Posts Tagged ‘Josef Hotwagner’

Simone Derix Tarnt Thyssen Schuld – Rechnitz Revisited II

Die Thyssens haben es stets vermieden, Einzelheiten ihrer Nazi Vergangenheit zu offenbaren, und zwar über eine Mischung von Leugnung, Verschleierung und Bestechung. Doch mit der Veröffentlichung unseres Buches „Die Thyssen-Dynastie“ 2007 und den Enthüllungen zum schrecklichen „Rechnitz Massaker“ wurde es immer schwieriger, diese Philosophie aufrecht zu erhalten. Familienmitglieder beschlossen endlich, über die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung zehn Akademiker zu beauftragen, um ihre persönliche, gesellschaftliche, politische und industrielle Vergangenheit umzuschreiben (in der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“) und damit ihren Ruf aufzupolieren.

Dieser Plan ist zum Teil aufgegangen und zum Teil nicht, denn trotz ihrer geschmiedeten Pläne offenbaren diese Bände oft mehr als es den Thyssens wahrscheinlich recht ist, sei es direkt oder durch die Bloßstellung von Widersprüchen.

Wir rezensieren hier die von der Thyssen Organisation gesponsorten Abhandlungen in der Abfolge ihres Erscheinens und werden dies auch mit dem neuesten Band, „Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen“ von Simone Derix tun. Zunächst jedoch wollen wir einen einzigartigen Bestandteil des Buches untersuchen, denn der neueste Band ist gleichzeitig, ein ganzes Jahrzehnt nach unserer Veröffentlichung, die erste offizielle Thyssen Publikation, die eine Beschreibung dessen enthält, wie die Dynastie im Leben der Gemeinde Rechnitz, und insbesondere bei den Vorfällen des „Rechnitz Massakers“ vom 24./25. März 1945 in Erscheinung getreten ist. Es ist ein Thema, das uns ganz besonders am Herzen liegt.

Leider hat die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Simone Derix erlaubt, die gerade einmal sieben Seiten (einer 500 Seiten starken Abhandlung, die sich von ihrer Habilitationsschrift ableitet) einem Manifesto einzuverleiben, das sowohl eine Public Relations Arbeit für die Thyssens wie auch ein Ausdruck ihrer eigenen, ambitionierten Selbstdarstellung im „neuen“ Feld der „Reichen-Forschung“ ist. Dabei ist die Grundaussage von Derix die, dass die Thyssens ob ihres herausragenden Reichtums gefeiert werden sollten, während sie für ihre Viktimisierung durch Journalisten, Berater, Staatsgewalten, Verwandte, Bolschewisten, Nationalsozialisten, etc., etc. zu bemittleiden sind.

Das macht Derix zu der Art Verteidiger, von denen Ralph Giordano gesagt hat, dass sie nicht müde werden, „aus Opfern Täter und aus Tätern Opfer zu machen“. Die Tatsache, dass der Deutsche Historikerverband es für angebracht gehalten hat, Simone Derix für ihre Arbeit den Carl-Erdmann-Preis zu verleihen, der nach einem wahren Opfer nationalsozialistischer Verfolgung benannt ist, verstört zusätzlich.

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Deutschland war ein Spätentwickler in Sachen Industrialisierung und Nationalstaat und stieg mit einer explosionsartigen Energie auf die internationale Bühne empor, die zur Katastrophe führen sollte. Während die unfassbar hart arbeitenden Brüder August und Josef Thyssen im Mittelstand verankert waren und von dort Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts das enorme, industrielle Thyssen-Vermögen erschufen, kehrten August’s Söhne Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, unter dem Einfluss ihrer gesellschaftlich ehrgeizigen Mutter, dem Bürgertum den Rücken zu und benutzten ihren ererbten Wohlstand dazu, in einen neuartigen, hoch reaktionären Landadel aufzusteigen.

Derix beschreibt, wie Fritz Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts, weitab der ursprünglichen Thyssen-Basis in der Ruhr, das Rittergut Gleina bei Naumburg/Saale pachtete, das Rittergut Götschendorf in der Uckermark kaufte und verkaufte und das Rittergut Neu Schlagsdorf bei Schwerin, sowie Schloss Puchhof in Bayern kaufte. Wir wussten bereits, dass Heinrich unter anderem den Rennstall Landswerth bei Wien, das Gestüt Erlenhof bei Bad Homburg, mit Rennstall in Hoppegarten bei Berlin und die Gut Rechnitz im österreichischen (vordem ungarischen) Burgenland erstand.

Durch unsere Forschungen wissen wir, dass die Thyssen Brüder auf den Ländereien des jeweils anderen jagten. Dies widerlegt einmal mehr die fadenscheinige Behauptung, die in der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“ immer und immer wieder, auch von Simone Derix, vorgebracht wird, dass Fritz und Heinrich Thyssen sich nicht verstanden hätten. Es ist eine Behauptung, die darauf abzielt, die Synergien in den wirtschaftlichen Unternehmungen der Thyssen Brüder zu verschleiern, insbesondere jene, die dem Nazi Regime zuträglich waren.

Beide Männer verhielten sich wie Feudalherren, die die Zufuhr von billigen Arbeitern und Zwangsarbeitern zu schätzen wussten, die Ihren Unternehmen durch die Unterdrückung von Arbeiterbewegungen und durch internationale, bewaffnete Konflikte geboten wurden, für die Ihre Fabriken Waffen und Munitionen lieferten. Die Thyssen Brüder mischten sich in eigennütziger Weise in die Politik ein, und zwar offen (Fritz) bzw. hinter den Kulissen, über diskrete, diplomatische und gesellschaftliche Kanäle (Heinrich) – obwohl Letzteres von Derix und ihren akademischen Kollegen vehement bestritten wird.

Beide Thyssen Brüder halfen dabei, den Nazis zum Aufstieg zu verhelfen. Aber Simone Derix versucht wiederum, sie als die schuldfreien, in die „Falle“ gelockten, illustren Industriellen darzustellen, die sie zu keinem Zeitpunkt gewesen sind.

1933 schaffte es Heinrich’s Tochter Margit – durch ihren unerbittlichen Vater, ihre anti-semitische Mutter und ihre pseudo-fromme, elitäre Sacré Coeur Erziehung verdorben -, die im Rechnitzer Schloss geboren und aufgewachsen war, den Status der Familie durch ihre Einheiratung in den ungarischen Adel (Ivan Batthyany) zu erheben – Das Gleiche erreichte auch Fritz Thyssen’s Tochter Anita (Gabor Zichy).

Am 8. April 1938, eine Woche nach dem Anschluss Österreichs an Nazi Deutschland, übertrug Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sein Gut Rechnitz, welches einst jahrhundertelang (von 1527 bis 1871) im Besitz der Batthyanys gewesen war, an Margit. Unsere Forschungen deuten darauf hin, dass dies geschah, sodass der im Tessin verschanzte Baron keine offensichtlichen Besitzungen im Deutschen Reich mehr aufwies.

Simone Derix gibt an, dies sei statt dessen aus steuerlichen Gründen geschehen.

Da alle seine deutschen Firmen durch holländische Finanzinstrumente gehalten wurden, waren die schweizer Behörden, die, obwohl offiziell neutral, bis zur Kriegswende 1943 pro-Deutsch eingestellt waren, versichert, dass Heinrich Thyssen für sie nicht zum politischen Problem werden würde.

Über sein Unternehmen Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (später Thyssengas) finanzierte Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sowohl Schloss Rechnitz als auch das Ehepar Batthyany-Thyssen diskret weiter. Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs verwendete seine Ruhr-Zeche Walsum, die zu Thyssengas gehörte, Zwangsarbeiter in der Größenordnung von zwei Dritteln der Gesamtbelegschaft; ein Rekord in der damaligen deutschen Industrie. In der Umgebung von Rechnitz wurden bergbauliche Interessen durch Thyssengas ausgeschöpft.

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Während Jahrhunderten war das riesige Rechnitzer Schloss, in dessen Hof, so wurde gesagt, ein ganzes Husarenregiment exerzieren konnte, das Machtzentrum von Rechnitz gewesen. Wie genau veränderte sich diese Situation nachdem die Nazis in Österreich die Staatsgewalt übernommen hatten? Wo genau in Rechnitz installierte sich die Partei mit ihren verschiedenen Organisationen?

Simone Derix liefert keine Antworten auf diese Fragen, obwohl sie mittels viel wortreichem Wirbel vorgibt, genau das zu tun. Stattdessen schreibt sie in vager, ausweichender Manier: “…..die Batthyanys (fanden) auf Schloss Rechnitz im Zweiten Weltkrieg mit Repräsentanten der NSDAP und des NS-Regimes ein einvernehmliches Auskommen“.

1934 lebten 170 Juden in Rechnitz. Am 1. November 1938, eine Woche vor der Reichskristallnacht, wurde Rechnitz als „Judenfrei“ erklärt, eine Situation die gewisse Mitglieder der Thyssen Familie begrüßt hätten (siehe hier). Doch Simone Derix weigert sich, den Antisemitismus von Schlüsselfiguren der Familie anzuerkennen. Sie beschränkt diese Eigenschaft statt dessen auf Randfiguren.

Im Frühjahr 1939, so Derix, wurde Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, dessen Vater Oberingenieur bei Thyssen war und der selbst auf landwirtschaftlichen Gütern der Thyssen-Familie gearbeitet hatte, nach Schloss Rechnitz gesandt, um dessen Bewirtschaftung zu übernehmen, welche sich schon bald auf Zwangsarbeiter aus dem ganzen Nazi-besetzten Europa stützte.

In jenem Sommer kam Franz Podezin als Beamter des Gestapo Grenzpostens nach Rechnitz. Er war seit 1931 ein Mitglied der SA gewesen und wurde später SS-Hauptscharführer. Er wurde ebenfalls Leiter der NSDAP in Rechnitz.

Simone Derix kommentiert: „Beide (Dienst)stellen (von Podezin) waren räumlich getrennt“, aber sie sagt nicht, wo genau diese Stellen lokalisiert waren. Stefan Klemp vom Simon Wiesenthal Zentrum hat geschrieben, dass das Hauptquartier der Rechnitzer Gestapo im Rechnitzer Schloss war. Entweder ist seine Aussage korrekt oder aber Simone Derix hat Recht, wenn sie sagt, dass Podezin erst im Herbst 1944 ein Büro im Schloss bezog, als er NSDAP Leiter des Unterabschnitts I des Abschnitts VI (Rechnitz) des Südostwall-Baus wurde.

Indem sie Klarheit vermissen lässt, umgeht Derix den wunden Punkt und trägt zur Rechtfertigung von Schuldigen bei – insbesondere der Thyssens als Besitzer, Geldgeber und „Herrschaften“ des Schlosses.

Die Aktivitäten an diesem verstärkten Verteidigungssystem, welches die Rote Armee aufhalten sollte, wurden von der Organisation Todt koordiniert (geleitet vom Rüstungsminister Albert Speer), vom Wehrmacht Generalmajor Wilhelm Weiss, und, im betreffenden Abschnitt, vom Gauleiter der Steiermark, zu der das Burgenland damals gehörte, Siegfried Uiberreither.

Ortsansässige und Zwangsarbeiter verschiedener Nationen wurden eingesetzt. Ihre Behandlung hing von ihrer Position innerhalb der Rassenhierarchie ab, welche die Nazi-Ideologen verfasst hatten. Am untersten Ende, und damit den schlechtesten Bedingungen und größten Schikanen ausgesetzt waren Slawen, Russen und Völker der Staaten der Sowjetunion. Niemand jedoch wurde so schlecht behandelt wie die Juden.

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Wie genau verbrachte Margit Batthyany-Thyssen die 12 Jahre der Nazi Tyrannei?

Die Gräfin übernahm die Rolle ihrer Mutter und Großmutter vor ihr als „Königin von Rechnitz“, während sie weiterhin weitläufig innerhalb des Reiches reiste. Nachdem sie die Pferdebegeisterung ihres Vaters geerbt hatte, beaufsichtigte sie die Thyssenschen Pferdezucht- und Rennsportaktivitäten in Bad Homburg bei Frankfurt, Hoppegarten/Berlin und Wien, besuchte Rennen in verschiedenen europäischen Städten und nahm Trophäen im Namen ihres Vaters entgegen, dem nicht mehr länger daran gelegen war, ausserhalb seines sicheren Tessiner Hafens gesehen zu werden.

1942 gewann ihr Erlenhof Hengst Ticino das Österreichische Derby in Wien-Friedenau und das Deutsche Derby in Hamburg. 1944 gelang dasselbe ihrem Erlenhof Hengst Nordlicht, doch das Deutsche Derby wurde wegen der Schäden in Hamburg durch alliierte Bombardierungen in Berlin abgehalten.

Bei diesen öffentlichen Veranstaltungen war Margit Batthyany im Kreise von Nazi Offiziellen zu sehen und wurde von diesen als ein Mitglied der höchsten Elite im Nazi Staat gefeiert. Es ist eindeutig, dass der Krieg für sie keine Veränderung in ihrem privilegierten Lebensstil mit sich brachte.

Jedes dieser Ereignisse war auch ein sehr öffentlicher Ausdruck der Unterstützung und Legitimierung des Nazi Regimes im Namen der Thyssens und der Batthyanys, doch jeglicher Bezug zu dieser Funktion fehlt in Derix’s Abhandlung.

Margit reiste auch regelmäßig während des Kriegs in die Schweiz, wo sie ihren Bruder Heini und ihren Vater Heinrich in Lugano, Zürich, Davos oder Flims traf. Es ist klar, dass auch sie Margit’s Lebensstil unterstützten. Dies bleibt bei Derix wiederum unerwähnt.

Während des Krieges in Rechnitz hatte Margit Batthyany anscheinend Liebesbeziehungen mit Hans Joachim Oldenburg (von der Familie Batthyany bestätigt) und Franz Podezin (durch einen Schlossangestellten angegeben und von Simone Derix erwähnt). Dies spiegelt die Informationen wider, die uns vor vielen Jahren durch Heini Thyssen’s ungarischen Rechtsanwalt, Josi Groh, gegeben wurden. Angestellte der Thyssens waren in einer idealen Position, solche Dinge zu beobachten, da sie Aufenthaltsräume säubern, Frühstück im Bett servieren und Gegenstände des täglichen Lebens der privaten Natur beschaffen mussten.

Seltsamerweise hat Simone Derix trotzdem das Bedürfnis, solche Details als „Spekulationen“ zu brandmarken, wodurch sie nahe legt, dass sie künstlich erhoben werden, um ein ungerechtfertigt schlechtes Licht auf ein Mitglied der Thyssen Familie zu lenken.

Der einzige Grund, warum wir Margit Batthyany’s spezifische Sexualneigung beleuchtet haben war, weil sie die intime Beziehung der Thyssens mit dem Nazi Regime so kraftvoll symbolisiert. Diese wird im Rahmen der Aufarbeitung der Rechnitzer Kriegsverbrechen nach dem Krieg an besonderer Bedeutung gewinnen.

Akademiker wie Simone Derix und Walter Manoschek, sowie Mitglieder der Refugius Gedenkinitiative sind nicht müde geworden zu beschwören, wir hätten die Geschichtsschreibung dieses Kapitels aus dem Kontext gerissen und in eine billige ‘Sex & Crime’ Saga verwandelt. Das Einzige, was durch diese fehlgeleiteten Beschuldigungen erreicht wird, ist das die Thyssens und Batthyanys einmal mehr davor abgeschirmt werden, ihre Verantwortung zu übernehmen, der sie sich, mit Ausnahme von Sacha Batthyany, bisher so energisch entzogen haben.

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Mit dem Jahr 1944 wurde der Nazi-Traum zum Alptraum. Im März besetzte Deutschland Ungarn und installierte ein Sondereinsatzkommando unter Adolf Eichmann, der die Deportation von 825.000 Juden organisierte. Bis Juli wurden 320.000 davon in den Gaskammern von Auschwitz ermordet und ca. 60.000 machte man zu Zwangsarbeiter in Österreich. Im Oktober, als die ungarischen Faschisten die Regierungsgeschäfte von dem authoritären Miklos Horthy übernahmen, wurden 200.000 Budapester Juden zur Zielscheibe.

Laut Eva Schwarzmayer wurden ca. 35.000 ungarische Juden für Holz- und Schanzarbeiten am Südostwall-Bau eingesetzt. Von diesen arbeiteten insgesamt bis zu 6.000 im Abschnitt Rechnitz und waren in vier verschiedenen Lagern untergebracht: In den Kellern und Lagerräumen des Schlosses, im sogenannten Schweizermeierhof in der Nähe des Kreuzstadls, in einem Barackenlager namens „Wald“ oder „Süd“ und in der früheren Synagoge. Währenddessen wurde der Volkssturm konstituiert, dem Hans Joachim Oldenburg beitrat.

Nichts von alledem wird von Simone Derix erwähnt.

Mit Beginn des Jahres 1945, als die westlichen und sowjetischen Armeen auf Hitler’s Deutschland eindrangen, geschahen zunehmend die sogenannten „Endphase-Verbrechen“ als Teil der Nazi Politik der ‘verbrannten Erde’. Dies bedeutet, dass Belastungsmaterial, inklusive Lagerinsassen, vernichtet und gleichermaßen diejenigen heimischen Bürger ausgeschaltet werden sollten, die ihre Ansicht zum Ausdruck brachten, der Krieg sei für die Deutschen verloren.

Diese Einstellung währte bis in die Nachkriegszeit hinein, sodass Zeugen, die bereit waren, gegen nationalsozialistische Kriegsverbrecher auszusagen, durch politische Fememorde zum Schweigen gebracht wurde. Dies geschah in Rechnitz mehrmals.

Nun begannen die sogenannten „Todesmärsche“, in denen Nazi Opfer aus ihren Gefängnissen evakuiert und vor den alliierten Fronten hergetrieben wurden, wobei viele unterwegs starben oder von Mitgliedern der SA, SS, des Volkssturms, der Hitlerjugend, der örtlichen Polizei etc., die sie bewachten, in aller Öffentlichkeit, oft in Sichtweite der örtlichen Bevölkerung, ermordet wurden.

Insgesamt scheinen mindestens 800 Juden in dieser Endphase des Kriegs in Rechnitz getötet worden zu sein. Das sogenannte „Massaker von Rechnitz“ an ca. 180 Juden in der Nacht vom 24./25. März 1945 ist in Wirklichkeit nur eines von mehreren mörderischen Aktionen. Simone Derix erwähnt kurz „bereits vor dem 24. März 1945 sind Erschießungen (in Rechnitz) bekannt“. Aber sie macht keinerlei Angaben zu diesen anderen Rechnitzer Massakern.

Annemarie Vitzthum aus Rechnitz gab während der Verfahren 1946/8 vor dem Volksgericht zu Protokoll, dass im Februar 1945 acht hundert Juden zu Fuß in Rechnitz angekommen seien und dass Franz Podezin sie „willkommen geheissen“ habe, in dem er hoch zu Pferde auf den erschöpften Menschen herumgetrampelt sei.

Laut österreichischen Ermittlern wurden Anfang März 220 ungarische Juden in Rechnitz erschossen.

Franz Cserer aus Rechnitz gab an, dass ca. Mitte März acht kranke Juden von Schachendorf nach Rechnitz gebracht worden seien und dass Franz Podezin sie beim jüdischen Friedhof erschossen habe.

Josef Mandel aus Rechnitz machte eine Aussage, dass am 17. oder 19. März ein Transport von 800 Juden aus Bozsok (Poschendorf) in Rechnitz angekommen sei. Der Überlebende Paul Szomogyi gab an, dass am 26. März 400 Juden aus seiner Zwangsarbeitergruppe in Rechnitz ermordet worden seien.

Simone Derix erwähnt mit keinem Wort die erhebliche Größenordnung dieser zusätzlichen Verbrechen.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel schreibt: „Paul Szomogyi war am 22. oder 23. März zusammen mit 3-5.000 Leidensgenossen von Köszeg in den Abschnitt Rechnitz verlegt worden“. Otto Ickowitz berichtete, dass kranke Gefangene aus einer Gruppe, die vom Lager in Bucsu kamen in einem Wald bei Rechnitz ermordet wurden.

Unglaublicherweise behandelt Simone Derix diesen beschleunigenden Horror indem sie die folgende, technokratische Sprache verwendet: „In den letzten Kriegsmonaten trafen in Rechnitz ganz unterschiedliche Typen von Lagergesellschaften und die jeweils damit verbundenen Erfahrungen aufeinander und verquickten sich mit lokalen Herrschaftsstrukturen“.

Dies klingt fast wie eine Zeile aus der Hand von Adolf Eichmann persönlich.

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Die Personen, die in der Nacht vom 24./25. März in das Massaker und/oder das Fest involviert waren umfassten unter anderem: den Kreisleiter von Oberwart, Eduard Nicka und weitere Funktionäre des gleichen Hauptquartiers der NSDAP, verschiedene Steyrische SA-Männer, Franz Podezin, seine Sekretärin Hildegard Stadler, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, das SS-Mitglied Ludwig Groll, den Leiter des Unterabschnitts II des Abschnitts VI des Südostwall-Baus Josef Muralter, Stefan Beigelböck, Johann Paal (Transport), Franz Ostermann (Transport) und Hermann Schwarz (Transport).

Derix kommentiert: „Die mutmaßlichen Täter/innen rekrutierten sich aus dem Kreis dieser Festgesellschaft, zu der auch die Schlossherren Margit und Ivan Batthyany zählten“.

Später half Margit Batthyany den zwei Hauptverdächtigen, Podezin und Oldenburg, zu fliehen und sich einer Strafverfolgung zu entziehen. Wenn sie nichts mit dem Rechnitz Massaker zu tun gehabt und die Vorkommnisse verwerflich gefunden hätte, erscheint es logisch, davon auszugehen, dass sie geholfen hätte, die Verantwortlichen ihrer gerechten Strafe zuzuführen, statt Ihnen dabei zu helfen, dieser auszuweichen.

Simone Derix erscheint fixiert darauf, die Thyssens frei zu sprechen und geht dabei sogar soweit, in Erwägung zu ziehen, dass Margit eventuell Opfern geholfen haben könnte – gibt dabei aber keinerlei Hinweise, wie sie zu dieser Einschätzung kommt.

Während der Nachkriegsverfahren wurde Josef Muralter als Organisator des Gefolgschaftsfests dargestellt. Verschiedene Akademiker haben auf diese angebliche Tatsache viel Wert gelegt, um zu zeigen, dass Margit Batthyany nicht die Gastgeberin des Abends gewesen sei, wie wir angegeben haben.

Aber solange keine Dokumente vorliegen, die beweisen, dass eine nationalsozialistische Organisation für das Fest bezahlt hat (und Derix legt solche Dokumente nicht vor) bleibt es Tatsache, dass Margit Batthyany die übergeordnete Gastgeberin war, denn es war ihre Familie, die für das Schloss und alles, was darin geschah bezahlte. Hierfür gibt es dokumentarische Beweise (siehe hier).

Simone Derix gesteht die zentrale Rolle der Personengruppe, die im Schloss Batthyany-Thyssen ansässig waren, bei den schrecklichen Missandlungen ein, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Rechnitz stattfanden. Sie räumt sogar ein, dass manche Menschen der Ansicht sein könnten, es gebe hier Raum, Fragen der moralischen und juristischen Verantwortung an die Besitzer zu richten. Aber sie klagt die Thyssens und die Batthyanys nie ob dieser Verantwortung oder Schuld an, und impliziert statt dessen, dass sie wahrscheinlich „nichts gesehen“ haben.

Es ist die gleiche Art der Verteidigung, die auch Albert Speer anwendete, als er Hugh Trevor-Roper anlog, dass er über das Programm der Endlösung nicht unterrichtet gewesen sei, weil es „so schwierig war, dieses Geheimnis zu kennen, selbst wenn man Mitglied der Regierung war“. Diese Taktik zielt darauf ab, mächtige Individuen abzuschirmen und die Gesamtschuld der Allgemeinheit zu zu schieben.

Wie in bisherigen Bänden der Serie so sind es auch hier wieder die Thyssen Manager, die beschuldigt werden, und in diesem Falle insbesondere Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Derix behauptet, er habe „seine Machtbefugnisse – auch gegenüber den Arbeitgebern – erweitern (können)“, er sei „aktiv an der Herstellung einer nationalsozialistischen ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ beteiligt (gewesen) und habe „rassistisch und antisemitisch“ agiert. Derix erwähnt jedoch nicht einen einzigen Beweis für ihre Beschuldigungen.

Falls Margit Batthyany ein Problem mit diesen Verhaltensweisen gehabt hätte, wäre es für sie einfach gewesen, sich für die Dauer des Krieges in irgend ein europäisches Hotel einzumieten. Sie tat dies aber nicht. Man muss also annehmen, dass sie mit den rassistischen und politischen Drangsalierungen der damaligen Zeit einverstanden war. Derix aber zieht diese logische Schlussfolgerung nicht.

Margit wählte die Teilnahme am Rechnitzer Terrorregime. Derix bevorzugt es, den weniger negativ klingenden Begriff der „Volksgemeinschaft“ anzuwenden.

Erst als die russische Armee sich näherte ergriff Margit Batthyany, zusammen mit Hans-Joachim Oldenburg und einigen ihrer Angestellten, die Flucht in privaten Automobilen und ließ alle anderen im Stich. Ebenso tat es Podezin.

Emmerich Cserer aus Rechnitz sagte aus, dass am 28. und 29. März große Transporte von jeweils hunderten von Zwangsarbeitern Rechnitz verließen. Josef Muralter gab zu Protokoll, dass er am 29. März das Schloss mit 400 Gefangenen aus dem Schlosskeller verließ.

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Die Einwohner von Rechnitz mussten danach die Konfrontation mit der Roten Armee ertragen, das Niederbrennen ihres zentralen, 600-Jahre alten Schlosses als Teil der Nazi Politik der verbrannten Erde, die Nachkriegsermittlungen und die Stigmatisierung ihres Städtchens, die bis heute anhält. Diese Stigmatisierung ist jedoch nicht darauf zurück zu führen, wie Derix behauptet, dass der Fall durch Medienreportagen wie unserer „skandalisiert“ worden sei. Sie ist vielmehr Folge der Tatsache, dass die Verbrechen ob der Verschlagenheit der Flüchtenden nie richtig aufgeklärt und bestraft werden konnten.

Die Einwohner von Rechnitz haben ihre Pflicht getan, indem sie viele Zeugenaussagen tätigten, die es ermöglicht hätten, die Schuldigen zu verurteilen. Nichtsdestotrotz wurden sie später von Akademikern und manchen Medien beschuldigt, über die Vorfälle geschwiegen zu haben. Als wir als englisch-sprachige Außenseiter nach Rechnitz kamen sprachen Menschen zu uns unaufgefordert und frei über die Ereignisse. Allen voran der Historiker des Städtchens, Josef Hotwagner, der uns empfohlen worden war. Sie verbargen in keinster Weise, was dort geschehen war.

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Nach ihrer Flucht, so Simone Derix, installierte sich Margit Batthyany im April 1945 in einem Haus in Düns in Vorarlberg. Während des Sommers sei sie „reisen“ gegangen. Was Derix nicht erwähnt, ist dass Margit Batthyany, anscheinend ohne jegliche Probleme, im Juli 1945 zum ersten Mal nach dem Krieg in die Schweiz einreiste. Es ist nicht vorstellbar, dass die Schweizer Behörden zu diesem Zeitpunkt nicht darüber informiert waren, was wenige Monate davor im Burgenland geschehen war.

Laut Derix war Batthyany ab November für die Französische Militärregierung im österreichischen Feldkirch tätig, mit anderen Worten, sie schaffte es, sich in die alliierten Verwaltungsstrukturen einzubinden. Dies dürfte mit den top-level Verbindungen ihrer Familie zusammen gehangen haben und mit der Tatsache, dass sie Informationen über eine Region bieten konnte, die nunmehr unter sowjetischer Besatzung war. Derix aber gibt ihrerseits keinerlei Anhaltspunkte für den Grund dieser plötzlichen „Anstellung“.

Ein Jahr später, im Juli 1946, so schreibt Derix, habe Margit ihren Bruder Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza in Hannover besucht. Dies war ein Mann, der ein förderndes Mitglied der SS gewesen war, und während des Krieges in verschiedene industrielle Aktivitäten involviert war, die den deutschen Kriegsanstrengungen unter Verwendung von Zwangsarbeitern zugute kamen, was er nach dem Krieg strikt leugnete. Derix erwähnt Stephan Thyssen’s pro-Nazi Aktivitäten an dieser Stelle jedoch nicht.

Laut Derix zog Margit Batthyany, finanziell von ihrem Vater abhängig wie sie war, im August 1946 in seine Villa Favorita in Lugano.

Unsere Forschungen ergaben, dass Margit im November 1946 an ihre Schwester Gaby Bentinck schrieb: „Damit es nicht auffällt, habe ich mit O.(ldenburg) besprochen, dass er vorerst zwei Jahre alleine nach Südamerika geht. Habe Visa für ihn in Aussicht, was sagst Du dazu?“ Diese Hinweise übergaben wir Sacha Batthyany und er verwendete sie in seinem Artikel (aber nicht in seinem Buch!). Simone Derix ignoriert sie und erwähnt lediglich, dass Margit im November 1946 „Pläne“ gehabt habe, „Europa zu verlassen“.

Die Tatsache dass Margit Batthyany zu diesem Zeitpunkt in Erwägung ziehen konnte, Vermögenswerte zwischen Ländern und sogar Kontinenten zu verschieben zeigt wiederum, wie privilegiert Ihre Lebensumstände im Vergleich zu denen der großen Mehrheit waren. Sicherlich hat sie auch auf Investitionen zurück greifen können, die die Familie bereits vor dem Krieg in Südamerika getätigt hatte.

Während dessen wurden im Burgenland 1946 achtzehn Menschen beschuldigt, in Rechnitz Kriegsverbrechen begangen zu haben, von denen sieben in einem Volksgerichtshof angeklagt wurden, inklusive, in Abwesenheit, Franz Podezin und Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Aber nur zwei wurden verurteilt, und diese Urteile in den frühen 1950er Jahren durch österreichische Amnestiegesetze aufgehoben. Die Verfahren erstreckten sich über zwei Jahre und wurden sogar erst 20 Jahre später im Jahr 1965 in Deutschland endgültig abgeschlossen.

Am 7. Januar 1947 wurde Margit Batthyany das erste und einzige Mal in der Sache befragt, und zwar durch die Schweizerische Kantonalpolizei in Buchs (Schweizer Staatsschutz-Fiche, Akteneintrag C.2.16505). Sie musste nie als Zeugin vor dem österreichischen Gericht erscheinen, eine Tatsache, die auf einer Informationstafel des 2012 eröffneten Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museums angeprangert wird (in den kleineren englischen und ungarischen Versionen, nicht aber in der deutschen Hauptversion).

Wurde Margit Batthyany-Thyssen je aufgefordert, vor Gericht zu erscheinen? Falls nicht, weshalb nicht? Spielte die Neutralität ihres Gastlandes eine Rolle hierbei? Oder leitete sich der Schutz, den sie offensichtlich genoss direkt von ihrer überaus bevorteilten gesellschaftlichen Stellung ab?

Simone Derix behauptet, die Gräfin habe während ihrer Befragung „versucht“, Oldenburg ein Alibi zu verschaffen. In Wahrheit hat sie ihm ein Alibi verschafft, indem sie sagte, er habe sich die ganze Nacht auf dem Schloss aufgehalten. Sacha Batthyany’s Schlussfolgerung ist eindeutiger: „Sie schützt ihn, ihren Geliebten, denn Oldenburg ist von Zeugen beim Massaker gesehen worden“.

Im Sommer 1948, so unsere Forschungen, schrieb Margit ihrer Schwester Gaby Bentinck: „O.(ldenburg) hat ein fabelhaftes Angebot nach Argentinien zur größten Molkereiwirtschaft. Im August ist er dort“. Auch dieser Beweis wurde von uns an Sacha Batthyany weiter gegeben, der ihn veröffentlichte, aber von Simone Derix wird er nicht erwähnt. Sie versäumte es auch, gewisse Familienarchive in London zu konsultieren.

Am 13. August 1948 hielt das Gericht fest, dass laut einer mündlichen Information der Polizeidienststelle Oberwart, sowohl Franz Podezin als auch Hans-Joachim Oldenburg in der Schweiz anwesend waren und planten, mit Margit Batthyany nach Südamerika auszuwandern, und damit ihrem Mann zu folgen, der bereits dort war. Am 30. August 1948 informierte Interpol Wien die Behörden in Lugano per Telegramm:

„Es besteht die Gefahr, dass sich die beiden nach Südamerika begeben. Bitte um Festnahme“. Die Verhaftungsbefehle gegen die Flüchtigen wurden im Schweizer Polizeianzeiger vom 30.08.48, Seite 1643, Art. 16965 ausgeschrieben. All dies ist von Sacha Batthyany recherchiert und veröffentlicht worden. Simone Derix erwähnt es nicht.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel fasst die Gerichtsverfahren 1946/8 folgendermaßen zusammen: „Wegen der Flucht der beiden verdächtigten Rädelsführer Podezin und Oldenburg hatte das Gericht erhebliche Probleme bei der Wahrheitsfindung.“

Sacha Batthyany kommentiert: „Sie (Margit) hat ihm zur Flucht verholfen, dem mutmaßlichen Massenmörder (Oldenburg)“.

Aber die Linie, die Simone Derix verfolgt ist wiederum die, Margit Batthyany-Thyssen zu beschützen, indem sie schreibt: „Unklar blieb auch, welche Rolle Margit Batthyany dabei zukam, als es zwei Hauptverdächtigen (Oldenburg und Podezin), gelang, sich der Befragung durch die österreichischen Behörden zu entziehen und so letzlich einer möglichen Bestrafung zu entgehen“.

Simone Derix behauptet auch, Franz Podezin sei in der Sache befragt worden. Dies ist unwahr. Podezin ist nie über seine angebliche Verstrickung in das Rechnitz Massaker befragt worden.

Derix praktiziert also nicht nur eine gravierende Entlastung zugunsten der Thyssen Familie, ihre Publikation bleibt auch hinter der gegenwärtigen Forschungslage zurück und ist in einem fundamentalen Punkt unwahr.

                                                                  * * *

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen und ihr Mann Ivan Batthyany lebten von 1948 bis 1954 auf einem Gut, das sie in Uruguay gekauft hatten. Was aus Podezin’s und Oldenburg’s Reiseplänen wurde ist weniger klar.

Simone Derix erklärt, dass Hans Joachim Oldenburg ab 1950 auf dem Gut Obringhoven arbeitete, welches Thyssengas gehörte, ein Fakt, der noch nie zuvor erwähnt worden ist. Dies ist ein seltener, kostbarer Beitrag von Derix zum Fall Rechnitz.

Dies zeigt auch, dass die Thyssens kein Problem damit hatten, diesen Gutsverwalter, der vor einem österreichischen Gericht angeklagt worden war, an Kriegsverbrechen teilgenommen zu haben, wieder zu beschäftigen. Die Thyssens gaben damit Hans-Joachim Oldenburg nicht nur eine Arbeitsstelle, sondern, so scheint es, auch Schutz vor weiteren Ermittlungen gegen ihn.

Doch Derix versäumt es, diesen Hintergrund kritisch zu beleuchten

Soweit es Podezin angeht, so schreibt Stefan Klemp vom Simon Wiesenthal Zentrum, er sei als Agent für die Westmächte in Ost-Deutschland untergetaucht. Podezin wurde anscheinend in der sowjetischen Besatzungszone wegen seiner Aktivitäten für die alliierten Geheimdienste verhaftet und zu 25 Jahren Gefängnis verurteilt, allerdings nach 11 Jahren frei gelassen. Er siedelte dann nach West-Deutschland über, wo er sich als Versicherungskaufmann in Kiel niederließ.

1958 wurde die Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen in Ludwigsburg gegründet. Diese eröffnete 1963 ein Mordermittlungsverfahren gegen Franz Podezin und Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Ein Brief vom 18.02.1963 macht klar, dass der Staatsanwalt wusste, dass Podezin so stark belastet war, dass seine Verhaftung von Nöten war. Und dennoch verzögerte er das Verfahren. Oldenburg wurde seinerseits am 26.03.1963 von der Zentralstelle in Dortmund befragt.

Als die Polizei schließlich versuchte, am 10. Mai Podezin zu verhaften, war dieser nach Dänemark geflohen. Kurt Griese, ein früherer SS-Hauptscharführer und nunmehr Regierungskriminalermittler, blockierte nun das Verfahren weiter, so Klemp, sodass es Podezin möglich war, in die Schweiz auszureisen. Von dort erpresste er Margit Batthyany, ihm bei der Flucht nach Südafrika behilflich zu sein. Dort arbeitete er für Hytec, eine Firma mit Geschäftsverbindungen zur Thyssen AG, wie Stefan Klemp ermittelte.

Sacha Batthyany schreibt: „Ob Tante Margit (Podezin) in den Sechzigerjahren zur Flucht verhalf und ihm auch noch einen Job vermittelte in Südafrika?“. Aber das Thema wird von Simone Derix außen vor gelassen.

Wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung zusätzlich zu unserem Artikel 2007 berichtete, wurde gegen Margit Batthyany nie Anklage erhoben, obwohl einer der deutschen Ermittler 1963 dem österreichischen Justizministerium anzeigte, dass sie verdächtigt wurde, den beiden Rechnitz Mördern zur Flucht verholfen zu haben. Warum wurde gegen sie nie Anklage erhoben? Derix erwähnt diesen Punkt nicht und liefert daher keine Erklärungen.

Laut Eva Holpfer wurde das Verfahren gegen Hans Joachim Oldenburg auf Anweisung des Staatsanwalts am 21.09.1965 wegen Mangels an Beweisen eingestellt.

Mit den 1960er Jahren war Margit Batthyany zurück an der Rennbahn und nahm z.B. beim österrechischen Derby in Wien die Trophäe für Settebello entgegen, den sie gezüchtet hatte. Sie kehrte auch regelmäßig nach Rechnitz zurück (wo sie 1989 starb), v.a. zur Jagdsaison, und machte sich durch die Übergabe von Land und anderen Geschenken an Ortsansässige beliebt, wie uns von Rechnitzer Bürgern berichtet und von Sacha Batthyany bestätigt wurde.

1970 wurde Margit Batthyany-Thyssen die Schweizer Staatsbürgerschaft zuerkannt, um die sie sich seit Ende des Krieges bemüht hatte. Im selben Jahr begann Horst Littmann vom Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge in Rechnitz zu graben, musste allerdings aufhören, da die Genehmigung seitens des österreichischen Innenministeriums ausblieb.

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In den 1980er Jahren initiierte der Antifaschist Hans Anthofer den ersten Rechnitzer Gedenkort für die jüdischen Opfer. Doch in den frühen 1990er Jahren wurde der jüdische Friedhof in Rechnitz immer noch vandalisiert und laut Eva Schwarzmayer gab es selbst bei der Gedenkveranstaltung 2005 noch Personen des öffentlichen Lebens, die sagten, es sei nicht sicher ob das Massaker am Kreuzstadl wirklich stattgefunden habe.

2012 dann wurde der Gedenkort zu einem Museum ausgebaut und vom österreichischen Präsident Heinz Fischer eröffnet. Dieser teilte den Anwesenden mit, dass „weiterhin alles unternommen werden wird, um die Leichen der Opfer zu finden“.

Die Refugius Gedenkinitiative hat davon gesprochen, dass sich die Einstellung in Rechnitz verändert habe. Gleichzeitig prangert sie auf einer der Informationstafeln des Museums an, dass „die aktive Erinnerungs- und Gedenkarbeit noch immer keinen gesellschaftlichen Konsens (findet)“.

Was auffällt ist, dass, im Widerspruch zu ihren zum Ausdruck gebrachten Absichten zur Aufarbeitung der Geschichte und Ehrung der Opfer (siehe Fußnote), offensichtlich keiner der Thyssens bisher jemals an einer der Gedenkveranstaltungen in Rechnitz teilgenommen hat.

Das Amt der Burgenländischen Landesregierung hat uns mitgeteilt, dass „Die Familien Thyssen bzw. Batthyany….im Burgenland (und Österreich-weit) im Bereich Erinnerungskultur und Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit überhaupt keine Rolle (spielen)“.

Warum tun sie dies nicht?

Sacha Batthyany hat berichtet, dass er von Familienmitgliedern Drohungen erhalten hat, als er versuchte, die Geschichte der Familie während der Nazi Ära zu durchleuchten.

Was die Einwohner von Rechnitz angeht, so sind sie verständlicherweise gespalten zum Thema. Es wäre seltsam wenn es anders wäre.

Aber bei den Thyssens existiert eine solche Fragmentierung nicht. Sie scheinen einheitlich ungerührt und unengagiert zu sein. Dies dürfte jetzt noch dadurch verstärkt werden, dass sie wohl annehmen, die Akademiker, die sie beauftragt haben, hätten Schlüsse gezogen, die sie schuldfrei erscheinen lassen.

Aber in Wahrheit sind sie nicht schuldfrei und es ist jetzt an der Zeit für die Thyssens, klare Aussagen zu machen, auf welcher Seite der Grenze zwischen Faschismus und Anti-Faschismus sie stehen.

Nur wenn die Thyssens (und die Batthyanys als ihre örtlichen Repräsentanten) ihre Leitbildfunktion wahrnehmen, kann die Erinnerungskultur um das Rechnitz Massaker darauf hoffen, in der breiten Öffentlichkeit einvernehmlicher zu werden.

Indem sie die nächste Gedenkveranstaltung Ende März 2018 in Rechnitz besuchen – und dies auch in den Medien berichtet wird – können Mitglieder der Thyssen Dynastie in dieser Hinsicht eine wirklich öffentliche Aussage tätigen und ihrer geschichtlichen Verantwortung transparent und effektiv nachkommen.

Nach all den Ausflüchten der Vergangenheit hält es die informierte Öffentlichkeit jetzt für dringend angebracht, dass diese Familien endlich ihren Beitrag zur Heilung des Falles Rechnitz leisten und WIRKLICHE Solidarität zeigen bei der Ehrung der Toten und Versehrten dieser katastrophalen Ereignisse.

* * *

Fußnote: Die folgenden Statements wurden bisher abgegeben:

1) Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, in der Sendung „Titel, Thesen, Temperamente“ (Oktober 2007): „Ich unterstütze es, wenn die Familie selbst die damaligen Geschehnisse aufarbeitet. Die Ergebnisse dieser Recherchen sollen transparent und öffentlich zugänglich sein“.

2) Offizielle Webseite der Familie Batthyany: „Seit unserem Erfahren der Geschehnisse in den letzten Jahren sind wir zutiefst bestürzt und ergriffen……Viele Fragen stellen sich uns. Auf sie wissen wir keine Antworten…….Wir hoffen, dass das Gedenken an diese Opfer immer mehr gepflegt wird und das Grab der Ermordeten von Rechnitz, das bis heute unentdeckt geblieben ist, eines Tages gefunden wird“.

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, Tochter von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, nimmt Preise für Gewinner aus den Rennställen der Thyssens aus der Hand von nationalsozialistischen Funktionsträgern beim Großen Preis von Wien 1942 in Empfang und legitimiert so das Nazi Regime im Namen sowohl der Thyssens als auch der Batthyanys (photo Menzendorf, Berlin; copyright Archiv von David R L Litchfield).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Auszug aus den Mitschriften der Vorstandssitzungen der Thyssen-Bornemisza Gruppe (1939-1944) in Lugano, Flims, Davos bzw. Zürich unter Mitwirkung von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Wilhelm Roelen (Generalbevollmächtigter) und Heinrich Lübke (Direktor der August Thyssen Bank Berlin).  Diese Seite zeigt, dass während des Zweiten Weltkriegs die Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, dem Vater von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, gehörende Firma Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (Thyssengas) im Umland des Sitzes des Thyssen-Bornemisza Schlosses Rechnitz / Burgenland (Österreich) Bergbauinteressen ausschöpfte (photo copyright Archiv David R L Litchfield)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

 

 

Insgesamt scheinen mindestens 800 Juden in der Endphase des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Rechnitz (Österreich), dem Sitz des Thyssen-Bornemisza Schlosses und Wohnsitz von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, umgebracht worden zu sein. Das sogenannte “Rechnitz Massaker” in der Nacht vom 24./25. März 1945 ist in Wirklichkeit nur eines von mehreren solcher mörderischen Geschehnisse an diesem Ort zu jener Zeit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

 

 

“Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen” ist Band 4 der Serie “Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert”, gefördert von der  Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Köln und veröffentlicht im Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn. Sieben Seiten des 500-Seiten starken Buches befassen sich mit dem Leben der Batthyany-Thyssens in Rechnitz während des Zweiten Weltkriegs und im Besonderen mit ihrer Verstrickung in das sogenannte “Rechnitz Massaker” (photo copyright Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn).                          Dieses Buch ist eine Kurzfassung der Habilitationsschrift von Simone Derix und wird als solche von deutschen Akademikern als Fakt aufgenommen werden, eine Qualifizierung, gegen die wir eindringlich Einwand erheben.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

 

Simone Derix, Autorin des Buches “Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen”, eine von zehn Akademikern, die von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung gefördert wurden, um die Geschichte der Thyssens umzuschreiben. Sie fährt fort mit einer Behandlung der Thematik, die kontroverse Punkte weiss zu waschen bzw. abzumildern scheint (photo copyright Historisches Kolleg, Munich). Das “Historische Kolleg”, wo Simone Derix ihr Buch präsentiert hat, wird übrigens selbst teilweise gefördert von ….. der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung (!)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Das Kreuzstadl Mahnmal in Rechnitz für die jüdischen Opfer des Zweiten Weltkriegs wurde 2012 erweitert und vom österreichischen Präsidenten eröffnet. Große Informationstafeln enthalten unter anderem die Information, dass Margit Batthyany nie vor Gericht Aussagen zum Rechnitz Massaker vom 24./25. März 1945 machen musste. Und dies obwohl deutsche Ermittler 1963 dem österreichischen Justizministerium mitteilten, dass sie unter Verdacht stand, den zwei Hauptbeschuldigten, Franz Podezin und Joachim Oldenburg, zur Flucht verholfen zu haben (photo copyright: übersmeer blog)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

Das österreichische Staatsoberhaupt Heinz Fischer, der das Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museum 2012 eröffnet hat, versicherte den Anwesenden, dass die Republik Österreich weiterhin alles daran gibt, die Gräber der 1945 in Rechnitz ermordeten Juden zu finden. Doch verschiedene österreichische Stellen haben auch angemerkt, dass der Erinnerungsprozess immer noch keinen breiten Konsens findet und dass insbesondere die Familien Thyssen und Batthyany von einer positiven, pro-aktiven Beteiligung am Prozess der Aufarbeitung und Heilung Abstand zu nehmen scheinen (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Jedes Jahr Ende März findet am Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museum eine Gedenkveranstaltung statt, die vom Gedenkverein Refugius organisiert wird. Während diese Gedenkveranstaltung vom früheren Bürgermeister, Engelbert Kenyeri, besonders positiv gefördert wurde und immer mehr Rechnitzer Bürger daran teilnehmen, hat bisher kein einziges Mitglied, weder der Familie Thyssen noch der Familie Batthyany öffentlich daran teilgenommen. Dies obwohl sie nach Erscheinen unserer Publikationen und der Aufführung des sich daraus ableitenden Theaterstücks “Rechnitz. Der Würgeengel” von Elfriede Jelinek glühende Absichtserklärungen abgegeben hatten (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)

 

 

 

 

                

 

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Simone Derix Shrouds Thyssen Guilt – Rechnitz Revisited II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Derix alleges this was instead done for tax reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None of this is mentioned by Simone Derix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

Yet Derix fails to comment critically on this important issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                  * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Why do they not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Footnote: The following statements were made in the past:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Ungarn’s Reaktion auf Sacha Batthyany und das Rechnitz Massaker (von Caroline D Schmitz)

Was uns am Sachverhalt des Rechnitz Massakers immer besonders abgestoßen hat, ist dass während die Opfer Ungarn waren, die Thyssens, von deren Schloss aus das Massaker gestartet wurde, andererseits sich nicht nur einmal, sondern zweimal auf eine adoptierte ungarische Staatsbürgerschaft des Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza verlassen haben, um ihr deutsches Vermögen nach dem jeweiligen Krieg zu retten. Ein Vermögen, welches es den Thyssens erlaubt hat, ihr öffentliches Image mit eiserner Hand zu wahren. Ein Vermögen, von dem auch Sacha Batthyany profitiert hat. Es ist demnach vielleicht nicht allzu verwunderlich, dass die ungarische Reaktion auf Sacha Batthyany’s Buch kritischer ausfällt als die im Westen Europas.

Ende August bezog sich der Könyves Blog im Artikel „Bereits im April wurde Sacha Batthyany’s Buch Angegriffen“ auf unsere Position und Eva Kovacz vom Wiesenthal Institut für Holocaust Studien in Wien beschrieb sehr interessante neue Aspekte unter dem Titel „Die Österreicher Haben Holocaust Gedenkstätten Vor Allem Über Uns“. Dann erschien „Wir Ziehen Die Opfer Vor“ von Peter Kövesdi auf Vasarnapi Hirek und Ban Zoltan Andras auf Unikornis bezeichnete Sacha Batthyany als verwöhnten Yuppie und sein Buch als plumpen literarischen Versuch voller Flachheiten. Und nun hat Julia Szaszi auf Szervuszausztria.hu einen exzellenten Artikel veröffentlicht, aus dem wir hiermit zitieren (Nota Bene: Alle Übersetzungen aus dem Ungarischen basieren auf Google Translate Service!):

http://szervuszausztria.hu/blog/blogpost/ausztriai-hatter-sascha-batthyany-konyvehez

„Andreas Lehner, Vorstandsmitglied des Vereins Refugius sagt: „Wir werden nicht ruhen, bis die Gräber gefunden sind und die Opfer würdig begraben werden können“. (Es hat viele positive Entwicklungen in Rechnitz gegeben)…… Die Einwohner von Rechnitz waren früher misstrauisch gegenüber Fremden…..Der Wendepunkt kam mit einem englischen Autor, David R. L. Litchfield. 2008 (Deutsche Ausgabe) wurde sein Buch „Die Thyssen-Dynastie“ veröffentlicht. Es ist voller Fakten über die Geschichte der Thyssens, wobei mehrere beunruhigende Parallelen zum Fall Rechnitz auffallen. Es lenkte einen Scheinwerfer auf diese reiche Dynastie, wie sie noch niemals zuvor in Österreich beschrieben worden war. Das Buch enthält viele Interviews mit Zeitzeugen…..Der englische Autor lehnte die Theorie ab, dass das Rechnitzer Schloss von den Russen zerstört wurde und verficht stattdessen die Meinung, dass es von den fliehenden Deutschen in Brand gesetzt wurde, um belastende Beweise zu vernichten……

Die Sowjets fanden die Gräber der jüdischen Opfer sehr bald. Insgesamt 21 Gräber mit jeweils 10-12 Leichen, die Spuren von Folter aufwiesen. Eine zweite Exhumierung geschah 1946 im Rahmen von Gerichtsprozessen. Eine Lageskizze wurde bei der zuständigen Staatsanwaltschaft hinterlegt, verschwand dann aber unter mysteriösen Umständen. Andreas Lehner von Refugius erklärt all dies damit, dass die Sowjets die eigenen Toten suchten und als sie sahen, dass die Gräber keine Russen enthielten, an dem Fall nicht mehr interessiert waren. Das ist natürlich keine Erklärung für das Verschwinden der Karte. Aber es könnte sein, dass sie zusammen mit Tausenden von anderen Dokumenten 1955 von der Armeepatrouille mitgenommen wurde, als die sowjetischen Besatzer Österreich verließen. Unter dieser Annahme hat sich jetzt anscheinend eine neue Gruppe von österreichischen Historikern gebildet, die in russischen Archiven nach dieser Karte forschen will. Es wird natürlich nicht einfach sein, dieses eine Dokument unter Millionen von Akten zu finden……

Technische Methoden der Grabung sind über die Jahre immer besser geworden….Natürlich wäre es einfacher gewesen, Informationen über die Lage der Gräber von den Verantwortlichen zu erhalten. Aber ebenso wie Franz Podezin und Joachim Oldenburg waren auch Margit Batthyany-(Thyssen-Bornemisza) und ihr Mann, Graf Ivan Batthyany vor der Ankunft der Roten Armee geflohen. Nach dem sowjetische Rückzug kamen sie nach Rechnitz zurück, wo sie u.a. der Jagd huldigten. Nach Ihrem Tod 1985 und 1989 erlaubte ihnen die bei Güssing ansässige Familie Batthyany nicht, in der Familienkrypta bei gesetzt zu werden…….

Der Bürgermeister von Rechnitz, Engelbert Kenyeri, sagt dass das Rechnitz Massaker einer ansonsten makellosen Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Batthyany Dynastie einen negativen Aspekt hinzu fügt, und dabei sei es besonders tragisch, dass sie ja nur indirekt, durch die Heirat von Ivan Batthyany mit Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza, involviert sei……..Josef Hotwagner, der Historiker des Dorfes, der vor einigen Jahren starb, hatte die Kriegsjahre in Rechnitz erlebt und auch danach sehr viele Gespräche mit Einwohnern geführt, die Informationen hatten……Und heute gibt es Ortsansässige wie Andrea Hütler, eine Lehrerin die mit ihren 14-jährigen Schülern den Fall im Geschichtsunterricht bearbeitet und ein Projekt ausgearbeitet hat, welches mit dem Fred Sinowatz Preis ausgezeichnet wurde“…….

(die Schüler besuchten auch Gabor Vadasz in Budapest, den Sohn von Geza Vadasz und Neffen von Arpad Vadasz, die beide in Rechnitz ermordet wurden. Gabor bemüht sich seit Jahren verzweifelt, die Gräber ausfindig zu machen. Laut einem Artikel von Judith Gergaly hat er auch an hohe österreichische Politiker und an den Papst in dieser Sache mit der Bitte um Hilfe geschrieben).

“……..Die Gedenkstätte Rechnitz, die mit einer simplen Gedenktafel begann, wurde 2012 zu einem größeren Informationszentrum ausgebaut, welches vom österreichischen Staatsoberhaupt Heinz Fischer eröffnet wurde……Menschen, die in anderen Fällen von unauffindbaren Massengräbern involviert waren berichten davon, wie schwierig es ist, die Hürden von Verhandlungen, Schlichtung und finanziellen Aspekten zu überwinden, sodass die Fälle oft viele Jahre benötigen, um zu einem Abschluss zu kommen. Refugius möchte nur ungern solche unangenehmen Verwaltungen unternehmen, selbst wenn sie schließlich dazu führen können, dass die Gräber der Rechnitzer Opfer auf den ehemaligen Batthyanyschen Ländereien gefunden werden.“ (Ende des Auszugs aus dem Artikel auf Szervuszausztria.hu).

http://szervuszausztria.hu/blog/blogpost/ausztriai-hatter-sascha-batthyany-konyvehez

Wir finden die ungarische Reaktion und Bewertung unserer Arbeit (und insbesondere den Artikel von Julia Szaszi, die auch Wiener Korrespondentin der größten ungarischen Tageszeitung Nepszabadsag ist) beruhigend und hoffen, dass die Artikel der ungarischen Kommentatoren viele positive Resultate für den Fall Rechnitz erbringen werden.

Sollte Sacha Batthyany, dessen Buch sieben Jahre nach seinem Zeitungsartikel 2009 keinerlei Neuigkeiten zum Fall Rechnitz enthält (im Gegenteil, aus irgendeinem Grund hat er z.B. die Beweise zur Deckung von Franz Podezin und Joachim Oldenburg durch Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in der Buchversion ausgelassen) und stattdessen die Aufmerksamkeit weg von Rechnitz und hin zu einer komplett neuen Geschichte lenkt, vielleicht seine frenetische Vortragstour unterbrechen und sich auf diese, eher schwierige Aufgabe einlassen? Er könnte damit sicherlich den Namen seiner Familie in viel eindrucksvollerer Weise pflegen, als es ihm durch die Weiterführung seiner Werbeanstrengungen für sein selbstgerechtes Buch möglich sein dürfte, von dem er selbst zugibt, dass es eher fiktional ist.

Nach dem Artikel von Ficsor Benedek in Magyar Nemzet zu urteilen scheint es allerdings so, dass Sacha Batthyany sich neuerdings als Opfer des Thyssenschen Verhaltens neu erfindet, anstatt den Schuldanteil seiner eigenen Familie ein zu gestehen.

Dies ist nun eine ideale, historische Gelegenheit für die Thyssens, ihre Schuld öffentlich an zu erkennen und sich an der Lösung des Falles Rechnitz zu beteiligen, damit die Wunden heilen können, sowohl dessen, was den ungarischen Opfern und ihren Familie angetan wurde, als auch die der Menschen in Rechnitz.

Julia Szaszi, ehemalige Wien-Korrespondentin der großen ungarischen Tageszeitung Nepszabadsag, hat in Rechnitz Interviews geführt und bereits mehrere Male in der ungarischen Presse über den Fall Rechnitz berichtet. Auf der Internet-Platform Szervuszausztria.hu schreibt sie auf Ungarisch über Österreich.

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

The Hungarian Reaction to Sacha Batthyany and the Rechnitz Massacre (by Caroline D Schmitz)

What has always been especially disturbing to us about the circumstances of the Rechnitz Massacre is that its victims were Hungarians, and that yet the Thyssens, from whose castle the massacre was launched, had relied not just once, but twice on an adopted Hungarian nationality of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza for the post-war salvation of their German fortune. A fortune that has allowed the Thyssens to retain an iron grip on their public image. And a fortune from which Sacha Batthyany too has profited. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Hungarian reaction to Sacha Batthyany’s book is somewhat more critical than that seen in Western Europe.

At the end of August, Könyves Blog in „Already in April Sacha Batthyany’s Book Was Being Critised“ referred to our defensive position and Eva Kovacz from the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies reported very interesting new details under the title „The Austrians Have Holocaust Memorials Especially About Us“. Then came „We Prefer The Victims“ by Peter Kövesdi on Vasarnapi Hirek and Ban Zoltan Andras on Unikornis, who described Sacha Batthyany as a spoilt yuppie and his book as being a crude literary attempt full of plattitudes. And now Julia Szaszi on Szervuszausztria.hu has published an excellent article from which we quote as follows (Please note: this translation is reliant on the Google Translate Service!):

http://szervuszausztria.hu/blog/blogpost/ausztriai-hatter-sascha-batthyany-konyvehez

 

„Andreas Lehner of Refugius says his organisation will not stop until the graves of the victims have been found and the victims can receive a dignified burial……..(Many developments for the better have taken place in Rechnitz).….In the past, the people of Rechnitz have been suspicious of outsiders. The turning point came with the English author David R. L. Litchfield and his 2007 book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“. It is full of facts about the history of the Thyssens which show disturbing parallels to the Rechnitz story. It put a spotlight on this family which was unheard of before in Austria in this way. The book contains interviews with many witnesses……….The English author also rejected the old story of the Russians burning down the Rechnitz castle and instead stressed that the much more likely turn of events was a burning down by the retreating Germans in order to extinguish incriminating evidence……..

 

The Sovjets found the graves of the Jewish victims very quickly. 21 graves with 10-12 bodies in each grave. The victims showed signs of torture. A second exhumation took place in the context of the 1946 court procedings. But then the area map was lodged with the local public prosecutor whereupon it mysteriously disappeared. Andreas Lehner of Refugius says that the Sovjets were only interested in the graves of their own fallen soldiers. The graves of the Jewish victims were irrelevant to them. Of course, this is no explanation for why the map lodged with the Austrian authorities vanished. Perhaps it was taken back to Russia together with thousands of documents when the Russian occupiers left Austria in 1955. There are reports now of a serious new attempt by Austrian historians to put a group together to search the Russian archives to find this map. It will be very difficult of course to find this single document amongst what must be millions of files……..

 

Technical methods of excavation are getting more and more sophisticated all the time……Of course it would have been much more convenient to have been told the location of the graves by those who knew. But Margit Batthyany-Thyssen and her husband Count Ivan Batthyany fled Rechnitz in advance of the approaching Red Army. (Equally so Franz Podezin and Joachim Oldenburg)……….Following the Sovjet withdrawal, they came back to Rechnitz where they engaged in hunting……When they died in 1985 and 1989 respectively, the Batthyany family living near Güssing refused permission for them to be buried in the family crypt……..

 

The mayor of Rechnitz, Engelbert Kenyeri, says that the events of the Rechnitz massacre unfortunately add a negative aspect to the otherwise unblemished history of the Austro-Hungarian Batthyany dynasty and that this is particularly unfortunate, as they were only really involved through Ivan Batthyany’s marriage to Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s daughter Margit……….Josef Hotwagner, the town historian, who died a few years ago, had lived through the period in question in Rechnitz and had also over the years spoken to many local people with information….. And today there is for instance Andrea Hütler, a teacher at the local high school, who studies the events with her 14-year-old pupils and organised a project that won the Fred Sinowatz award“……..

(the pupils also went to Budapest and met with Gabor Vadasz, son of Geza Vadasz and nephew of Arpad Vadasz, who were both murdered in Rechnitz. Gabor has for years desperately attempted everything in order to facilitate the finding of the graves. According to an article by Judith Gergaly, he has even written to high-ranking Austrian politicians and to the Pope).

 

“……..The Rechnitz Memorial, which began with a simple commemorative plaque, was extended in 2012 to become a big educational centre that was opened by the Austrian head of state Heinz Fischer. People involved with resolving massacre issues in other places have spoken about the difficulties of negotiations, mediations and financial battles which mean the resolution of these events can take a long time. Refugius feels somewhat reluctant to undertake this kind of unpleasant administration even if it would mean the murdered victims could be found on the former Batthyany estate lands“. (End of excerpt from the Szervuszausztria.hu article)

http://szervuszausztria.hu/blog/blogpost/ausztriai-hatter-sascha-batthyany-konyvehez

We are reassured by the Hungarian reaction and validation of our work (and particularly by the article of Julia Szaszi, who is also Vienna correspondent for the big Hungarian daily newspaper Nepszabadsag) and hope that the writings of the Hungarian commentators will engender many positive new outcomes in this sad matter.

So, should Sacha Batthyany, whose book, seven years later, contains no new information on the Rechnitz case whatsoever compared to his 2009 newspaper article (in fact less, since, for some reason, he has taken out the evidence concerning Margit Batthyany-Thyssen’s protection of the two main perpetrators, Franz Podezin and Joachim Oldenburg!) and instead takes attention away from the Rechnitz case and onto an entirely different story, perhaps interrupt his busy lecturing tour and concentrate on this rather more difficult endeavour? He could certainly salvage his family’s name much more impressively if he did that than if he continued to promote his self-righteous book which even he admits to being somewhat fictional.

Unfortunately, jugding by the article by Ficsor Benedek in Magyar Nemzet, Sacha Batthyany now seems to have started rebranding himself as a victim of the Thyssens’ behaviour rather than accepting his own family’s guilt.

This is now an ideal, historical chance for the Thyssens to publicly accept their guilt and to get involved in the resolution of the Rechnitz case in order to heal the wounds of the tremendous harm done to the Hungarian victims and their families, as well as to the people of Rechnitz.

 

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

An admission of the Batthyany-Thyssens’ guilt – served through a revolving door

UND WAS HAT DAS MIT MIR ZU TUN? or ‘What’s That To Do With Me?’ may or may not have literary merit. As far as I am concerned, the point is irrelevant. Sacha Batthyany is, in my considered opinion and by way of fair comment, an arrogant, self-obsessed, duplicitous, redundant Hungarian aristocrat, whose small book struggles to qualify as non-fiction, while his conflict of interest becomes ever more obvious.

I would have to admit to not feeling particularly charitable towards Sacha Batthyany as the result of his criticism of the accuracy of my writing, which he claims to have been the inspiration for his book. It is however noticeable that while I reveal my sources of information, he fails to do so, apart from making much of his reliance on both his grandmother’s diaries (which he mysteriously plans to destroy; after he has revealed their edited contents) and the diaries of one of his family’s Jewish victims.

But as well as admitting to owing Sacha Batthyany a debt of gratitude for confirming that the Rechnitz massacre did indeed take place and that his ‘Aunt’ Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) was indeed involved, I do have to admit to his skill in achieving another, quite remarkable objective. By means of literary alchemy and without any formal qualifications (apart from a diploma in journalism) or reliance on academic research, Sacha Batthyany has turned his rigors of guilt into a burden of condemnation and vilification, that could well result in large sales, behind which he and many like him can hide their aforementioned guilt without the need to any longer rely on the somewhat tired excuse for their forefathers’ crimes as having only been the result of ‘obeying orders’.

Sacha Batthyany also manages to hide what comes close to being displays of anti-Semitism behind his stance on what he claims to be a Jewish involvement in the development of communism. His virulent anti-communism and spectacular demonization of Josef Stalin will find a sympathetic ear amongst those, including many English and Americans, who will agree that Stalin’s crimes against humanity were so much worse than those of Adolf Hitler. But his main bone of contention with the communists appears to be an insistence that they were responsible for the loss of the land, power and glory of the Batthyany family; forgetting to remind his readers that in the case of Rechnitz Castle (nee Batthyany Castle), they had in fact lost the same along with five thousand acres of land to more financially potent owners (and ultimately the Thyssens) well before 1906.

Sacha Batthyany’s coverage of the Rechnitz massacre in 1945 only forms a small part of his book; almost by way of a prologue. He favours the Austrian authorities’ version of events and repeats the familiar claim that the Jews were only killed to prevent the spread of typhoid, and in direct response to a telephone call received at Rechnitz castle from a higher order. He casts doubt over the presence of ‘Aunt’ Margit’s husband, Ivan Batthyany, on the fateful night. He also denies all the evidence given to him by the late Josef Hotwagner, the town’s historian. He repudiates our evidence, ignores the published results of the Russian investigation and accuses the people of Rechnitz of looting the castle rather than accepting the evidence that they were attempting to extinguish the blaze that the fleeing German soldiers had been responsible for starting in order to prevent the building’s use by the invading Red Army (part of the Nero Decree, the local implementation of which would have been the much more likely overall reason for said ‘telephone call’).

This same derogatory attitude towards the local residents of Rechnitz had also been voiced by Christine Batthyany back in 2007 in answer to questioning by the Jewish Chronicle. She denied any complicity in the massacre on the part of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen and claimed that conflicting reports had been ‘spread by resentful villagers’. In light of the fact that prior to the 20th century, the town and the surrounding estate had been a fiefdom, ruled over by the Batthyanys, who were to become, like the Thyssens, Nazi collaborators, it is perhaps understandable that some of the villagers might have lacked a relationship rich in warmth and brotherly love; though Sacha insists that the town’s people were ‘embarrassingly’ deferential to him.

Sacha Batthyany completes his coverage of the Rechnitz massacre with an unsupported claim that he was ‘certain’ that ‘Aunt’ Margit ‘had not been shooting…… She did not kill Jews, as the papers were writing. There is no evidence. There are no witnesses…’. Though of course he can’t be certain. I never claimed that she had personally shot any Jews but, as witnesses had reported her apparent pleasure in watching Jewish forced labourers, who had been kept in the cellars of the castle, being beaten and killed, and as she was trained in the use of fire-arms, it seemed highly likely.

So, having appeased the families’ (both Thyssen and Batthyany) conscience concerning the Rechnitz massacre, but displayed little in the way of apologetic concern for the deaths of one hundred and eighty Jews, or the fact that his branch of the family continued for many years to rely on the profits of the German war machine via ‘Aunt’ Margit, Sacha Batthyany then moved on to address his family’s other crimes against humanity in support of his self-obsessive search for absolution. He should perhaps be reminded that as a result of his great-aunt’s financial support and granting of a safehaven for Sacha’s branch of the family, Margit’s brother Heini Thyssen was of the opinion that they were little more than a bunch of ineffectual scroungers. This somewhat extreme opinion was possibly understandable if, as Heini claimed, one appreciates the fact that Margit’s husband ‘Ivy’ displayed his socially superior attitude towards the Thyssens by having an affair with Heini Thyssen’s first wife, Princess Theresa zu Lippe Bisterfeld Weissenfeld.

Finally, I was somewhat surprised that the beleaguered UBS bank, who admittedly need all the good press they can get, invested sponsorship in this book; as did an ominous Swiss entity called the Goethe Foundation. So far, none of the Thyssens or the Batthyanys (and in particular those branches of the family who did not succumb to a convenient dependency on Thyssen finance) have seen fit to make any statement concerning ‘What’s That To Do With Me?’; particularly in the form of thanking Sacha Batthyany for his presumably much appreciated reassurance concerning the Rechnitz massacre. We await further developments in this direction with interest.

Saint Sacha, replacing the conscience of the guilty with the suffering of the innocent (photo copyright: Maurice Haas)

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Ein Eingeständnis der Schuld der Batthyany-Thyssens – serviert durch eine Drehtür

UND WAS HAT DAS MIT MIR ZU TUN? mag einen literarischen Wert haben, oder auch nicht; insoweit es mich angeht ist dieser Punkt ohne Belang. Im Sinne der sachlichen Kritik, und meiner wohlüberlegten Ansicht nach, ist Sacha Batthyany ein arroganter, ichbesessener, scheinheiliger, überholter ungarischer Adeliger, dessen kleines Buch sich schwer dabei tut, den Stellenwert eines Sachbuchs zu erreichen, während der Interessenkonflikt seines Autors immer offensichtlicher wird.

Ich müsste zugeben, Sacha Batthyany gegenüber nicht besonders nachsichtig eingestellt zu sein, was mit seiner Kritik an der Genauigkeit meiner Arbeit zusammenhängt, von der er behauptet, sie sei der Anlass für sein Buch gewesen. Während ich die Quellen meiner Information offenlege ist es jedoch auffallend, dass er dies seinerseits nicht tut, abgesehen von einem hochstilisierten Zurückgreifen auf die Tagebücher seiner Großmutter (die er seltsamerweise plant zu vernichten, nachdem er deren bearbeiteten Inhalt veröffentlicht hat), sowie auf die Tagebücher eines der jüdischen Opfer seiner Familie.

Doch ausser einer gewissen Dankbarkeit für Sacha Batthyany’s Bestätigung, dass das Rechnitz-Massaker tatsächlich stattgefunden hat, und dass seine “Tante” Margit Batthyany (geborene Thyssen-Bornemisza) tatsächlich beteiligt war, muss ich auch eingestehen, dass er einen weiteren, ganz bemerkenswerten Zweck mit großer Fertigkeit erreicht. Durch eine Art literarische Alchemie und ohne jegliche formale Qualifikation (ausser einem Journalismus-Diplom) oder beruhen auf wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnissen hat Sacha Batthyany die Härte der Schuld (ein selbstauferlegtes Gefühl, welches Scham hervorruft) in eine Last der oktroyierten Verunglimpfung verwandelt (wodurch er Mitleid für sich erweckt). Dies könnte durchaus in großen Verkaufszahlen Ausdruck finden, hinter denen er und weitere Gleichgesinnte ihre erwähnte Schuld verbergen können, ohne weiterhin auf die mittlerweile ausgediente Floskel zurückfallen zu müssen, dass die Verbrechen der Vorfahren nur auf ihrem “Befehlsgehorsam” gründeten.

Es gelingt Sacha Batthyany auch, einige Momente in denen er einer Demonstration von Anti-Semitismus sehr nahe kommt, hinter seiner Haltung gegenüber der von ihm angegebenen jüdischen Rolle in der Entwicklung des Kommunismus zu verbergen. Sein virulenter Anti-Kommunismus und seine spektakuläre Dämonisierung Josef Stalins wird bei denen ein offenes Ohr finden (viele davon auch in England und Amerika), die ebenfalls der Meinung sind, dass Stalins Verbrechen so viel schlimmer waren als die von Adolf Hitler. Aber sein größter Stein des Anstoßes gegenüber den Kommunisten scheint sein Beharren darauf zu sein, sie seien dafür verantwortlich gewesen, dass die Familie Batthyany ihr Land, ihre Macht und ihren Ruhm verlor; wobei er vergisst, seine Leser darauf hinzuweisen, dass im Fall des Rechnitzer Schlosses (ehemals Schloss Batthyany), seine Familie es, zusammen mit fünf tausend Morgen Land, vielmehr weit vor 1906 an finanziell besser situierte Besitzer (und schlussendlich an die Thyssens) abtreten musste.

Sacha Batthyanys Beschäftigung mit dem Rechnitz-Massaker von 1945 bildet nur einen kleinen Teil seines Buches; quasi nichts weiter als einen Prolog. Er bevorzugt die offizielle Version der Geschehnisse durch die österreichischen Behörden und wiederholt die altbekannte Angabe, die Juden seien nur getötet worden, um die Ausbreitung des Fleckfiebers zu unterbinden und als direkte Konsequenz eines Telefonanrufs, der von höherer Stelle im Rechnitzer Schloss einging. Er sät Zweifel an der Anwesenheit von “Tante” Margits Ehemann, Ivan Batthyany, in der verhängnisvollen Nacht. Auch weist er alle Beweise zurück, die ihm vom verstorbenen Historiker des Städtchens, Josef Hotwagner, zur Verfügung gestellt wurden. Er lehnt unsere Beweise ab, ignoriert die veröffentlichten Resultate der russischen Untersuchungen und beschuldigt die Einwohner von Rechnitz, das Schloss geplündert zu haben, statt dass er die Hinweise akzeptiert, dass sie vielmehr versuchten, das Feuer zu löschen, welches die flüchtenden deutschen Soldaten gelegt hatten, um eine Nutzung des Gebäudes durch die herannahende Rote Armee zu verhindern (dies ein Teil des Nero-Befehls, dessen örtlicher Vollzug ein viel wahrscheinlicherer, übergreifender Grund für den erwähnten “Telefonanruf” gewesen sein dürfte).

Die gleiche abwertende Haltung den Einwohnern von Rechnitz gegenüber wurde schon von Christine Batthyany in Beantwortung von Fragen des Jewish Chronicle 2007 an den Tag gelegt. Sie stritt jegliche Teilhaberschaft von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen am Massaker ab und behauptete, dass gegenteilige Angaben von “missgünstigen Dorfbewohnern verbreitet” worden seien. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass Rechnitz mit umliegendem Landbesitz vor dem 20. Jahrhundert ein Lehnsgut war, über das die Batthyanys regierten, die, wie die Thyssens, Nazi Kollaborateure wurden, ist es vielleicht verständlich, dass einige Einwohner nicht unbedingt voll von Wärme und brüderlicher Liebe waren; obschon Sacha Batthyany darauf besteht, dass die Rechnitzer Bürger, die er traf, “peinlich” unterwürfig ihm gegenüber auftraten.

Sacha Batthyany vervollständigt seinen Kommentar zum Rechnitz-Massaker mit einer ungestützten Aussage, dass er “sicher” sei, dass “Tante Margit nicht geschossen hat…..Sie hat keine Juden ermordet, wie die Zeitungen behaupten. Es gibt keine Beweise. Es gibt keine Zeugen.” Obwohl er natürlich nicht sicher sein kann. Ich habe nie behauptet, dass sie persönlich Juden erschossen hat, aber, da Zeugen ausgesagt hatten, dass sie ein offensichtliches Wohlgefallen dabei hatte, zuzuschauen wie jüdische Zwangsarbeiter, die im Keller des Schlosses untergebracht waren, geschlagen und getötet wurden, und da sie in der Benutzung von Feuerwaffen versiert war, war es äusserst wahrscheinlich.

Nachdem er nun das Gewissen von beiden Familien (sowohl Thyssen als auch Batthyany) hinsichtlich des Rechnitz-Massakers beschwichtigt hat, ohne dabei viel an sich entschuldigender Betroffenheit über den Tod von hundert achtzig Juden an den Tag zu legen, (oder angesichts der Tatsache, dass sein Zweig der Familie sich noch viele weitere Jahre auf die Profite der deutschen Kriegsmaschinerie, via “Tante” Margit, verlassen hat), ging Sacha Batthyany dazu über, weitere Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit in seiner Familie anzusprechen, um damit seine ichbesessene Suche nach Absolution zu befriedigen. Man sollte ihn vielleicht daran erinnern, dass die finanzielle Unterstützung seines Zweiges der Familie durch seine Großtante und ihre Bereitstellung eines sicheren Hafens für sie, Margits Bruder Heini Thyssen zu der Äußerung veranlasste, sie seien nichts weiter als eine Bande untauglicher Schmarotzer. Diese etwas extreme Meinung wird möglicherweise verständlich, wenn man sich Heinis Aussage vor Augen hält, dass Margits Ehemann “Ivy” eine Affäre mit Heini Thyssens erster Frau, Prinzessin Theresa zu Lippe Bisterfeld Weissenfeld unterhielt, um seinen gesellschaftlich höher gestellten Rang den Thyssens gegenüber auszudrücken.

Erstaunlich fand ich es letztlich auch, dass die angeschlagene UBS Bank, die natürlich jegliche Werbung gut gebrauchen kann, dieses Buch gesponsort hat; genauso wie eine ominöse schweizer Stiftung mit dem Namen Goethe Stiftung Zurich. Bisher haben weder die Thyssens noch die Batthyanys (vor allem die Zweige der Familie, die sich nicht einer bequemen Abhängigkeit von Thyssenscher Finanzkraft hingegeben haben) “Und Was Hat Das Mit Mir Zu Tun?” in irgend einer Weise kommentiert; zum Beispiel indem sie Sacha Batthyany’s Werk für seine vermutlich geschätzte Beschwichtigung hinsichtlich des Rechnitz-Massakers dankend anerkannt hätten. Wir schauen mit Interesse auf die weiteren Entwicklungen in dieser Hinsicht.

Der Heilige Sacha, beim Umwandeln eines schuldigen Gewissens in eine leidvolle Unschuld (photo copyright: Maurice Haas)

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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.

http://dasmagazin.ch/index.php/ein-schreckliches-geheimnis/

(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.

“Yes”.

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?”

Yes.

“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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Reason For Rechnitz Silence Revealed

After twenty months of squabbling, discussing, debating and lecturing, many Swiss, German and Austrian academics, film-makers, journalists, politicians, ‘chariticians’ and even a playwright, have still failed to come up with a plausible reason why the people of Rechnitz have allegedly remained so unforthcoming concerning the details of the massacre and burial of two hundred Hungarian Jews in the grounds of Rechnitz Castle in 1945. I never found the people of Rechnitz unforthcoming, but for those who claim they did, I can now reveal the reason for their silence.

Shortly before I issued my statement at the Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre at Vienna University on 5 May 2009, Caroline Schmitz and I met with Professor Pia Janke and her assistant, Christian Schenkermayr, for a drink at Cafe Griensteidl. We were also joined by Teresa Kovacs, a tutor and research associate at the Centre. Most importantly, unlike any of the aforementioned ‘experts’ who claim to have been studying the massacre, Teresa was born and bred in Rechnitz. Her grand-parents worked for Countess Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen) while her father always spoke openly to her of the tragedy.

Why Teresa chose me as a messenger should have been no more of a puzzle than why Rechnitz originally chose me, via their historian, Professor Josef Hotwagner, to tell their side of the story; or what they were prepared to tell me at the time. Perhaps she also realised that I didn’t and don’t suffer from a conflict of interests. A rare qualification indeed. Particularly in Austria.

But before I decided to publish her statement, I first wanted to see if any of the opinions aired at the Eisenstadt Symposium on 16 October 2008, or the recent series of lectures and discussions at the Jelinek Research Centre would include her explanation. So far, despite the potential immediacy of the internet, nothing has been revealed concerning what was said, apart from an apparent reassurance that reports of the two symposiums would be written, printed, bound and distributed to an undefined readership at some indeterminate time in the future.

When I read a recent article by the Austrian writer Martin Pollack in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, once again questioning the motivation of the people of Rechnitz ‘withholding information’, I was somewhat surprised that a man, who had found it so difficult to reveal his own family history, should be asking such a question, rather than supplying the answer. But it also occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t so much the people of the town who were secretive, as the plethora of ‘experts’, who had proved so reluctant to accept the truth.

I believe the reason why Ms Kovacs had decided to tell me what everyone in Rechnitz knows, is because she wants the public to know now. Not in another sixty years’ time.

So this is what she told me that afternoon at Cafe Griensteidl:

‘While Countess Batthyany was in Rechnitz, there was always money around. Her name was never spoken of in connection with the atrocity, only ever in connection with wealth and the beautiful Castle. Basically, the Countess continued to give money and plots of land away to people in Rechnitz right until the 1980s, practically until the day she died’.

It was so wonderfully clear, simple and obvious, it really shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. I already knew that Margit’s father, ‘Baron’ Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, had ‘primed the pump’ by bequeathing a plot of land, a specific plot of land, to his Rechnitz forester.

The Castle had always been the very heart and soul of Rechnitz. Without it, the town should have died, but the Castle’s continued existence would have been a memorial to the atrocity. Now, while Margit Thyssen’s money ensured the town’s survival, the ghost of the Castle continues to haunt the town.

As Teresa put it so beautifully: ‘The Castle has gone….but it is still there!’ Elfriede Jelinek could not have put it better.

Vienna, 2009

Vienna, Burgring, 2009

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