Posts Tagged ‘Munich University’

Rechnitz Revisited I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewriting History – Thyssen in the 20th century: Still an overall exercise in vindication or whitewash, with a good number of obvious omissions – but admittedly featuring the occasional, important and sometimes puzzling admission.

It has taken seven years since the publication of our crucial book about the Thyssens (in the Asso Verlag publishing company of Oberhausen/Ruhr) for the first instalment of the „official“ Thyssen response to appear, in the form of the first in a series of eight books, co-financed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the newly formed Thyssen Industrial History Foundation; orchestrated by the malevolent Prof. Manfred Rasch, chief archivist of ThyssenKrupp AG, whose prejudice is manifest in the fact that while our book is often referred to, it is never credited.

Prof. Rasch even manages to deny our existence by claiming that the late Baron Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza failed in his ambition to commission an authorised biography.

In 2014/5, following numerous delays, three volumes of the series have appeared: “The United Steelworks under National Socialism”, “Forced Labour at Thyssen” and “The Thyssens as Art Collectors“. We will review all three over the coming weeks.

The authors of the books are all, somewhat surprisingly, junior academics with no or limited previous knowledge or practical experience of their subjects and described as „independent historians“, who are said to be „closing the gaps“ in research concerning the history of the Thyssen Family, ThyssenKrupp AG and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group.

However, as the authors were commissioned, funded and assisted in their research by the same people, commercial organisations and related foundations, there can be no way in which they could be accurately described as „independent“ and such a claim is at best misleading and at worst fraudulent.

In the case of the major investor, in what often appears to be little more than an academic hagiography, it should be remembered that the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung was started by Amélie Thyssen, who had joined the Nazi party in 1931 – two years before her husband Fritz Thyssen – and who never publicly recanted or displayed any regret for her support of Adolf Hitler.

One also wonders why senior academics of proven knowledge and ability were not won over to deal with this important and sensitive program. One has to assume that it was either because the juniors were more „malleable“ or because more senior academics were not prepared to risk damaging their own reputations while polishing the Thyssens’ tarnished history.

Of course for the project’s supervising professors Margit Szöllösi-Janze (Munich University) and Günther Schulz (Bonn University) the lines of academic whoring must be extremely blurred, as so many general academic research projects in Germany in the past 55 years have been funded by this same Fritz Thyssen Foundation. It must be incredibly difficult to emancipate oneself from this ever primed sponsorship pump.

By contrast, when we visited the archives of ThyssenKrupp AG in 1998, not only did Manfred Rasch accuse us of forging our letter of introduction from Heini Thyssen, but he was also offensively un-cooperative and purported to have nothing to do with the history of the Thyssen family, who he spoke of derisively and said that „his“ archive contained no material that related to them. So the question is: what has changed for him to now be a contributor to such a project?

Presumably, it was the publication of „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ and the resulting adverse publicity in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as this appears to be the point in time when his, the family’s and the corporations’ academic program of damage limitation was conceived.

Guido Knopp, the éminence grise of German historiography, has said in one of his popular television programs that „our generation is not responsible for what happened under the Nazis, but we are responsible for keeping the memory alive of what happened“.

In light of the Thyssen story, this begs the question: how are we supposed to adequately research and remember the history of the Nazi period if people like the Thyssens sit on evidence for 70 years and reveal it only to a selected few under privileged, academic criteria, thus keeping it very much outside the perception of the general public?

The result of such an opaque approach to Aufarbeitung can only be an exercise in vindication and in this series, as with so many books supported in the past by the Thyssen organisation, there is plenty of that. And if not in fact, then in conjecture.

But as far as we can see there are also now important admissions being made, presumably in order to retain a modicum of credibility, or perhaps at the insistence of the more forward thinking members of the team. This fact vindicates the time and effort we expended in producing the first honest portrayal of the Thyssen family and its activities.

We are delighted that our book has had the intended effect, namely to force the organisation to depart from the old official version of events which refused to admit anything that could be considered negative and only ever represented the Thyssens in a light of selfless heroism and untarnished pride, particularly manifest in a claimed rejection of Nazi ideals.

Recently a 94-year-old German former Auschwitz camp administrator, Oskar Gröning, who had not been directly involved in the killings, was sentenced to four years in prison. He showed deep remorse and apologised for his involvement, not something often displayed by his co-accused, if ever.

It felt like a concerted effort to present an image of Aufarbeitung which is a new, more open and honest way, and one that is explicitly sympathetic with the victims. Or maybe Mr Gröning is just a very enlightened individual.

In addition to Gröning’s statement, the public prosecutor commented that far from being just about individual crimes, Auschwitz was very much about „a system“, and that „whoever contributed to that system was responsible“.

The Thyssens contributed in many ways and much more than many others to the Nazi system, for instance by helping to arm Hitler’s troops to the point where the Nazi terror regime could be implemented over much of Europe. Their descendants, who have profited and continue to do so, from their forefathers’ (and mothers’) ill-gotten gains, have far more reasons than the German general public today to apologise and certainly to remember.

The question is: will they ever make a comparable statement to the one Oskar Gröning has made?

And more importantly: if not, why not?

"He who pays the piper calls the tune". The eternal sponsor, Amelie Thyssen (copyright Fritz Thyssen Foundation)

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