Posts Tagged ‘Independent on Sunday’

Rechnitz Revisited I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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