Posts Tagged ‘Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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






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Buchrezension: Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert – Band 2: “Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen. ‘Stahlverein’ und ‘Baron-Konzern’ im Zweiten Weltkrieg”, von Thomas Urban, erschienen im Schöningh Verlag, 2014.

Wenn es ein Thema in dieser Serie von akademischen Abhandlungen über die Firmen, politischen Ansichten, den persönlichen Reichtum, die Beziehungen zur Öffentlichkeit und die Kunstsammlung(en) der Thyssens gibt, bei dem Feingefühl und Offenheit gefragt gewesen wären, dann ist es dieses eine. In der Tat spiegeln die ensetzlichen Bedingungen, unter denen Ausländer (Sowjetische Staatsangehörige, Franzosen, Niederländer, Belgier, etc.) während des zweiten Weltkriegs in Thyssen Unternehmungen, und der Produktion von Waffen und Munition im Besonderen, arbeiten mussten deutlich die unmenschlichen Auswüchse des Nationalsozialismus wider. Die Rezension fällt ob des wichtigen Themas etwas länger aus.

30 Jahre nach Ulrich Herberts bahnbrechenden Arbeiten zur Zwangsarbeit und sieben Jahre nach Erscheinen unseres Buches blieb die Thyssen Familie bis jetzt eine von sehr wenigen, die sich beharrlich weigerten, diesen Teil ihrer Geschichte offen anzusprechen. Stattdessen hat sie immer behauptet, weitgehenst unbeteiligt an der Herstellung von Waffen und Munition und der Verwendung von Zwangsarbeitern gewesen zu sein. Sie behauptete auch, Hitler nicht unterstützt zu haben, oder ihre Unterstützung nach einer gewissen Zeit eingestellt zu haben. Sie ging sogar so weit, sich selbst auf eine Stufe mit den Verfolgten des Regimes zu stellen, in dem sie behauptete, selbst auch verfolgt und enteignet worden zu sein.

Ausserdem behauptete der Thyssen-Bornemisza Zweig der Familie, ungarischer Nationalität zu sein, und mit Deutschland überhaupt nichts zu tun zu haben. Aber dies waren alles falsche Behauptungen, die darauf ausgerichtet waren, die Aufmerksamkeit von den Fakten abzulenken. Und makabrer Weise war es gerade diese „kosmopolitische“ Seite der Dynastie, die die Nazis ganz besonders unterstützt hat, durch Finanz- und Bankgeschäfte, durch die Produktion von U-Booten und V-Waffen-Teilen, und durch eine persönliche Verbindung mit der SS und hoch-rangingen Nationalsozialisten. Über 1.000 KZ-Häftlinge starben in Bremen beim Bau des „Valentin“ Bunkers, in dem Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan Werft eine Steigerung der Produktion auf 14 U-Boote pro Monat plante, um im Angesicht Hitler’s drohender Niederlage einen verzweifelten deutschen Endsieg zu erringen.

Angesichts ihrer weitgreifenden industriellen und finanziellen Macht und Sonderstellung hatten Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza eine überwältigende Verantwortung, sich ihren Mitbürgern gegenüber respektvoll zu verhalten. Wir glauben, dass sie in dieser Stellung aufgrund ihrer unerschöpflichen Gier, ihres finanziellen Opportunismus und ihrer unmoralischen Arroganz scheiterten. Von allen Thyssen-Erben ist jetzt anscheinend nur einer, nämlich GEORG THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA, bereit, die Verantwortung einzugestehen, indem er dieses Projekt unterstützt. Aber diese kläglichen 170 Seiten mit unvollständigem Register (nur Personen, nicht Unternehmen, was die Analyse so schwierig macht) sind nur ein Tropfen auf den heissen Stein in der Korrektur des offiziellen Bildes und halten einer internationalen Begutachtung nicht Stand.

Thomas Urban akzeptiert die Zulässigkeit unserer Biografie nicht und meint immer noch behaupten zu müssen, dass das Thema Zwangsarbeit in den Darstellungen zur Thyssen-Geschichte bis Anfang des 21. Jahrhunderts „unberücksichtigt“ blieb. In Wahrheit scheint es, dass das Thema mit Absicht unterdrückt wurde, so weit dies möglich war, um unerwünschte Aufmerksamkeit und mögliche Schadenersatzforderungen abzuwenden. Es ist auch der Grund, weshalb die Thyssen-Bornemisza Seite der Familie bis zum Zeitpunkt der Veröffentlichung unseres Buches von der akademischen Forschung ferngehalten wurde (was Dr Urban als „verwunderlich“ beschreibt).

Als Michael Kanther speziell für die August Thyssen Hütte 1991 über Zwangsarbeit schrieb konnte er anscheinend bis 2004 nicht publizieren, und dann in den “Duisburger Forschungen”. Und zehn Jahre später werden aus der großen Fülle von Thyssen Unternehmungen nur einige wenige als schuldig preisgegeben, nämlich die Werften Bremer Vulkan und Flensburger Schiffsbaugesellschaft, das Kohlebergwerk Walsum und die August Thyssen Hütte.

Die Press- und Walzwerk AG Reisholz und die Oberbilker Stahlwerke werden nur flüchtig erwähnt, aber nicht die Beteiligung an der Produktion von V-Waffen oder eine Zusammenarbeit mit der MABAG (Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG) Nordhausen, wo Heinrich’s Sohn Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza mit der SS zusammen arbeitete und 20,000 KZ-Häftlinge ums Leben kamen. Eine interessante Information ist jedoch, dass der technische Direktor der Press- und Walzwerk AG Reisholz, Wilhelm Martin, „in seiner Eigenschaft als ‘Abwehrbeauftragter’ einen ‘politischen Stoßtrupp’ aus Betriebsangehörigen eingerichtet“ haben soll, „der im Falle möglicher Unruhen in der Belegschaft, mit so genannten Totschlägern bewaffnet, zum Einsatz kommen sollte“ – anscheinend der einzig bekannte Fall einer solchen Einrichtung in der gesamten Nazi-Rüstungswirtschaft. Es ist ein erstaunliches Eingeständnis.

Als deutsche Arbeiter in den Krieg zogen wurden sie durch insgesamt 14 Millionen Zwangsarbeiter, ersetzt, darunter auch Frauen und Kinder und in Thyssen Unternehmen arbeiteten diese in Verhältnissen zwischen einem Drittel und einem erstaunlichen zwei Drittel (in der Zeche Walsum, wie wir als Erste berichteten) der Gesamtbelegschaft. In Anbetracht der Größe der Thyssen Konzerne müssten dort insgesamt bis zu mehrere zehntausend Zwangsarbeiter gearbeitet haben, aber Dr Urban versucht noch nicht einmal, eine ungefähre Gesamtziffer zu ermitteln. Stattdessen wird das jämmerliche Schwarze-Peter-Spiel mit Krupp weiter geführt, wonach die Bezeichnung „Zwangsarbeiter“, die durchweg in diesem Buch benutzt wird, plötzlich zu „Sklavenarbeiter“ wird, sobald der Name Krupp fällt. Währenddessen verliert sich die jetzt angeführte Tatsache, dass bei Thyssen in Hamborn viel größere Mengen an Granatstahl hergestellt wurden als bei Krupp in Rheinhausen im Kleingedruckten.

In der August Thyssen Hütte und dem Thyssen Werk Mülheim, die mehr zum Einflussbereich Fritz Thyssen’s gehörten, dessen Macht durch seine privilegierte Haft während des Krieges nicht so vollständig eingeschränkt war wie diese offiziellen Thyssen Veröffentlichungen es uns immer noch weismachen wollen, heisst es, habe es eine „hohe Sterblichkeit“ bei sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen gegeben. Aber die von Dr Urban erwähnten Zahlen übersteigen nie acht oder weniger für die wenigen Zwischenfälle, die er beschreibt.

Wegen der Rassenideologie wurden sowjetische Kriegsgefangene, von KZ-Häftlingen abgesehen, am schlechtesten behandelt, bis zu einem Punkt, wo diese in Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan Werft, aus Furcht vor Sabotage, so Dr Urban, zunächst in einem Stacheldrahtkäfig festgehalten wurden, wo andere sie „wie die Affen (im Zoo anguckten)“. (Diese Information kam von einem Schulprojekt in Bremen aus dem Jahr 1980 und wurde von Dr Rolf Keller von der Stiftung Niedersächsische Gedenkstätten in Celle an Dr Urban weiter gegeben). Aber trotz solcher verstörender Ausprägungen eines extremen Rassismus hatten Gesten der Humanität von seiten der Ortsansäßigen gegenüber den Gefangenen stattgefunden, wie unsere Lektorin beim Asso Verlag Oberhausen, Ulli Langenbrinck, uns vor Jahren schilderte, aus dem einfachen Grund, dass sie unter gefährlichen Bedingungen (z.B. in Kohlegruben und an Hochöfen) zusammen arbeiten mussten und es daher besser war, rücksichtsvoll gegenüber Menschen zu sein, von denen das eigene Leben abhängen konnte.

Leider bringt es Thomas Urban fertig, zu suggerieren, solche Erinnerungen könnten nichts weiter als Spiegelungen nachträglicher Dienlichkeit sein und man fragt sich, ob er jemals nachgedacht hat, wie es wohl gewesen sein musste, unter Bedingungen zu arbeiten, wo die rassische, ideologische und nationale Diskriminierung die sowieso schon schwierigen Arbeitsverhältnisse nochmals erheblich erschwerten. Bedingungen, die wegen größenwahnsinnigen Politikern und gleichsam größenwahnsinnigen Industriellen existierten und von denen die Menschen vor Ort genau wussten, dass sie kontra-produktiv waren. Sicherlich brauchte es nicht den Anblick von KZ-Häftlingen, um demoralisiert zu sein – Dr Urban sagt, dies sei in jener Zeit behauptet worden – von denen anscheinend „75“ beim Bremer Vulkan selbst verwendet wurden (was eine weitaus angenehmere Zahl ist als die 1,000 oben erwähnten Todesopfer). Die irrsinnige Situation, die man erlitt, wenn man ob des Schicksals der im fernen Feld stehenden eigenen „Herrenmenschen“ bangen musste, während die „untermenschlichen“ Feinde deren Waffen und Munition daheim produzierten muss schon verstörend genug gewesen sein, um Menschen zu demoralisieren – und zwar für beide Seiten!

Am anderen Ende der Skala werden die Thyssens, die in der Vergangenheit mit ihren geschichtlichen Aufzeichnungen „sparsam“ umgegangen sind, mit Glacéhandschuhen angefasst, was eine fortgesetzte Mentalität der Sympathie und Unterwürfigkeit bezeugt, die weit über alles geht, was man von einer sogenannten unabhängigen akademischen Beauftragung erwarten sollte. Selbst eine Rezensentin der Universität Duisburg-Essen, Jana Scholz, scheint zu hinterfragen, wieso das einzig Richtige nicht getan wurde, nämlich die Verantwortung eindeutig bei den Thyssens zu verorten. Statt dessen wird die Verwendung und Behandlung von Zwangsarbeitern Lagerführern, Vorarbeitern und Managern angelastet, Menschen wie Wilhelm Roelen und Robert Kabelac, und man fragt sich, was deren Familien wohl davon halten. Vor allem im Fall Roelen, da in der Ruhr eine Bewegung gegen die Erinnerung an ihn aufgekommen ist, nachdem nachgewiesen wurde, dass unter seiner Aufsicht mehr als 100 sowjetische Kriegsgefangene in der Zeche Walsum umgekommen sind. Signifikanter Weise sind keine Familienmitglieder dieser Manager befragt worden. Und auch keine Mitglieder der Thyssen Familie.

In einer anderen Rezension fragt sich Jens Thiel, der es als Experte in Medizinethik besser wissen müsste, allen Ernstes ob es sich heutzutage noch lohnt, mit Forschungen zum Thema Zwangsarbeit „wissenschaftliche Meriten“ zu ernten. Er preist die „nüchternen Beschreibungen“ in diesem Buch. Es ist aber absolut nicht nachvollziehbar, was nüchtern an der Beschreibung von hungernden Russen sein soll, die rohen Fisch essen, der durch Bomben getötet wurde, nachdem sie mitten im Winter in den eisigen Fluss gesprungen waren, um ihn einzusammeln. Oder an der Erinnerung von Ortsansässigen, wie sie als Kinder sahen, wie Leiterkarren aus einem Thyssen-Werk herausgefahren wurden, bei denen auf der Seite Beine und Arme heraushingen und sie sich beissend fragten, ob diese Menschen tot oder noch lebend waren.

Oder an der Beschreibung von Galgen, die vor dem Zehntweglager des Thyssen-Werks Mülheim aufgestellt wurden (welches von einem besonders sadistischen Vater-Sohn-Team von Kommandanten regiert wurde) und sowjetische Jugendliche dort für Diebstahl „in Anwesenheit eines Gestapo-Mannes und eines SS-Unteroffiziers“ in apokalyptischen Szenarien gehängt wurden – wiederum beobachtet von ortsansässigen Kindern. Alle drei Beschreibungen entstammen persönlichen Befragungen, die Dr Urban bei Zeitzeugen durchgeführt hat und die eines der wenigen rettenden Elemente dieses Buches sind. Er beschreibt auch andere Opfer, darunter Frauen, die in Thyssen-Werken erschossen wurden, z.B. wegen Diebstahls von Nahrungsmitteln.

Obwohl dieses Buch darauf nicht eingeht steht es ausser Frage, dass Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza mit den außerordentlichen Mitteln aus dem Schaffenswerk ihres genial-dementen Vaters äußerst privilegierte Lebensstile führten. Beide blickten rückwärts und sahen sich als feudale Oberherrn, die ihre ganz privaten Lehnsgüter regierten. Sie waren entschlossen, Arbeiterrechte konsequent zu bekämpfen, egal ob diese nun Deutsche oder Ausländer waren. Deshalb unterstützten sie den Faschismus, inklusive des Regimes von Admiral Horty in Ungarn. Deshalb finanzierten sie auch ihr SS-requiriertes Schloss Rechnitz im Burgenland, wo Heinrich’s Tochter Margit Batthyany während des Krieges ihr ganz eigenes Terror-Regime führte und in eine Greueltat an über 180 jüdischen Zwangsarbeiter im März 1945 verwickelt war, die bis zum heutigen Tag in keiner offiziellen Thyssen Publikation Erwähnung findet.

Die Thyssen Manager reichten diesen autokratischen Führungsstil nach unten weiter, während sie die gleichzeitigen Kriegsanforderungen der Sieges-wichtigen Plansolls und Gewinnerwartungen der Eigentümer zu erfüllen versuchten. Sie adressierten die Mahnung „Wenn Du nicht spurst, Farge (ein Arbeitserziehungslager in der Nähe von Bremen) ist dichtebei!“ sowohl an deutsche wie auch ausländische Arbeiter. Aber letztere waren immer mehr benachteiligt weil die Nazis das Führerprinzip durch alle Schichten hindurch anwendeten, sodass jeder Deutsche automatisch zum Boss seines nächsten ausländischen Arbeiters wurde. Ausländer mussten auch schwerere, gefährlichere Arbeiten verrichten und hatten schlechtere Rationen, Unterkünfte und Luftschutzvorkehrungen. Während eines großen Luftangriffs auf das Thyssen Werk in Hamborn am 22.01.1945 waren 115 der 145 Todesopfer Kriegsgefangene. Im Ausländerlager der Thyssen-Bornemisza Zeche in Walsum fanden ein Staatsarzt und ein Nazi-Funktionär bei ihrer Visite 1942 solch untragbaren hygienischen Zustände vor, dass sie das Thyssen Management beorderten, sofortige Abhilfe zu schaffen.

Die Ertragskraft der Thyssenschen Kriegsproduktion und speziell des Schiffbaus wird erwähnt, doch Thomas Urban sagt überprüfbare Zahlen seien „nicht verfügbar“. Aber einige dieser Zahlen sind in den Protokollen der Vorstandssitzungen enthalten, welche vierteljährlich in Flims, Davos, Lugano und Zurich stattfanden (nicht lapidar „in der Schweiz“ – mit anderen Worten Heinrich war nicht zu krank, um herum zu reisen, er wollte nur nicht mehr aus der Schweiz ausreisen; aus Gründen des Komforts, nicht weil er “anti-Nazi” war) mit vier Beteiligten (Baron Heinrich, Wilhelm Roelen, Heini Thyssen und Heinrich Lübke, dem Direktor der August Thyssen Bank Berlin – wobei die letzten zwei von Urban heruntergespielt werden). Und die Mitschriften wurden nicht von einem anonymen „Privatsekretär“ angefertigt sondern aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach von Wilhelm Roelen, was erklärt, dass sich Kopien sowohl im Unternehmens- wie auch im Privatarchiv befinden. Wir sind sicher, dass sich auch noch weitere relevante Informationen zur Profitabilität im ThyssenKrupp Archiv wie auch im Archiv der Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen befinden, zum Beispiel im Nachlass von Dr Wilhelm Roelen, welche aber aus irgend einem Grund nicht veröffentlicht werden.

Es wird hier auch behauptet, dass „sich Thyssen-Unternehmen nach heutigem Kenntnisstand während der NS-Zeit (keine) ‘arisierte(n)’ Betriebe aneigneten“. Aber in Wirklichkeit wurde Heinrich’s Rennstall Erlenhof bei Bad Homburg für ihn im November 1933 von seinem Finanzinstrument Hollandsch Trust Kantoor aus dem Nachlass des Juden Moritz James Oppenheimer gekauft, der zuerst in den Konkurs getrieben und danach ermordet wurde. Eine sehr unangenehme Jahreszahl, wenn die offizielle Aussage immer war und immer noch ist, dass Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza ab 1932, also vor der Machtergreifung Hitlers, in der Schweiz lebte.

Der Autor versucht, einen Punkt zur Entlastung von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza heraus zu arbeiten, indem er sagt, dieser sei nie bei Veranstaltungen in seinen Werken zugegen gewesen, wenn z.B. „Auszeichnungen durch das NS-Regime“ stattfanden. Aber während Heinrich nach 1938 die Schweiz nicht mehr verlassen haben mag so erzählte uns doch sein Sohn Heini, dass er 1942 für die Feierlichkeiten zum 100ten Geburtstag seines Großvaters nach Schloss Landsberg gereist war, an denen auch Nazi-Funktionäre teilnahmen (Bilder der Veranstaltung existieren). Danach konnte er ungehindert in die Schweiz zurückreisen. Aber dieser Vorfall bleibt hier unerwähnt, vermutlich weil man die unternehmerische Verstrickung Heini Thyssens während des Krieges nicht publik machen will.

Thomas Urban besitzt weiterhin die Kühnheit, zu unterstellen dass der Kontakt zwischen Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza und Hermann Göring „wohl auf den Pferdesport beschränkt“ gewesen sei und dass er „diesem Regime wohl nicht nur geografisch distanziert gegenüberstand“. Als ob Heinrich’s privilegierte Position in der Schweiz etwas sei, was in diesem Zusammenhang auch noch Bewunderung verdiene. Diese willkürliche Einschätzung durch einen deutschen Akademiker für diesen entscheidenden Punkt ist eine regelrecht obszöne Behauptung und tief abstoßend sowohl für die Erinnerung an die Opfer wie auch für alle Menschen, denen an der historischen Wahrheitsfindung gelegen ist.

Die Bankkontakte zwischen beiden Männer persönlich und mit dem Regime generell über Heinrich’s August Thyssen Bank in Berlin (welche später in der BHF-Bank aufging), seine Union Banking Corporation in New York und seine Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam und andere bleiben bisher in dieser Serie absolut unerwähnt. Wir nehmen an, das wird sich mit dem Buch von Simone Derix über das Vermögen und die Identität der Thyssens (Erscheinungsdatum 2016) oder mit Harald Wixforth’s Arbeit über die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe (Erscheinungsdatum unbekannt) ändern.

Man mag es als verständlich ansehen, dass die Thyssens in der Vergangenheit ihre Verbindungen zu Nazi Führern geleugnet und ihre Manager gleichfalls so argumentiert haben, um nach dem Krieg einer Vergeltung durch die Allierten zu entgehen, dass aber im Jahr 2014 ein solches akademisches Projekt immer noch in der selben Art über die wichtigsten Punkte der Aufarbeitung der Thyssen Geschichte hinweg geht ist unentschuldbar. Es ist ebenfalls unklar, wieso Dr Urban bei wichtigen Punkten so vage bleibt, wie z.B. bei der Frage der Entlohnung der Zwangsarbeit. Diese erwähnt er, gibt aber keinerlei Details, was unentschuldbar ist.

Immer und immer wieder erwähnt Dr Urban Probleme mit Quellen und dass es deshalb unmöglich sei, das Thema mit der nötigen Subtanz und Gewissheit zu behandeln. Seine Aussage dass „man in den Baustoffwerken (der Thyssens), zumal im Berliner Raum, durchaus einen höheren Anteil an Zwangsarbeitern vermuten“ kann ist inakzeptabel, zumal gesagt wird, die relevanten Archive seien „noch im Aufbau“, was 70 Jahre nach Kriegsende eine unglaubliche Aussage darstellt, auch wenn es eine ist, die wir bei unseren Arbeiten zum Thema Thyssen oft zu hören bekommen haben.

Als der Bremer Vulkan in den späten 1990er Jahren Pleite ging sahen weder die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe noch ThyssenKrupp eine Notwendigkeit, die Archive zu übernehmen. Statt dessen wurden diese einem „Freundeskreis“ („Wir Vulkanesen e.V.“) überlassen, der wichtige Akten, unter anderem Belegschaftsakten aus der Kriegszeit, welche auch Aufzeichnungen über Zwangsarbeiter enthielten, vernichtete – aus „Datenschutzgründen“ wie es hiess. Erst nach dieser Säuberung wurden die Akten dem Staatsarchiv Bremen überlassen. Auch die Überlieferungen der Zeche Walsum werden hier als „äusserst lückenhaft“ beschrieben, was angesichts der Tatsache, was für ein akribischer Technokrat Wilhelm Roelen war unwahrscheinlich, auf Kriegseinwirkungen zurückzuführen, oder durch willkürliche Zerstörung belastender Beweise zu erklären ist

Und so fiel es einzelnen Zwangsarbeitern selbst zu, die den Mut hatten, mit ihrer Geschichte an die Öffentlichkeit zu treten (und welche von verschiedenen örtlichen deutschen Geschichtsprojekten – manchmal sogar in Schulen – aufgegriffen und tatsächlich unabhängig von irgendwelchen Thyssen Organen bearbeitet wurden), die eindringlichsten Portraits der Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen zu zeichnen.

Als der Niederländer Klaas Touber 1988 an den Bremer Vulkan schrieb (dessen Ehrenvorsitzender Heini Thyssen war) und um DM 3,000 Schadenersatz für seine Zwangsarbeit im Krieg bat, wurde dies abgelehnt mit der Begründung man könne „keine konkreten Tatsachen erkennen (…), die für uns eine Schadenersatzverpflichtung begründen“. Es wurde ihm mitgeteilt, die Werft sei „wirtschaftlich angeschlagen“ und „wenn man ihn entschädigen würde, müsste man auch den vielen anderen Menschen, die damals mit Ihnen diese Zeit durchgemacht haben….Geldzahlungen zukommen lassen“, wozu man „finanziell nicht in der Lage“ wäre. Dies zu einem Zeitpunkt, als Heini Thyssen seine Kunstsammlung zum Kauf anbot und anklingen ließ, sie sei bis zu 2 Milliarden Dollar wert. Klaas Touber, der zu einem Zeitpunkt seiner Zwangsarbeit beim Bremer Vulkan auf 40 Kg abgemagert war, hatte Zeit seines Lebens ein psychisches Trauma behalten, was nicht zuletzt daher rührte, dass einer seiner Landsmänner, der ihm bei einem Streit in der Kantine zu Hilfe gekommen war, im KZ Neugamme ermordet wurde. (Die Informationen wurden Dr Urban zum Teil durch Dr Marcus Meyer, Leiter des Denkorts „Valentin“ Bunker der Bremer Landeszentrale für politische Bildung überlassen – Klaas Touber war sehr in der Erinnerungs- und Versöhnungsarbeit engagiert – und zum Teil von ihm einer Veröffentlichung des Landesverbands der Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes / Bund der Antifaschisten Bremen e.V. entnommen).

Das vielleicht erschütternste und gleichzeitig hoffnungsvollste Schicksal ist das des Weissrussen Wassilij Bojkatschow. Als er 12 Jahre alt war nahmen die Deutschen sein Dorf ein, wobei sowohl sein Vater wie auch sein Großvater ermordet wurden. Beim Thyssen Werk der Deutsche Röhrenwerke AG musste er die gefährlichste Arbeit verrichten nämlich nicht explodierte Bomben entschärfen. 1995 schrieb er seine Memoiren und reiste 1996 nach Mülheim, wo er den Bürgermeister und ortsansässige Menschen traf, die Geld für seinen Besuch und den seiner Frau gesammelt hatten. Er beschrieb viele traumatische Erlebnisse, erinnerte sich aber auch an „viele Bilder menschlichen Mitleids und Güte“. Es scheint, dass er noch nicht einmal um Schadenersatz warb. (Dr Urban hat diese Informationen aus dem Jahrbuch der Stadt Mülheim entnommen).

Im Jahr 2000 schrieb eine Ukrainerin, Jewdokija Sch., an das Staatsarchiv Bremen: „Die Arbeit (beim Bremer Vulkan) war sehr, sehr schwer – ich arbeitete als Schweißerin, 12 Stunden täglich, in Holzschuhen, ganz erschöpft vom Hunger! Ich war schon 1944 wie ein Gespenst!“.

Nach ihrem Zusammenschluss trat die ThyssenKrupp AG im Jahr 2000 der Stiftungsinitiative der deutschen Wirtschaft bei, welche zur Entschädigung von Zwangsarbeitern finanziert wurde. Diesbezügliche Akten seien noch weitere 30 Jahre unter Verschluss und der akademischen Forschung nicht zugänglich, schreibt Dr Urban. Was er nicht erwähnt ist, dass es nicht bekannt ist, ob sich die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe jemals an einem Entschädigungsfond für Zwangsarbeiter beteiligt hat.

Interessanterweise befasst sich das nächste Buch der Serie mit den Kunstsammlungen der Thyssen Familie, welche das vordergründigste Instrument waren, mit dem sie ihr Schuldgefühl reinwaschen und ihre belastenden Kriegsverstrickungen hinter der Fassade einer kulturellen sogenannten Philanthropie verstecken konnten. Etwas was in den Boom-Jahren des deutschen Wirtschaftswunders und danach hervorragend funktionierte, als der Kunstmarkt von einem Höchstpreis zum nächsten emporschnellte und der Glanz der glamourösen Kunstwelt jegliche Sorge vor oder gar Erinnerung an die Quelle des Thyssen-Vermögens weg zu wischen schien.

Dr Thomas Urban, ein weiterer Thyssen-finanzierter Akademiker, diesmal von der Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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

Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 2: “Forced Labour at Thyssen. United Steelworks and Baron-Concern during World War Two”, by Thomas Urban, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2014.


If there is one subject within this series of academic treatises on the Thyssens’ companies, politics, personal wealth, public relations and art collection(s), where sensitivity and openness would have been essential, it is this particular one, as the appalling conditions under which foreigners (Soviet nationals, French, Dutch, Belgians, etc.) were forced to work in Thyssen industries during WWII, and in the manufacture of arms and ordnance particularly, reflect so clearly the inhuman excesses of Nazism. In view of its importance we make no apology for the length of this review.

30 years after Ulrich Herbert’s ground-breaking work on forced labour and seven years after the publication of our book, the Thyssen family has until now remained one of only a few adamantly refusing to address this part of their history. Instead, it has always claimed to have remained largely uninvolved in the manufacture of arms and ordnance and the use of forced labour. It has also claimed not to have supported Hitler or to have stopped supporting him at some point. It has even gone as far as putting itself on one level with the victims of the regime, by saying that it too had been persecuted and expropriated.

Additionally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza branch of the family claimed to be Hungarian and thus have nothing whatsoever to do with Germany. But those were all fake claims designed simply to divert attention away from the facts. And macabrely it was this „cosmopolitan“ side of the dynasty which was particularly supportive of the Nazis, through finance and banking, the construction of submarines and V-rocket-parts and a personal relationship with the SS and high-ranking Nazis. Over 1,000 concentration camp prisoners died in Bremen, building the „Valentin“ bunker where Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan shipyard was planning to increase production to 14 submarines per month to secure a desperate final German victory in view of Hitler’s looming defeat.

In view of their overarching industrial and financial power and privilege, Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had an overwhelming responsibility to behave with due respect towards their fellow men. In this we believe they failed as a result of their relentless greed, financial opportunism and amoral arrogance. Of all the Thyssen heirs, only one, GEORG THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA, is now seemingly agreeing to admit responsibility by supporting this project. But these flimsy 170 pages with their incomplete index (only personal, not corporate, which makes it so difficult to examine and analyse) only go a small way in rectifying the official record, and do not meet the standards of an international perspective.

Thomas Urban refuses to accept the legitimacy of our book and still sees fit to state that until the beginning of the 21st century forced labour within the Thyssen history remained „unnoticed“. In reality the subject appears to have been hidden intentionally, as far as possible, in order to fend off unwelcome publicity and possible compensation claims alike. It is also why the Thyssen-Bornemisza side of the family was hidden from academic research (the extent of which Dr Urban describes as „surprising“), until the publication of our book in 2007.

When Michael Kanther wrote on forced labour specifically for August Thyssen Hütte in 1991 it seems he could not publish until 2004, and then for the series “Duisburger Forschungen”. And ten years later, of the great plethora of Thyssen enterprises, only a handful are now admitted to have been guilty, namely the shipyards Bremer Vulkan and Flensburger Schiffsbau-Gesellschaft, the Walsum coal mine and the August Thyssen Hütte smelting works.

Press- and Rolling Works Reisholz and Oberbilker Steelworks are mentioned only furtively but not their involvement in the building of V-rockets or any co-operation with MABAG (Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG) of Nordhausen, where Heinrich’s son Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza worked with the SS and some 20,000 concentration camp victims died. It is noteworthy, however, that the technical director of Press- and Rolling Works Reisholz, Wilhelm Martin, is said to have installed, „in his function as counter-intelligence commissioner“, a „political combat patrol“ out of Thyssen staff, which „in case of unrest amongst the staff was to be put into action using so-called manslayers“ – apparently its only known occurence in the whole of the Nazi armament economy – which is an astonishing admission to make.

As German workers were sent off to be soldiers, they were replaced by a total of 14 million foreign workers, including women and children, over the period of the war, and, at Thyssen enterprises, these worked at ratios of between one and an astonishing two thirds (at Walsum mine, as we first reported) of total staff. According to the size of the Thyssen enterprises, in all anything up to several tens of thousands of forced labourers would have been working there, yet Dr Urban does not even attempt to put a total figure on it. Instead, the pathetic blame game to the detriment of Krupp continues to the point where the description „forced labour“, as used continuously in this book, suddenly turns into „slave labour“ as soon as the name Krupp is mentioned. Meanwhile, the fact that at Thyssen in Hamborn they are now said to have produced much bigger quantities of grenade steel than at the Krupp works in Rheinhausen is lost in the small print.

At August Thyssen Hütte and the Mülheim Thyssen works, belonging more to the Fritz Thyssen sphere of influence, whose power was not as obliterated by his privileged wartime captivity as these official Thyssen publications still want to have us believe, a „high mortality“ amongst Soviet POWs is said to have existed. But actual figures do not go beyond eight or less deceased in each of a few events described by Dr Urban.

Because of race ideology, apart from concentration camp prisoners, Soviet POWs were treated worst, even to the point where, in view of the high risk of sabotage, according to Dr Urban, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Bremer Vulkan shipyard kept them at first in a barbed wire cage where others looked upon them „as on apes in a zoo“. (This information came from a 1980 Bremen school project and was acquired by Dr Urban from Dr Rolf Keller of the Lower Saxony Memorial Sites Foundation in Celle). Yet despite such disturbing manifestations of racist extremism, acts of humanity by the local population towards prisoners had taken place, as our editor Ulli Langenbrinck at Asso Verlag Oberhausen told us many years ago, for the simple reason that they had to work together under dangerous circumstances (in mines and on blast furnaces for instance) and therefore it was better to be considerate towards men on whom your life may depend.

Sadly, Thomas Urban has the nerve to suggest such recollections could be mere reflections of post-dated convenience and one wonders whether he has ever stopped to imagine what it would have been like to work under such conditions of racial, ideological and national discrimination, aggravating the already challenging tasks. Conditions that were in place because of the directives of megalomaniac politicians and equally megalomaniac industrialists, and yet which the people on the ground could plainly see were self-defeating. Surely it did not take the sight of actual concentration camp prisoners to get demoralised, as Dr Urban says was suggested at the time, and of which he argues only 75 are certified to have worked at Bremer Vulkan proper (this being a more palatable figure than the 1,000 fatalities mentioned above). The alienation of having to speculate about the fate of your own members of the „masterrace“ fighting in a distant land while the „subhuman“ enemies produced their weapons and amunition back home would have been an insane situation that was quite demoralising enough – and for both sides!

At the other end of the scale, the Thyssens, who in the past have been very „economical“ with their historic record, are getting nothing short of kid glove treatment, revealing a continued mentality of sympathy and subservience that goes beyond anything to be expected from a so-called independent academic commission. Even a reviewer from Duisburg-Essen University, Jana Scholz, seems to question why the right thing has not been done, namely to lay the responsibility solidly at the Thyssens’ feet. Instead, camp guards, foremen and managers are being blamed for the use and treatment of forced labourers, men such as Wilhelm Roelen or Robert Kabelac, and one wonders what their families must think of it. Particularly in the case of Roelen, since a movement has gathered against his memory in the Ruhr, after it was established that over 100 Soviet POWs died under his watch at Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Walsum coal mine. Significantly, none of the managers’ families have been interviewed. And neither has anyone from the Thyssen family.

In another review Jens Thiel, who as an expert in medical ethics should know better, in all seriousness wonders whether it is still worth trying to „gain academic merits“ through working on the subject of forced labour. He goes on to praise the „sober“ descriptions in this book. But what is sober about the image of starving Russians eating raw fish killed by bombs, after diving into the ice-cold river in the middle of winter to retrieve them, eludes us. Or about that of locals remembering seeing, as children, hand-carts being driven out of Thyssen works with arms and legs hanging out by the sides, so that they were left obsessing whether the people contained therein were alive or dead.

Or that of gallows being erected at the Thyssen works „Zehntweglager“ camp in Mülheim (ruled over by a particularly sadistic father and son team of commanders) and adolescent Soviets being hanged there for theft „in the presence of a Gestapo man and an SS-non commissioned officer“ in apocalyptic scenarios – again witnessed by local children. All three descriptions being derived from personal interviews Dr Urban has carried out with eye witnesses and which are one of the few saving graces of this book. The book also describes other victims at Thyssen works being shot dead, including women, for instance for stealing foodstuffs.

Although the book does not dwell on this, there can be no doubt that Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza lived lives of privilege on the prodigious fruits of their father’s demented genius. They were both harking back to a world-view which was that of themselves as feudal overlords ruling over their personal fiefdoms. They were determined to oppose workers rights decisively (be they foreign or german) and that is why they supported fascism, including Admiral Horthy’s rule in Hungary. It is also why they financed their SS-occupied castle Rechnitz in Burgenland where Heinrich’s daughter Margit Batthyany led her own private wartime terror regime and participated in an atrocity on over 180 Jewish forced labourers in March 1945, which to this day remains unmentioned in any official Thyssen publication.

The Thyssen managers passed down this autocratic rule as they faced the simultaneous war-time challenges of meeting essential victory targets and delivering owners’ profits. They directed the saying „if you don’t do as you are told, Farge (a local Bremen work education camp) is nearby“ at german workers as well as foreign labourers. But the latter were always much more disadvantaged because the Nazis implemented the Führer principle throughout, turning any German into the boss of any foreign co-worker. Also, foreigners had to do heavier, more dangerous work and received worse rations and accommodation and insufficient air raid shelters. At a big air raid on the Hamborn Thyssen works on 22.01.1945, of the 145 dead 115 were POWs. In the case of foreigners camps at the Thyssen-Bornemisza mine at Walsum, a visiting state doctor and a Nazi party leader in 1942 were so horrified at the unbearable hygienic conditions that they ordered the Thyssen management to take immediate remedial action.

The profitability of the Thyssens’ war-time production, and ship building in particular, is mentioned but Thomas Urban says that verifiable figures are „not available“. But some of these figures are contained for instance in the minutes of the board meetings held quarterly in Flims, Davos, Lugano and Zurich (not just „Switzerland“ – in other words Heinrich was not too ill to travel around, he just did not want to leave Switzerland once war had started; simply for reasons of comfort rather than being “anti-Nazi”) with four participants (Baron Heinrich, Wilhelm Roelen, Heini Thyssen and Heinrich Lübke, Director of the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin – the two latter being played down by Urban). And the minutes were not taken by some anonymous „private secretary“ but in all probability by Wilhelm Roelen, which explains why copies are both in the corporate and private archives. We feel sure that the ThyssenKrupp Archives, respectively those of the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation, contain further relevant information about profitability – for instance in the files of the estate of Dr Wilhelm Roelen – but which for some reason are not being released.

It is also said in this book that no Thyssen enterprise during the Nazi period took over an „aryanised“ Jewish enterprise. But in reality Heinrich’s horse-racing stable Erlenhof near Bad Homburg had been bought for him in November 1933 by his entity Hollandsch Trust Kantoor from the estate of Moritz James Oppenheimer, a Jew who had been forced into liquidation and was later murdered – a very inconvenient date, when the official line has been and still is to say that Heinrich lived in Switzerland from 1932 onwards, i.e. from before Hitler’s assumption of power.

The author tries to make a point in Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s defence saying he did not take part in events at his works where Nazi party officials were present. But while Heinrich might not have left Switzerland after 1938 (he died there in 1947), his son Heini admitted to us that he returned to Germany in the middle of the war in 1942, when he travelled to Landsberg Castle for his grandfather’s 100th birthday celebrations, at which Nazi functionaries also took part (photographs of the event exist). After which he was allowed to travel back to Switzerland completely unhindered. But this remains unmentioned here, presumably in an attempt to minimise the record of Heini Thyssen’s war-time corporate embroilment.

Meanwhile, Thomas Urban has the audacity to allege that it is „not very likely“ (not exactly an academic approach!) that Heinrich’s contact with Hermann Göring went any further than their common interest in horse racing and that his distance from the regime was „likely not to have been only geographical.“ Instead Heinrich is praised for being able to „direct his companies from Switzerland“ as if, in this particular context, that was something to be admired. For such a crucial point, Dr Urban’s haphazard assessment of the Thyssen-Göring relationship is in fact an obscene remark to be made by this German academic and deeply offensive to the memory of the victims and to all people dedicated to the establishment of historical truth.

The banking contacts between the two men personally and with the regime in general via Heinrich’s August Thyssen Bank in Berlin (which was subsequently incorporated into BHF-Bank), his Union Banking Corporation in New York, his Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam and others have remained unmentioned so far in this series. We presume they are to be included in Simone Derix’ book on the family’s wealth and identity, due out in 2016, or in Harald Wixforth’s tome on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group (publication date unknown).

It might be said to be understandable that the Thyssens would have denied their links with Nazi leaders in the past and also that their war-time managers would have argued thus in order to circumvent post-war allied retribution. But it is unforgivable that an academic project in 2014 continues in the same vein of skimming over the most crucial parts of the Aufarbeitung of the Thyssen history. And it is also unclear why Dr Urban has to remain so hazy about important issues such as the remuneration of forced labourers. While he mentions it, he does not give any details about it whatsoever, which is unforgivable.

Time and time again Dr Urban mentions problems with source materials and a deriving impossibility to treat the subject with the necessary substance and certainty. His statement „quite a high proportion of forced labour“ in the Thyssens’ building material enterprises around Berlin „can be assumed“ is unacceptable, because the archives in question are said to be „still being put together“, which, 70 years after the end of the war seems an incredible statement to make, even if it is one we have heard many times before during our research into the Thyssen history.

When Bremer Vulkan went bankrupt in the late 1990s neither the Thyssen Bornemisza Group nor ThyssenKrupp felt it necessary to take on its archives. Instead, these were left to a „friends’ association“ („Wir Vulkanesen e.V.“) which managed to destroy crucial files, including wartime staff records and thus documents concerning forced labour, under „data protection considerations“. Only after that purge did the files reach their current location at the Bremen State Archives. And at Flensburger Schiffsbaugesellschaft, according to management, „all files which were not subject to prescribed storage periods were completely destroyed“. The archives of the Walsum mine are also said to be „extremely incomplete“, which considering what a fastidious technocrat its head Wilhelm Roelen was, is either unlikely, due to wartime damage, or indicative of a wilful destruction of incriminating evidence.

And so it has remained to individual slave labourers themselves, who have had the courage to come forward with their own real-life stories (and which have been picked up by various German historians and local – sometimes even school – historical projects securing evidence, who have acted truly independently from any Thyssen entity) to paint the most truthful pictures of forced labour at Thyssen.

When the Dutchman Klaas Touber in 1988 wrote to Bremer Vulkan (whose honorary chairman was Heini Thyssen) to ask for a compensation of 3,000 Deutschmarks for his forced work effort during WWII, he was rejected and told the company „could not discover any concrete facts (…) that justify an obligation for us to provide compensation“. He was informed the company was bankrupt and if they paid him anything it would set a precedent and „all the other people who experienced the same thing at the time“ would want paying also and Bremer Vulkan „would not be able to do so“. This at a time when Heini Thyssen was putting his art collection up for sale, suggesting it might be worth up to two billion dollars. Klaas Touber, who weighed only 40 kg at one point while at Bremer Vulkan, had retained a life-long psychological trauma from his detention, particularly as a compatriot, who had come to his defence during a canteen brawl, had been killed at the Neugamme concentration camp. (Evidence sourced by Dr Urban partly from Dr Marcus Meyer, head of the Memorial Institution „Valentin“ Bunker of the Bremen Regional Centre for Political  – the late Klaas Touber had been very involved in remembrance and reconciliation – and partly from a publication by the State Organisation of the Association of People Persecuted by the Nazi Regime / Bremen Association of Anti-Fascists e.V.).

Perhaps the most devastating and simultaneously most spirited story is that of Wassilij Bojkatschow. When he was 12 years old his village in Bielorussia had been taken by the Germans and both his father and grandfather killed. At the Thyssen works of Deutsche Röhrenwerke AG he was used for the most dangerous job, that of defusing unexploded bombs. In 1995 he wrote his memoirs and in 1996 travelled to Mülheim and met with the mayor and local people who had collected money for his and his wife’s visit. He described many traumatic experiences but also remembered „many examples of human feeling and kindness“ from German co-workers and locals. As it seems, he did not even ask for any monetary compensation. (Evidence sourced by Dr Urban from the annual report of the town of Mülheim).

In 2000 a Ucranian woman, Jewdokija Sch., wrote in a letter to the Bremen State Archive: „The work (at Bremer Vulkan) was very very hard. I worked as a welder, 12 hours a day, in wooden shoes, totally exhausted from hunger! In 1944 already I looked like a ghost“.

After its merger, ThyssenKrupp AG joined the German Industry Foundation Initiative in 2000 which was funded to pay compensation to former forced labourers. Related files are said to be closed to academic research for another 30 years, according to Dr Urban. What he does not mention is that it is unknown whether the Thyssen Bornemisza Group has ever contributed to any compensation payments.

Poignantly, the next volume in the series is about the Thyssens’ art collection(s), which was the primary tool used by the family to launder their sense of guilt and hide their incriminatory wartime record behind a veneer of cultured so-called „philanthropy“. Something that worked supremely well in the affluent years of the German economic miracle and beyond, when the art market sky-rocketed from one price hyperbole to the next, and the shine of the glamorous art world seemed to wipe away any concern about or even memory of the source of the Thyssen fortune.


Dr Thomas Urban, another Thyssen-funded academic, this time from the Ruhr-University in Bochum

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