich mich so über das Verhalten der Thyssens.

Heini Thyssen`s Witwe, Carmen Cervera, hat dieses Jahr in Spanien seine „Memoiren“ veröffentlicht. Das Meiste davon ist theatralischer Unfug, aber das Buch enthält auch einige, unbeabsichtigte interessante Informationen, die wir im neuen Jahr auf dieser Webseite vorstellen werden. Besonders konstrastieren werden wir dieses „Werk“ mit einem anderen, größeren Thyssen Weisswasch-Projekt, welches 2014 die ersten Früchte getragen hat.

Als unser Manuskript 2006 zirkulierte gründete Heini`s Sohn Georg Thyssen die „Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen“ und schloss sich später mit der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung und dem ThyssenKrupp Archiv unter Manfred Rasch zusammen. Sie beauftragten über ein Dutzend Akademiker unter der Leitung von Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Günther Schulz und Hans Günter Hockerts, um eine Reihe von Büchern über „Die Thyssens im 20. Jahrhundert“ zu schreiben. Bisher sind zwei Bände veröffentlicht worden: „Die Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus“ von Alexander Donges und „Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen“ von Thomas Urban. Ein dritter Band, “Die Thyssens als Kunstsammler” von Johannes Gramlich, soll im März 2015 erscheinen und danach mindestens fünf weitere Bände.

Obwohl diese Bücher in der Tat einige Eingeständnisse enthalten, so ist der überwiegende Tenor jedoch, dass eine direkte Verantwortung der Thyssens weiterhin nicht akzeptiert wird. Die verschleiernden Verschachtelungen der Missionsaussage können der Zusammenfassung einer Tagung entnommen werden, die zu diesem Projekt im Juni 2014 in der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften stattfand.

In den kommenden Monaten und Jahren werden wir, basierend auf unseren Forschungen und im Interesse der historischen Wahrheitsfindung, unseren Lesern auf dieser Webseite eine detaillierte, kritische Analyse dieser Thyssen-finanzierten „Aufarbeitung“ zur Verfügung stellen.

Freiburg im Breisgau nach einem britischen Bombenangriff, November 1944

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The Batthyany Conspiracy: All Innocent On The Eastern Front

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

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

‘The Terrible Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was right in the middle of it all.

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

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

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

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

Why was Margit a monster?

“Those are old stories”.

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

Where are the bodies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Is this an interrogation?”

I’m only asking.

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

You smoke too much.

“How is the little one?”

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

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


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

Archives in Russia

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

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

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

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

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

Margit’s last evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t like that behaviour either”.

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

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

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

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

“And what do you want?”

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

From Hell to Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prefered horses to children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Note DL: Still avoiding mentioning Ivy?).

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

“And what do you tell them?”

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

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

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

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

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

Flight to South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And indifference.

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

“No, I don’t think so”.

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

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

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

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

I don’t know yet.

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

He who remains silent makes himself guilty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Translation (copyright Caroline Schmitz)

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen

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