Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 6: ‘Two Burghers’ Lives in the Public Eye: The Brothers Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’, by Felix de Taillez, published by Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn, 2017

 

The official Second World War history put out by the Thyssen complex has always been that Fritz Thyssen supported the Nazis for a while but, being against war, fled Germany only to be recaptured and locked up in a concentration camp. Of his brother Heinrich it was said he was a Hungarian living in Switzerland with no connection to either Germany or the Nazis. When we revealed in our book ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ (2007) that this was far from the truth, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation launched an academic response, which this book forms part of. It is mostly concerned with the press coverage of the Thyssens and, at 546 pages, is the longest in the series, which is why this review runs to 20 pages. The book continues the general theme that, while the various authors are revealing information contradicting the old Thyssen myths, overall these myths are nonetheless kept very much alive.

 

As we will see, Felix de Taillez would qualify this as being ‘entirely understandable’, since the Thyssens and the Thyssen company had ‘a reputation to defend’. (In 1997 Thyssen AG merged with Krupp AG to become thyssenkrupp, which is currently in major economic turmoil). De Taillez’s favourite tool in avoiding the making of justified criticism is to say that something is „remarkable“. He uses the term exceedingly frequently throughout the book, which comes across as highly staged. It is a vague term not expected with such high frequency in an academic work. De Taillez seems to use it to create an atmosphere of ‘spin’ which can beguile people with no previous knowledge of the subject matter. It harbours the danger of turning his otherwise excellent work of history into one of public relations.

 

To the general public, De Taillez pulls off these two faces particularly well and it comes as no surprise that he has landed a prestigious job as an advisor – presumably on German history – at the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, which oversees the training of the officers corps. But there are inconsistencies in his book presentation and the fact his theories now seem to feed into the country’s state-sponsored history make these particularly concerning. His official online presence at the Ludwig Maximillian University promises:

 

‘(This project) will interpret the brothers Fritz and Heinrich Thyssens as a UNIT OF ALMOST COMPLEMENTARY OPPOSITE NUMBERS, BECAUSE THE APPARENTLY APOLITICAL HEINRICH ACTED, EVEN THOUGH IN A CONCEALED MANNER, AT LEAST AS LASTINGLY, IN POLITICAL TERMS, AS FRITZ. Visibility, respectively invisibility’ appears, (from this perspective), as A ‘COORDINATED STRATEGY OF POLITICAL ACTION’.

 

This statement appears to promise a new honesty and yet leaves one puzzled, as it does not appear in the book itself and is not, in fact, representative of the elaborations in the book. There, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s absence in the media is still principally explained by his involvement in a court case in London as a young man, in which he is said to have made such bad experiences with the press, that he subsequently – with his marriage in 1906 – retreated completely from public (especially German!) life, to be an apolitical, Hungarian nobleman.

 

This is also the version which family members have propagated ever since. Again recently Francesca Habsburg née Thyssen-Bornemisza, let herself be fêted in the pages of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine as pretender to the Austrian throne and ‘grand-daughter of a Hungarian Baron’. Which is certainly more pleasant than having to expose Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza correctly as a German commoner, weapons manufacturer and Nazi banker; especially when one suns oneself, as Habsburg-Thyssen does, in the beautiful appearance of the expensive art the family bought, at least in part, with the profits of these reprehensible activities.

 

Even the title chosen by Felix de Taillez is noticeably misleading, as it suggests that both brothers were anchored equally and intentionally, and as bourgeois members of society, within the public sphere. Yet these Thyssen brothers in particular, really did not see themselves as part of the middle class at all. Also less than one quarter of the book deals with Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and then only with his explicitly authorised visibility in the exclusive, only partially public spheres of art collecting (which was already monitored comprehensibly by Johannes Gramlich) and horse racing (which we will deal with in a separate article following this review).

 

We expected de Taillez to show how, apart from his presence in these two domains, Heinrich Thyssen managed to stay consistently out of the media, and what he aimed to withhold from general view. After all, the newly created archive of the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation in Duisburg has an astonishing 840 continuous meters of hitherto unaccessed material (except by us) on the Thyssen-Bornemisza complex. But instead of letting the wind of Aufarbeitung blow through the holdings of the ThyssenKrupp AG archives and these newly acquired files, the public is once again fobbed off with crumbs.

 

In this volume, as so far in the series, the politico-economical actions especially of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, remain mostly camouflaged, this time, as befits the subject matter, behind the statement that the brothers were ‘victims of biased reporting’ and ‘helplessly exposed to media mechanisms’. Felix de Taillez does not mention Heinrich’s involvement in private banking, which is by its very nature, highly secretive. He leaves his close friendship with Hermann Göring (a client of the August Thyssen Bank) untackled and keeps silent about the use of the bank by the ‘Abwehr’, the German counter-intelligence service. In so doing, he avoids giving any information about the mechanisms used in turn by the Thyssens, and particularly Heinrich, in order to manipulate the media and keep their activities out of its spotlight.

 

* * *

 

One of the insightful descriptions in this book is the statement that during the Ruhrkampf battle in 1923, Heinrich ‘cast his political lot in with Fritz’, that ‘in certain respects (…) he was even more radical than his brother (Fritz), as he rejected negotiations with the occupation force outright’. ‘Behind the scenes’, says de Taillez, Heinrich, ‘together with his associates, who had all linked together in a “patriotic movement of the Ruhr“, met leading members of the army and politicians in Berlin (…)’. – For unknown reasons, de Taillez does not mention who these “associates“ were -. As ‘finance administrator’ of the ‘Ruhr Protection Association’, Taillez continues, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza ‘helped organise propaganda in favour of Germany in all occupied territories’, (as well as in) ‘Holland, Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine and Italy’.

 

One would like to ask Frau Habsburg why a man, who was allegedly a Hungarian Baron, would do such a thing. And why has it taken a century for these attitudes and actions of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza to see the light of day? Because over the years, a conscious strategy was at play, whereby the Thyssen complex portrayed the Thyssen brothers as if Fritz had been the German national hero and Heinrich free of all ‘German evil’. It is the ideal way in which to confuse the public concerning questions of power and guilt.

 

But as advantageous as such kinds of ‘legends of convenience’ might be, it is very time-consuming to uphold them. Because, if you believe Felix de Taillez, the world is full of ‘merciless’ left-wing writers who, for some unfathomable reason, insist on questioning things. This, according to him, is also the reason why, of all papers, ‘the social democrat paper “Vorwärts“’ in 1932 was leaked by a Dutch insider (and printed the information) that the Thyssen company ‘Vulcaan (was) favoured for the ore freight traffic of (the United Steelworks), by being the only shipping company enjoying very long-term contracts with the Düsseldorf steel giant. Furthermore the (United Steelworks) paid rates for this service, which were far above going market prices’.

 

One would assume that the fact part of the Thyssen fortune, which has been described so pointedly by Christopher Neumaier as ‘exorbitant’, seems to have been based on some dishonest business practices, should be condemned. But de Taillez allows himself instead the following comment: ‘Thus business connections were uncovered which the Thyssens had tried to camouflage under considerable efforts.’ As if acts of economic crime were an achievement and the real scandal their disclosure by those seeking the truth.

 

And de Taillez adds yet another layer to this twisted approach. Fritz Thyssen declared the lack of capital to be the Weimar Republic’s biggest economic problem. But when asked about his own capital flight from Germany, for instance in a 1924 interview with Ferdinand de Brinon, he circumvented the question. Absolutely understandable, in the eyes of de Taillez, as he had to maintain his reputation as a ‘dutyful German entrepreneur’. Whereby the artificiality of the Thyssens’ reputation, in the twinkling of an eye, receives an academic and, because of the author’s current position, a quasi stately seal of approval.

 

* * *

 

The lives of the Thyssen brothers Heinrich and Fritz teem with artificiality. There is their militarism, which de Taillez explains as their internalised connection to ‘army, tradition, faith and military practices’. Both trained in Hohenzollern elite regiments, however Heinrich declined war service and Fritz escaped it early by ‘having himself charged, on his own suggestion, with an official order by the Foreign Office to clarify the raw material situation for the Reich in the orient (Ottoman Empire)’. Stephan Wegener’s assertion that the Thyssens suffered high material losses through World War One is nothing but family folklore designed to shield unpalatable truths. Wegener, a member of the Josef Thyssen side of the family, conveniently leaves out that they were not only compensated by the German state, but made huge, fully audited profits supplying steel, armaments and submarines, with the assistance of forced labour. It is unforgivable that an academic such as Felix de Taillez and others in the series repeat the family legends of overall material war loss, as if they were fact.

 

The issue of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s adopted nationality shows most clearly what kinds of self-staging the family used. As he had to position himself as a ‘Hungarian’ to contrast Fritz, Heinrich insisted unforgivingly on his castle in Burgenland being called by its Hungarian name ‘Rohoncz’. He said he found the German version too ‘socialist’ (implying falsely that the German term had only come about in 1919 with the proclamation of the republic, see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, page 123). According to de Taillez, Heinrich even got into fights with the Burgenland County Government, the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture and the Foreign Office in Berlin. Ironically the castle administration sat somewhere completely different, namely with Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor in Rotterdam. ‘The Baron’ camouflaged himself twice and threefold; sedentary officials had no tools to counteract such extravagant strategies.

 

Fritz too opposed the abolishment of the German and Austrian monarchies and the rise of social democracy. According to de Taillez he saw Germany as a hard-pressed center surrounded by a tight circle formed by England, France, Italy and Russia and was of the opinion that ‘the big pressure from outside did not allow for the German national unification to proceed by democratic means’. Fritz thought social democrats as ‘moderate revolutionaries’ were ‘just as dangerous’ as more radical subversives. According to de Taillez, Thyssen wanted the ‘spirit of the worker’ to be ‘German’ and no more. While the unions were requesting increased rationalisations, shortening of working hours and increased wages, he wanted a ’Volk’ (people) strengthened by the increase of the working day from 8 to 10 (!) hours and an end to participative management (a German speciality, whereby workers representatives sit on the management board). But how could this be made palatable for the men returning from the horrors of the First World War, who were turning in droves to pacifist and democratic organisations?

 

According to Niels Löffelbein, George Mosse explains the rise of fascism with a ‘brutalisation’ of post-war political culture through the mass of soldiers, which led to a ‘dissolution of boundaries and a radicalisation of political might’. Angel Alcalde counters that the world war participants were increasingly ‘instrumentalised’ as anti-bolshevik fighters by the extreme right and the veterans organisations. This, says Alcalde, happened during the ‘mytho-motoric incubation period’ of the 1920s. Thus the connection between radical nationalism and war was celebrated within the cult for the fallen heroes (and those still willing to fight on). According to de Taillez, as early as October 1917, Fritz Thyssen submitted an enrollment declaration to the right-wing, nationalist Deutsche Vaterlandspartei (DVLP, German Patriotic Party). In 1927 he gave a speech during an event of the ‘Stahlhelm Bund der Frontsoldaten’ (Steel Helmet Association of Front-Line Soldiers), the ‘fighting force ready for violence’ of the Deutschnationale Volkspartei (DNVP) in his hometown of Mülheim. He is also said to have been ‘very close’ to the ‘Association of the anti-democratic, extreme right-wing Harzburger Front’.

 

Felix de Taillez writes that Thyssen supported the Austro-fascist home guard militias: ‘Via Anton Apold, the general manager of the Austrian-Alpine Mining Company (Österreichisch-Alpine Montangesellschaft) (…), which in its majority belonged to the United Steelworks, (…) there was a connection of Thyssen with the radical right-wing home guards of Austria’. ‘The Düsseldorf Peoples Paper (Düsseldorfer Volkszeitung) insinuated that the big German industrialist wished to test out, “on the limited battle field of Austria“, how the unions’ influence could be broken’.

 

Without the shadow of a doubt, these associations would have been backed by Heinrich as well, but as a purported Hungarian privatier, he managed to keep out of all media reports about the topic and thus was not publicly perceived as a supporter of the extreme right in the German-speaking world. By not clarifying this circumstance, de Taillez adds to the picture of Heinrich drawn by the series as not being in any way a sympathiser of the far right. It is an allegation based purely on the absence of public sources, which was deliberately engineered by Heinrich and his associates. Absence of proof is not proof of absence and this should have been exposed by de Taillez. It is not, as exposing Heinrich’s far right-wing sympathies would destroy the Thyssen family mythological reputation.

 

* * *

 

For the Thyssens, there were always conflicts of interests between their national affiliation and their economic ambitions. After they had transposed the ownership structures of their works to the neutral Netherlands before the First World War, Fritz and his father August participated shortly after the war in talks about the formation of a Rhenanian Republic. According to de Taillez, the accusation by the Workers and Soldiers Council was that they ‘had requested the separation of Rhenania-Westphalia and the occupation of the Ruhr by the Allies’. A waiter had reported the meeting and the Thyssens were soon accused of being ‘greedy hypocrites’ and ‘money bag patriots’; others said this was a slur on the loyally German industrialists. The case against them was dismissed (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 56) and Felix de Taillez writes that the waiter admitted to having lied. It does not cross his mind that this man might have needed to do so in order to keep his, or indeed any, job. Afterwards, Fritz Thyssen, who, according to de Taillez, ‘had a much higher status for German politics than a normal citizen’, was commissioned by the Foreign Office in Berlin to participate in the confidential follow-up negotiations for individual articles of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

 

Soon after the war, Fritz Thyssen also began to establish for himself an alternative domicile in Argentina by buying, first of all, the Estancia Don Roberto Lavaisse in the province of San Luis. The family’s connections with South America went back to pre-war times, when August Thyssen had founded in Buenos Aires a branch of the German-Overseas Trading Company of the Thyssen Works (Hamborn) (Deutsch-Überseeische Handelsgesellschaft der Thyssen’schen Werke). Since 1921 the company was called Compania Industrial & Mercantil Thyssen Limitada. In 1927 it took over the Lametal company and from them on ‘went under the name of Thyssen-Lametal S.A.’. According to de Taillez, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sold it in 1927 for 4.8 million guilders to the United Steelworks. In Brazil too the family had owned property for years and advertised commercial trade there.

 

During the Ruhrkampf (battle against the Ruhr occupation) of 1923, which Fritz Thyssen allegedly saw as a ‘legitimate defence measure against foreign begrudgers’, he let himself be represented in the allied court by Friedrich Grimm, an avowed anti-semite and subsequent Nazi lawyer who, according to de Taillez, defended Nazi perpetrators after 1945 and downplayed Nazi crimes. In the eyes of the author, Thyssen was merely ‘talked up’ artificially as a ‘projectory surface’ for a ‘new German national identity’, respectively for a ‘free Germanness’, particularly by the New York Times and the Times of London. But the Ruhrkampf was the first occasion for Fritz to move out very publicly from the shadow of his almighty father, whose health had started to deteriorate, In our opinion, this motive of self-liberation is a factor in Fritz Thyssen’s publicly celebrated swing to the right that should not be underestimated.

 

If you listen to de Taillez, it must ‘remain open’, ‘whether Fritz Thyssen was captured by the world of a sometimes extreme nationalism, which had formed in Germany during the First World War’. What a pity that his wife Amelie Thyssen gets so little attention in this series, apart from her role as co-founder of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. According to a statement made by Heini Thyssen to us, there was certainly nothing ‘talked up’ about Amelie Thyssen’s politics and she indeed seems to have been national socialist in her strong German nationalism during this ‘1920s incubation period’ and beyond. Although time and again de Taillez describes how much Fritz depended on his wife’s opinions, he leaves the possibility of political influencing within this couple’s relationship completely unmentioned. Since Amelie was the driving force in successfully reclaiming the Thyssen organisation after the Second World War, any bad light on her would, once again, harm the Thyssen family mythological reputation.

 

Grimm’s argument before the court was characterised by his statement that ‘private assets such as Ruhr coal (…) legally could not simply be confiscated, in order to settle state debts, without compensating the owners’. Taillez alleges that the Ruhrkampf set in motion in Fritz Thyssen a ‘sense of political mission’, which ‘surpassed by far the activities in the interests of the business’. He concedes that Thyssen, by saying that the German economy could only recover ‘through even greater working output’, had incurred guilt: ‘through such public statements (…) he also contributed to the failing of the social partnership in the 1920s, which gravely endangered the democratic form of government in Germany’.

 

Eventually, Fritz would be indulged by Adolf Hitler with a promise to establish a Research and Development Department for Fritz’s concept of a corporate state. This unrequited activity encouraged Fritz in considerable political activity. Fritz was disappointed by his project’s lack of action, but, when he pointed this out to Hitler, was told: ‘I never made you any promises. I’ve nothing to thank you for. What you did for my movement you did for your own benefit and wrote it off as an insurance premium’ (quoted by Henry Ashby Turner Jr., see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 108).

 

According to de Taillez, Fritz Thyssen followed his own business interests above all else, apart from situations when it was not completely clear to him ‘which path would served (these) most’. Within European rapprochement politics, he describes him as ‘ambiguous’. Thyssen critised the Weimar Republic in the French press as well as the North-American public sphere, described the German government as ‘weak and not trustworthy’ and thus ‘stuck the knife into German foreign politics in a difficult situation’. On the other hand, he criticised the ‘short-sighted and mean-spirited, selfish economic politics of the North Americans’. Thyssen ‘wanted bilateral exchange contracts for the traffic of raw materials, which were to put a stop to international financial speculations and achieve independence from exchange rates’. But when Fritz ‘(ranted) against finance techniques which (he said) were getting in the way of the real economy’, he failed to mention that the Thyssen family controlled 100% of three international banks and thereby was itself a global financial player (which, strangely, Felix de Taillez does not mention).

 

* * *

 

Although his group leader, Simone Derix, refuted this comprehensively, de Taillez continues to allege that Heinrich managed his inherited share of the family concern independently from Fritz’s. He says the relationship between the two brothers was bad. Now they might not have loved each other wholeheartedly; it is normal for there to be certain jealousies between siblings. Heini Thyssen told us how his father walked down Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich one day and changed to the other side of the street when he saw his brother Fritz. But this had indeed more to do with image than realities. Heini too wished to give the impression of discord, because his own, the Thyssen-Bornemisza side of the family, had managed to keep disassociated from discussions about the Third Reich. A photograph of the three brothers in 1938 (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 128) and here shows that there were no problems in their relationship. Instead of being objective, de Taillez repeats parrot-like old Thyssen-internal myths, which have become dogma. This is particularly ‘remarkable’ as he tells us, on the other hand, that he wants to ‘interpret’ both men as ‘a unit of almost complementary opposite numbers’, whose ‘visibility respectively invisibility’ appears (from this perspective) as a ‘coordinated strategy of political action’.

 

After Heinrich received his ‘exorbitant’ inheritance in 1926, for a few short years he invested massively into paintings and works of art, thereby following the example of his friend Eduard von der Heydt, who had moved to Switzerland that same year. Despite it never being housed there, he called his collection ‘Rohoncz Castle Collection’, to give the impression of it having grown organically over a long period of time, and being of an aristocratic cachet. As such he had it exhibited in 1930 in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. But Friedrich Winkler of the State Museums in Berlin compared ‘Thyssen-Bornemisza’s methods (…) to Napoleon’s art theft’ and described him as ‘clueless, uninformed, limited and dependent on the opinions of dealers and experts’. Rudolf Buttmann, delegate of the Nazi party in the Bavarian County Parliament, called the collection ‘an entity gathered by dealers’. Many false attributions and fakes were decried and the whole thing descended into a veritable ‘media scandal’. According to de Taillez, the Munich Pinakothek was willing only in the case of 60 out of 428 paintings to take them temporarily into their own stock after the end of the exhibition.

 

But these were highly speculative times with an ‘increasing commercialisation of the art market’. Despite all the hoo-ha, Heinrich’s ‘calculation to have the value of his collection determined publicly’ came good (at 50 million RM – without de Taillez explaining how he would know of such a ‘calculation’). His enterprise was described as a ‘national deed’ in which ‘the whole of Germany was said to be interested’. He was described as a ‘saviour of German cultural goods’, who was endowed with a ‘bourgeois educational mandate’ over the public. Meanwhile, it was striking that Heinrich was not presented anywhere as the son of the famous Ruhr industrialist and creator of the family fortune, August Thyssen. Instead, he was made out to be ‘the great stranger’, a person of ominous flair who nobody seemed to know exactly where he came from. There needed to be just enough ‘Germanness’ tagged onto him to keep conservative Munich audiences happy, while still maintaining the illusion of Heinrich’s adopted Hungarianness. What is troubling is that de Taillez does not openly decry this as the obvious Thyssen manipulation of public perception that it was.

 

The town of Düsseldorf and its art museum, which were ‘leading amongst big German cities’ during the Weimar years in view of a ‘highly developed apparatus of communal public relations’, was used by Heinrich Thyssen over many years, according to de Taillez. He took himself for ‘such an important personality (…), that he could make demands on the local political sphere’. It appears nonsensical that de Taillez equally alleges that the national positioning of Heinrich in Germany was only down to the materials handed out to the press by his art advisor Rudolf Heinemann and the Düsseldorf mayor Robert Lehr and that it was not in Heinrich’s own sense. Heinrich had organised propaganda in favour of Germany, he also kept his German passport (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 55 – confirmed by Simone Derix) and accepted German compensation payments for war damages to his enterprises (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p.201 – confirmed by Harald Wixforth). It is incomprehensible why de Taillez makes such contradictory statements; unless the accusations levelled at the series’ output of having been influenced by the source of their sponsorship – the Fritz Thyssen Foundation – might be justified.

 

Felix de Taillez goes way further than he should by not just obfuscating existing Thyssen manipulations but even generating new ones. He writes: ‘Heinrich (reacted) to the debacle of the exhibition, namely by restructuring big parts of his collection afterwards, selling THE controversial paintings and only thereby creating the actual breakthrough to the collection which is today world renowned’. His underpinning reference is to Johannes Gramlich’s volume ‘The Thyssens As Art Collectors’, pages 263-273. There, however, only 32 paintings are mentioned as having been sold between 1930 and 1937. Thyssen-internal lists available to us show that 405 paintings bought by Heinrich up to 1930 were inherited by his children in 1948. This would mean that only 23 paintings had theoretically been sold between 1930 and 1948.

 

So there can be no talk of Heinrich ‘restructuring big parts of his collection (after the exhibition debacle)…….selling THE controversial paintings’, which makes it sound like ALL the controversial pictures exhibited by Thyssen in 1930 were subsequently sold by him.

 

Even today, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid contains at least 120 paintings from the 1930 Munich Exhibition. If there was any ‘restructuring’ of the 1930 collection, it was not done actively by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, but happened passively following his death, mainly through inheritance share-outs (1948, as well as 1993 after Hans Heinrich (‘Heini’) Thyssen sold only half the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection to Spain – the other half went to his wife and four children).

 

There was also a sale specifically of German paintings in the 1950s by Heini Thyssen who, after the Nazi period, wanted to be seen as being even more disconnected from Germany (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 269). And of course, Heini Thyssen became an art collector on a completely different scale to his father and did indeed buy some very good, mostly modern, paintings.

 

Many of the questionable paintings exhibited in 1930, however, remained in Thyssen ownership and de Taillez’s assertion that they did not is misleading.

 

It must be remembered in this context that Heini Thyssen bought back most of the paintings that went to his siblings in the 1948 inheritance share out, so that most of the questionable 1930 paintings would have ended up in his possession. The Thyssens’ attitude has always been that once a painting had entered their inventory it was to be seen as beyond reproach. In this, they sought to emulate the prestige which the Rothschilds possessed. Most members of the general public, influenced by the media – who are possibly submitted to a VIP equivalent of the royal rota (whereby journalists are excluded from access to members of the royal family if they publish negative stories) -, have always seemed to accept this version of reality.

 

* * *

 

What is noticeable throughout the book and the series as a whole is that it comprises not a single personal quote from a living member of the Thyssen family. So much new history is being written about them and one wonders what they feel now that some of the plates that had, for so long and at great expense, been kept spinning in the air are starting to come tumbling down.

 

But Felix de Taillez would not be Felix de Taillez if he did not release us from the world of Thyssen art with yet another piece of white wash. Various art advisors, museum directors and the Baron himself had made contradictory statements about when exactly the paintings had been bought. Had they ever been at Rechnitz Castle, as the name of the collection suggested? Sometimes they said yes, sometimes no. The Thyssen-internal lists available to us show that he bought his first painting in 1928 and all works remained in safe deposits until the 1930 exhibition (the foreword to the exhibition catalogue makes this very clear – see here). Which did not, however, stop the Baron from saying sometimes that he had made his first art purchase in 1906, the year he married into Hungary.

 

In the 1930s, his lawyer did something similar with the Swiss authorities: ‘In connection with Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s move to Switzerland it is furthermore remarkable that the first exhibition of his collection in Munich was of financial use to him. For the import of his paintings and other works of art into Switzerland he was able to use, vis-a-vis the Swiss authorities, the reference to the exhibition with said catalogue as proof that around 250 valuable paintings had been in his possession already for a longer period of time. Through this gambit he was able to have the works of art moved to Lugano “for his personal enjoyment“ and exempt from customs duties’.

 

(The name of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Ticino lawyer was Roberto van Aken, and it was not the only time he bent the truth on behalf of his client),

 

To recapitulate: Felix de Taillez applauds the outwitting of the Swiss customs authorities by Heinrich Thyssen’s malleable lawyer, seems to give as a reason why allegedly 250, not 428 paintings were moved to Switzerland, that the Baron had sold the questionable paintings and, at the same time, like Johannes Gramlich, leaves us completely in the dark as to when and how exactly this transfer of goods out of Germany is supposed to have taken place. As the collection at the time of the 1948 inheritance share-out contained a total of 542 paintings, he also leaves unexplained where the other almost 300 paintings are supposed to have come from and when they got into Switzerland.

 

The fact the Thyssens themselves were intransparent concerning this matter is understandable. But it is unacceptable that academics, having been commissioned almost a century later to work through the events in a claimed ‘independent’ manner, are behaving in the same way. Particularly as no family members have been quoted.

 

* * *

 

On the whole, while Felix de Taillez is remarkably obstinate in prolonging the myths surrounding Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, he seems somewhat more direct in his presentation of Fritz. We dont suggest the Fritz Thyssen Foundation or the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation have steered the results of these academic investigations. But the fact access to source materials and financial sponsorship were granted by these entities (on whose boards sits only ONE Thyssen family member, namely Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza, a descendant of Heinrich, not Fritz) must have led the authors to tread with a degree of ‘caution’ in their ultimate assessments.

 

Continuing on the theme of Fritz, following the putsch by General Jose Felix Uriburu, an ‘undemocratic decade’ began in Argentina in 1930, during which a ‘strong economic integration with Germany’ came about. According to de Taillez, ‘strongly extreme right-wing movements’ existed there from the 1890s onwards, and ‘already before the seizure of power in Germany’ the foreign organisation of the Nazi party ‘took hold (in Argentina) particularly well’ (see also ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 195). Lateron the La Plata newspaper reported that Fritz Thyssen in 1930 (!) proclaimed the ‘dawn of the coming, new Germany’ under Hitler in the Argentinian public. In 1934 he demanded in the Argentinian Journal (Argentinisches Tageblatt) the ‘unlimited power of the new (German) government in order to boost the economy’, which de Taillez describes as ‘remarkable’, after all he had ‘normally always insisted on big freedoms for the private economy’. De Taillez continues: ‘According to Thyssen, the concentration of power in the Nazi state offered the important advantage, of making decisions, without having to take “half-measures“ and “make compromises“ like in the “party state contaminated by Marxism“’. By which Fritz used the extremist language of the National Socialists against political opponents.

 

During the Gelsenberg affair in 1932 there were press reports, encouraged by the former Reich Finance Minister Hermann Dietrich, that Fritz Thyssen had negotiated a deal for the United Steelworks with French and Dutch investors, but that the Reich government wanted to prevent this, because it did not wish for foreign influence on the enterprise. By writing a letter to the German public, that he had ‘only explored the possibility of obtaining loans’, Thyssen ‘consciously exposed the Reich government’, writes de Taillez. The author argues that Thyssen’s statements were dismantled when a letter by Friedrich Flick to him was leaked to the Frankfurter Zeitung, which showed that Flick ‘had (rejected) Thyssen’s suggestion precisely because of the source of the money connected with it’. The Düsseldorf Volkszeitung newspaper reacted by calling Thyssen ‘unpatriotic’.

 

At the beginning of 1932, while his brother Heinrich bought Villa Favorita in Lugano, Fritz ‘veered demonstratively towards National Socialism’. His wife had already joined the party on 01.03.1931. He would do so officially on 07.07.1933. Looking back at the Ruhrkampf, Fritz concluded, according to de Taillez, that this was ‘a preliminary for the national socialist body of thought of the new Germany’: ‘In contrast to 1932 now it is not just the Ruhr area standing firm, but the whole of Germany will go the path that the “Führer“ is prescribing. The shattering of Marxism in the country was only down to Hitler, the SA and the SS’ (from an article in the Kölnische Zeitung newspaper ‘Fritz Thyssen about the class struggle’, on 02.05.1933).

 

Thus Thyssen became a ‘media player’, who under Hitler ‘profited considerably from the abolition of the freedom of the press’, as soon nobody was allowed any longer to set anything against his verbal crudeness. Meanwhile, he led negotiations in Buenos Aires ‘with high state organs’ such as ‘General Agustin Pedro Justo, the President in power since 1932 after rigged elections’. Subsequently an Argentinian-German trade agreement, including offsetting and compensation procedures, was signed in November 1934, whereby trade between the two countries increased drastically. It seems Thyssen was trying to help form an antipole to Anglo-American economic might. But Felix de Taillez believes Fritz, utterly selfishly, was just helping construct his own ‘image’ as an ‘influential economic leader’, to bring great publicity to himself.

 

Not all of the South-American press was positive about Thyssen. The Argentinian Tagesblatt paper in 1934 talked about a ‘coming together of joint bankruptcies’ having taken place in 1933, when the United Steelworks were bankrupt and the Nazi party was ‘hopelessly in debt’. ‘The newspaper accused the United Steelworks under Thyssen’s leadership as chairman of the supervisory board to have carried out extensive accounting fraud.’ (from their article ‘Business deals of a State Councillor’, dated 08.11.1934). The Cologne cultural magazine ‘Westdeutscher Scheinwerfer’ described Fritz Thyssen as an ‘autocrat’ and ‘said the main reason for the crisis at the United Steelworks was the contentious personal politics of Fritz Thyssen’. His critics in the media ‘declared Fritz Thyssen to be incapable in economic and political affairs’ and ‘made him responsible for the high losses at United Steelworks’.

 

It was the very thing his father August, who had no social ambition but lived entirely for his works, had warned about many years earlier. He had ensured Fritz was only head of the supervisory board, not the management board, in order to minimise the damage August was convinced Fritz would do to the company. August believed Heinrich was only marginally more adequate than Fritz to be head of the Thyssen empire (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 70).

 

Meanwhile, after the war, the Allies would accuse the United Steelworks of ‘consistently giving their full financial support to the militarily-minded National Socialist Party’. Loping the ball back into the allied court, Fritz Thyssen would write in 1950 ‘In my opinion, the Nuremberg trials were conducted mainly to find someone to blame for Hitler’s WAR policy. It would have been very embarrassing for the Americans to have to admit that they had supported the German rearmament from the very first, because they wished for a WAR against Russia’ (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, pages 80 and 230).

 

‘Remarkably’ for a man whose credibility depends on the assertion that his anti-war stance led him eventually to breaking with the Nazis, when the national socialists Wilhelm von Keppler and Kurt von Schröder collected signatures to ask Paul von Hindenburg to make Adolf Hitler Reich Chancellor, Fritz Thyssen was the ONLY member of the Ruhrlade (association of the 12 most important Ruhr industrialists that existed from 1928 to 1939) to sign. In his dealings with other industrialists he could be gruff and rude. He warned colleagues to be ‘disciplined’, especially those who he thought were being ‘liberalistic’. People such as Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, who strove against Hitler as long as he could and who, like Richard Freudenberg and many others, only surrendered to national socialism once it had been installed, as a dictatorship, with the help of the Thyssens and their associates. According to de Taillez ‘(Thyssen) threatened possible interferers citing his new influence on the state organs in charge’, i.e. he told them he would report them to Hermann Göring.

 

This is an admission of extremely overbearing Thyssen behaviour issued by the Thyssen complex as official historiography, which, as such, really is remarkable.

 

* * *

 

And it does not stop there. Fritz Thyssen also threatened catholic priests, who were normally his allies. In March 1933, for instance, he let it be known to Cardinal Schulte that his family would not take part in any more church services ‘as long as the unjust treatment of the Führer & members of the Nazi party endured’. He took part in sociological special meetings in Maria Laach under the Abbott Ildefons Herwegen and the circle of ‘anti-democratic rightwing catholics’, who, according to de Taillez, were ‘annexable by the national socialists’. These were ‘against the enlightenment, universal human rights, democracy, liberalism, socialism, communism, decidedly anti-semitic’ and in favour of an ‘authoritarian corporatism’. They were trying to develop a ‘Reich Theology’, ‘supported by the association of catholic academics’.

 

Reminding us once again that it was the professions, such as the legal community, who took particularly early and enthusiastically to the Nazi ideology.

 

Despite all this threatening behaviour, Felix de Taillez alleges – not very convincingly – that Fritz Thyssen interpreted national socialism ‘in a conservative manner’. Apparently, he saw it as the ‘renaissance of a lost State and of the Volksgemeinschaft (Peoples Community)’. He writes that for Thyssen, national socialism was not so much an ideology as a ‘HEROIC FORCE’, whereby a ‘class of people underpinning the state’ had been resurrected, who had taken up the ‘battle against the gravediggers of the state’. – This is reminiscent of the intrumentalising slogans, used by proto-fascist veterans’ associations as mentioned by Angel Alcalde -. But in the same paragraph, Fritz Thyssen then divulged his elitist understanding of his role within national socialism, when he said that one would, however, take away ‘the dignity and primacy of this class of people if one were to try and lift up 64 million people into the same dignity through ideological propaganda’.

 

For the Rheinische Zeitung newspaper, this meant that Thyssen was a fascist, but no ‘roister Nazi’. In reality it meant that he saw himself and his family as part of the State, but not as part of the Volksgemeinschaft (Peoples’ Community), which he thought should be kept subservient to himself and his associates.

It sounds less like a conservative and more like a FEUDAL understanding of national socialism.

 

As the dictatorship gathered momentum, the Gauleiter of Essen, Josef Terboven, asked Rudolf Hess in a letter ‘to have the “Führer“ name Thyssen as politico-economic plenipotentiary for the Ruhr area and to have his position endowed with unconditional authority’. There seems to have been a power triangle of Hermann Göring, Gauleiter Terboven and Fritz Thyssen, whose media voice piece was the National-Zeitung newspaper. According to de Taillez, Thyssen took part in the Nuremberg party rallies. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Reichsbank, of the Academy of German Law and of the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy (see also here). By 1938, Fritz had assembled so many supervisory board mandates for himself, ‘that he was positioned as an individual in the centre of a network of the Reich economic elite, on third place after the chairman of the United Steelworks, Albert Vögler, and the bank director of Berliner Handelsgesellschaft, Wilhelm Koeppel’.

 

* * *

 

The groundbreaking thesis of Felix de Taillez is that it took a long time for Thyssen to break with the Nazis: ‘The assertions uttered by him and by his associates during the 1948 denazification proceedings that he had already turned away demonstratively during the 1930s (thus appear) as no more than pretextual, easy to see through, defensive attempts.’ Even in 1936, de Taillez writes, Thyssen still defended Hitler at the Industry Club in Düsseldorf ‘almost manically’, using quotations from “Mein Kampf“. In the same year, he showed himself to be ‘unteachable’, as he accused those who saw the Nazis’ armaments policies as harbingers of war, of being wrong. According to Thyssen, ‘it was only owing to Hitler that Germany was once again seen internationally as an equal partner’. Gottfried Niedhart and the Perlentaucher (elitist culture blog) have taken up joyfully the interpretation that Fritz Thyssen ‘was not at all the powerful man behind Hitler’, but only ‘blinded’ by him, and that ‘he really seems to have thought that the rearmament did not serve the preparation of war, but the goal of “becoming capable of forming alliances“’.

 

But why should one believe that a man, whose views were otherwise so changeable and untrustworthy, should have seen clearly and been truthful in his anti-war stance, which just so happens to hit at the central agony of the German nation (namely the question of their responsibility for the Nazis’ war and its horrors)? Does it not, rather, seem like yet another attempt at obscuring the Thyssens’ long-lasting support of the National Socialist regime? Particularly as his alleged anti-war stance was central also to the Thyssens’ ability of regaining their assets from the allies after the war.

 

And why, if Fritz knew, as he wrote in 1950, that the Americans wanted to rearm Germany to go to war with Russia, did he not break away from this evil alliance earlier on?! Because he too was for a war against the Soviet Union after all? Or because it was more important for him to reap the economic benefits than to take a moral stance? And if so, why are these official Thyssen biographers overall still alleging his flight from Germany, when it finally came, to have been a moral stance, rather than one of convenience, when according to de Taillez, he had missed out so many earlier opportunities at opposing Hitler’s plans?

 

In the words of de Taillez, when Hermann Göring declared the mobilisation of the wartime economy in the summer of 1938, Thyssen propagated ‘this propaganda in the media through his clear avowal of allegiance to the Four-Year-Plan’. In February 1939 he was named by Walther Funk (who was a client of the August Thyssen Bank, see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 87) as a Leader of the Wartime Economy. The assertions presented at the denazification trial that Thyssen had harboured ‘serious thoughts of subversion’ and had been in contact with resistance circles is described by de Taillez as ‘idle’, because ‘reliable sources do not exist’. Rather, de Taillez testifies to Thyssen remaining absolutely ‘inactive’ until November 1939, i.e. until two months after the start of the war. An assertion that ‘Thyssen proposed a close cooperation between industry and the army to General von Kluge after the November pogrom of 1938, in order to put an end to Nazi politics’ is clarified by him thus: ‘based on the situation with the sources, it is more than questionable, whether such a plan existed at all’.

 

Felix de Taillez thus dismantles the so far, in his own words, ‘successful reframing’ of Fritz Thyssen in an ‘image of an extraordinarily early “fanatical opponent“ of National Socialism, who was already active in the resistance in 1936’. (This being an image issued to the public from 1948 onwards by Thyssen’s solicitor and PR-advisor, Robert Ellscheid (see also here)).

And that is truly ‘remarkable’!

* * *

 

According to de Taillez, following Fritz Thyssen’s flight to Switzerland in September 1939, the English press reported that an international arrest warrant had been issued against him for ‘theft, embezzlement, tax evasion and contraventions against German currency restrictions’. Thyssen, however, threatened Hitler with precisely this international public opinion, while simultaneously presenting himself as a ‘proud’ German ‘with every fibre of his being’. He said he wanted to show ‘the innocence of the “German nation“ concerning recent developments’, while at the same time saying that ‘the German people had shown in the inter-war years that it was „incapable of adjusting itself to democratic institutions“’. (Even during his denazification proceeding in 1948 ‘Thyssen continued to ascertain his view that democracy was not a form of government suitable to Germany’!).

 

De Taillez qualifies his attitude as being ‘naive’…. ‘Schizophrenic’ and ‘impudent’ would be more adequate adjectives from our point of view. It is typical for Thyssen’s belief in his own omnipotence, that he seemed to think that the course of a war, that had been planned by such a long hand, could be changed by a few of his statements. The fact that his brother Heinrich had managed so elegantly, through his Hungarian nationality, and his secure, comfortable domicile in Switzerland, to keep out of public politics, while still enjoying all the financial rewards the Thyssen enterprises were reaping from the war, must have made Fritz very angry. This vexation might even have been one trigger for his flight. And so he showed no consideration for Heinrich’s standstill agreement with the Swiss authorities (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 103) which he endangered by his noisy flight to Switzerland.

 

De Taillez then explains that Fritz Thyssen, via ‘secret channels’, ‘got in touch with former Chancellor Joseph Wirth and western agents’ and thus ‘became, in a certain way, a part of Wirth’s attempts at sounding out France and England’. But then, he says, General Halder, who had been ‘until that time, head of the secret military opposition to the Third Reich’, ‘buckled at the beginning of 1940’. According to de Taillez, the French secret service, however, assumed ‘that Fritz Thyssen was the head of a far-reaching secret organisation being built up in Switzerland by Germany, in order to undermine the influence of the French and the British in Europe’. At the same time, de Taillez believes that ‘under normal circumstances, the entry of Thyssen into France during the war would have been refused. It was his luck that he had been able to convince the French secret service in Switzerland that he held important information and assessments, which would be useful to the allies in their fight against the Third Reich’.

 

It was always typical for the ultra-rich Thyssens to make themselves look important with everyone that mattered. Only this time, it was about war. Any kind of allegiance was never at the forefront of their mind. The Thyssens were transnational and committed to no single nation – only to themselves alone.

 

This fact can be gaged from the book ‘I Paid Hitler’, which Fritz Thyssen elaborated together with Emery Reves in 1940 and which was published by the latter in 1941 in London and New York (see also here). According to de Taillez, since 1937 Reves also worked with Winston Churchill. He writes that in 1940 Churchill ‘commissioned (Reves) with building up the british propaganda apparatus in North and South America’ (!). De Taillez continues: ‘Reves told Churchill about the central theory of Fritz Thyssen for the reimplementation of peace in Europe, which would soon be proclaimed publicly: the partition of Germany’ – namely into ‘a protestant Eastern Germany and a catholic Western German under a Wittelsbach’. Churchill is said to have passed on these views to his secret service advisor Major Desmond Morton – although one could have one’s doubts about how much of this was actually a direct quote from Thyssen and how much might be ascribed to British propaganda (!)…

 

The fact that Fritz Thyssen might also sometimes have ‘consciously spoken the untruth’ (i.e. that he sometimes lied) is a suggestion that Felix de Taillez floats in connection with Thyssen’s statements after the war concerning the creation of ‘I Paid Hitler’. It is a tinge of honesty, of openness that has also to do with „honour“ after all, and which has been missing from so many of the statements made by Thyssens and their self-proclaimed official biographers in the past. While Thyssen and his lawyers distanced themselves from the book, Reves confirmed to the denazification court that all of the book had been dictated by Thyssen and that two thirds of it had been proof-read by him. Reves rejected the idea of being a ghostwriter and described himself as publisher and press agent. He also argued that Anita Zichy-Thyssen had repeatedly thanked him for his publishing the book. To this day Anita’s descendants in South America praise the book and slander anyone critical of Fritz Thyssen (see here).

 

* * *

 

De Taillez records that following his being taken into custody by the Allies in 1945, Fritz Thyssen ‘was presented in the British and US-American weekly newsreels as an alleged war criminal’. Then, presumably in order to explain this, in his view, mistaken stance, he alledges: ‘apparently the Americans were still having difficulties in assessing the Thyssen case in a consistent way, as well as in their coordination with the German authorities’. This blocks out the fact that the Thyssen case was fraught because the allies could not access and question Heinrich in his Swiss safehaven, and because there were discrepancies between the British and the American views of how the Thyssens should be dealt with (in general, the British were much more in favour of their punishment). Wilhelmus Groenendijk, who was part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group finance division from 1957 to 1986 told us: ‘BOTH Heinrich and Fritz were listed as war criminals. But from the Netherlands, we managed to get their names brought further down and down on that list, until we were able to claim that the assets were in fact allied property’ – and therefore could not possibly be seen as having abetted the German war effort (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 188).

 

De Taillez summarises for Fritz Thyssen that ‘despite considerable differences (…) he arranged himself with the Third Reich for a long time, because there was a basis of common ground’, namely the ideal of the authoritarian state, the disempowerment of the socialist workers movement and the revisionist policies. To this was added the prospect of profit increases in the steel industry. He describes that ‘the former Reich Chancellor (Heinrich) Brüning declared in writing (during the post-war denazification proceedings against Fritz Thyssen) that financing by foreign powers was decisive for Hitler’s ascent to power’. And yet various authors of this series, including de Taillez alledge that this is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Notwithstanding, de Taillez makes the remarkable assertion that ‘the often polarising statements made by Fritz Thyssen were judged more positively in the anglo-american media, which is the most powerful media in the world, until 1933, than by the german public’ – which would of course indicate that, contrary to what is said today, there was indeed support for the German move to the extreme right in Great Britain and the United States after all.

 

De Taillez describes Fritz much more intimately than he does Heinrich, namely as absurd, agitating, ambivalent, influential, almost manic, polarising, divorced from reality, controversial, sophomoric, unteachable, unreasonable, unclear, a troublemaker, NONSENSICAL, incoherent, cynical, and, in a description by thirds, of having a ‘more than peculiar manner’. Many of these characteristics certainly applied to Heinrich also, because they went back not least to the greedy luxury of the family and its resulting, hubristic mannerisms. Only, Heinrich was more intelligent than Fritz and he knew in particular that one can camouflage oneself much better within a certain seclusion, especially when one is in truth even more unscrupulous than his vociferous brother.

 

Felix de Taillez’s colleague Jan Schleusener (‘The Expropriation of Fritz Thyssen’), rates Fritz Thyssen as a hero: he was, says Schleusener, ‘the only delegate of the Reichstag who raised objections to the launching of the war’, which reminds one of Thomas Rother’s equally unsuitable statement whereby Thyssen was ‘the only industrialist in Germany not to profit from Hitler’s war. According to de Taillez, it appears that Fritz Thyssen admitted one single time, towards Norman Cousins, ‘that he felt co-responsible for national socialism, because of his financial support of Hitler IN THE LATE 1920s’. But at the same time, Cousin noticed that Thyssen ‘did not mention the many crimes committed since 1933, the political murders, the destruction of the bourgeois freedoms and the persecution of the Jews as decisive motives for his break with national socialism’. As far as Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is concerned, not a single statement at all concerning these topics has been handed down.

 

This is to be weighed up when assessing whether the alleged heroical, anti-national socialist, anti-war stance of the Thyssens was real, or whether these were exonerations issued on behalf of ruthless war opportunists (/criminals – as they must have known Hitler’s war was to be one of annihiliation) by their sycophantic underlings to ensure their bosses would not suffer any retribution.

 

The outstanding contribution of this book, meanwhile, is in its explanation of the utterly elitist perspective from which the Thyssens saw their role within National Socialism. So far, it is the only volume to have been reviewed, not only in academic circles, but also by a major German newspaper.

 

An honest German view (photo copyright: Lizas Welt – internet:lizaswelt.net/2011/02/28/volksgemeinschaft-gegen-rechts/)

 

 

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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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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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