Posts Tagged ‘Rechnitz Castle’

Simone Derix Shrouds Thyssen Guilt – Rechnitz Revisited II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Derix alleges this was instead done for tax reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None of this is mentioned by Simone Derix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Derix fails to comment critically on this important issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do they not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Footnote: The following statements were made in the past:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Sacha Batthyany’s Great-Aunt’s Mother Casts the Die in Hating Jews and Cursing Communists

*   *   *

Six Weeks Under The Red Flag Being the thrilling experiences of a well known Hungarian lady during the revolution of 1918-1919

by Baroness T. B. de Kaszon

Published in 1920 in The Hague by W. P. van Stockum & Son

(free pdf-File, click here)

*   *   *

I am reproducing this facsimile as a reflection of the author’s social and political values of this period and in this location, but mainly as an example of her anti-Semitism (see pages 7/11/16/17/23/25/27/31/ 32/37/73); for the lady in question is the Baroness Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon, the wife of the German industrialist and banker, Heinrich Thyssen, and mother to their son ‘Heini’ Thyssen.

Originally the product of the union between the American Louise Price and the Hungarian Baron Gabor Bornemisza, she mysteriously adopted the name Gabriele in this book; her real name being Margit.

The title Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza was the result of quite a remarkable piece of social engineering; her husband, having been adopted by her heirless father, acquired a Hungarian title, and purchased a castle and estate to go with it. (Originally called Rohoncz, as a result of the Treaty of Trianon it became part of Austria in 1920, renamed Rechnitz and remained in the ownership of the Thyssen family.)

Her daughter Margit married into the Batthyany family, who had originally owned Rechnitz castle, and it was this Margit who hosted the party in 1945 during which 180 Jews were murdered as after-dinner entertainment.

It was Margit Batthyany‘s great-nephew Sacha Batthyany who wrote the book ‘What’s That To Do With Me?‘ (english title: ‘A Crime in the Family‘), in which he also expressed his opinion of Jews and communists and adopted a similarly flexible, though less theatrical, attitude towards the truth; particularly concerning the Rechnitz massacre.

Many years later Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza’s other daughter ‘Gaby’ Bentinck (pictured on page 48, on the right) admitted to me that their escape from the castle in 1918/9 had involved nothing more dangerous than being driven to the station by their chauffeur, from where they caught a train to Vienna.

 

A self-indulgently fantastical, highly disturbing manifesto

Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza nee Bornemisza, mother of Margit Batthyany nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, great-great-aunt by marriage of Sacha Batthyany

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rechnitz Revisited I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 3: “The Thyssens as Art Collectors. Investment and Symbolic Capital (1900-1970)”, by Johannes Gramlich, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2015

After the ducking and diving and profiteering from other peoples’ death and misery, we will now be looking at the „shinier“ side of the medal, which is the so-called „artistic effort“ alleged to have been made by the Thyssen family. This had more to do with capital flight, the circumvention of foreign exchange controls and the avoidance of paying tax (art collections being described by Gramlich as „a valid means of decreasing tax duties as they are difficult to control“), short-term speculation, capital protection and profit maximisation than it did with any serious appreciation, let alone creation, of art.

Significantly, not a single review of this third book in the series „Thyssen in the 20th Century: The Thyssens as Art Collectors“, which once again constitutes nothing more than the shortened version (at 400 pages!) of a doctoral thesis – this time at the University of Munich – has been posted. Not a single suggestion that this student of history, german and music might not know what he is talking about, since he does not seem to have any previous knowledge of art history or obvious personal talents in the visual arts. Or about the fact that way too much of the art bought by the Thyssens was rubbish. Or that the Thyssens pretended to be Hungarian when they wanted something from Hungary, Swiss when they wanted something from Switzerland, or Dutch when they wanted something from the Netherlands.

In fact if there is one overall message this book appears to propagate it is this: that it is the ultimate achievement to cheat persistently, and as long as you are rich and powerful and immoral enough to continue cheating and myth-making all through your life, you will be just fine. Not least because you can then leave enough money in an endowment to continue to facilitate the burnishing of your reputation, so that the myth-making can continue on your behalf, posthumously. And if by any chance you can take advantage of another person’s distress along the way, so much the better – as Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is said to have done from the Jewish collections of Herbert Gutmann and Max Alsberg and Fritz Thyssen from those of Julius Kien and Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild.

But: does anybody find this message acceptable?!

Mysteriously, this book also contains some very derogatory descriptions of the Thyssens’ true characters. Fritz Thyssen is described (in a quote by Christian Nebenhay) as „not very impressive“ and „meaningless“. His brother Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is said to have been „difficult“, „unpleasant“, „avaricious“, „not always straight in his payment behaviour“ and somebody who „could not find the understanding for needs and aspirations of people who were in a relationship of dependency from him“. Amelie Thyssen is said to have tried to get the historical record bent very seriously as far her husband’s alleged distancing from Nazism was concerned and to have lied about the date of art purchases to avoid the payment of tax.

Fortunately, we did not know any of these second-generation Thyssens personally. But we did know Heini Thyssen, the last directly descended male Thyssen heir, and very well at that. Over the period of some 25 years (Litchfield more than Schmitz) we were lucky enough to be able to spend altogether many months in his company. We both liked and miss him greatly. He was a delightful man with a great sense of humour and sparkling intelligence. What was most astonishing about him, considering his family’s general sense of superiority, was his total lack of arrogance.

Heini Thyssen described the art business to us as „the dirtiest business in the world“. He knew of the secret-mongering of dealers, the hyperboles of auction houses and the dishonesties of experts. It was a choppy sea that he navigated with just the right combination of caution and bravado to be successful. But of course, he also used the art business outrageously in order to invent a new image for himself. The reason why, contrary to his father and uncle, he was extremely successful in this endeavour, was precisely because he was such a likeable man.

But this did not make Heini Thyssen a moral man. He continued to cheat about his nationality, the source and extent of his fortune, his responsibilities and his loyalties just as his father, uncle and aunt (and to some extent his grand-father) had done before him. And now, this series of books continues to perpetuate the very same old myths which have always been necessary to cover the tracks of these robber barons for as long as the modern-day German nation state has existed. The size and claimed value of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection also persuaded many members of the international art community and of the general public to accept this duplicity.

The all important Thyssen-owned dutch Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, for instance, is repeatedly said to have been founded in 1918, when the real date is most likely to have been 1910. This is important because the bank was the primary offshore tool used by the Thyssens to camouflage their German assets and protect their concern and fortune from allied retribution after the first lost war. But the information is precarious because it also implies a massive disloyalty of the Thyssens towards Germany, the country that was, is and always will be the sole original source of their fortune.

And again Heinrich and Heini Thyssen are said to have been Hungarian nationals, presumably because it is meant to excuse why, despite supporting the Nazi war machine that made possible some of the worst atrocities in human history, the Thyssen-Bornemiszas entirely avoided allied retribution after the second lost war also. In reality, Heinrich Thyssen’s Hungarian nationality was highly questionable, for several reasons: because it was originally „bought“, was not maintained through regular visits to the abandoned country, extension papers were issued by Thyssen-sponsored friends and relatives in diplomatic positions and because Heinrich actually maintained his German nationality. In Heini’s case, his status depended entirely on the fact that his mother’s second husband worked at the Hungarian embassy in Berne and procured him the necessary identity papers (a fact that will be plagiarised from our work by „Junior Research Group Leader“ Simone Derix in her forthcoming book on the Thyssens’ fortune and identity, which is based on her habilitation thesis (!) and as such already available – Strangely, despite being volume 4 in the series, her book is now said to be published only following volume 5). To call those Hungarian nationalities legitimate is plainly wrong. And it matters greatly.

When Philip Hendy at the London National Gallery put on an exhibition of paintings from Heini Thyssen’s collection in 1961, Heini apparently told Hendy he could not possibly be showing during the same year as Emil Bührle, because “As you know Bührle was a real German armament king who became Swiss, so it would be very bad for me to get linked up with German armament“. But this was not, as this book makes it sound, because Heini Thyssen did not have anything to do with German armament himself, but precisely because he did! Since this partial source of the Thyssen wealth has now been admitted by both Alexander Donges and Thomas Urban, it is highly questionable that Johannes Gramlich fails to acknowledge this adequately in his work.

Then there are new acknowledgments such as the fact that August Thyssen and Auguste Rodin did not have a close friendship as described in all relevant books so far, but that their relationship was terrible, because of monetary squabbles, artistic incomprehension and public relations opportunism. The only problem with this admission is that, once again, we were the first to establish this reality. Now this book is committing shameless plagiarism on our investigative effort and, under the veil of disallowing us as not pertaining to the „academic“ circle, is claiming the „academic merit“ of being the first to reveal this information for itself.

Another one of our revelations, which is being confirmed in this book, is that the 1930 Munich exhibition of Heinrich’s collection was a disaster, because so many of the works shown were discovered to be fraudulent. Luitpold Dussler in the Bayerischer Kurier and Kunstwart art magazine; Wilhelm Pinder at the Munich Art Historical Society; Rudolf Berliner; Leo Planiscig; Armand Lowengard at Duveen Brothers and Hans Tietze all made very derogatory assessments of the Baron’s collection as „expensive hobby“, „with obviously wrong attributions“, containing „over 100 forgeries, falsified paintings and impossible artist names“, where „the Baron could throw away half the objects“, „400 paintings none of which you should buy today“, „backward looking collection“, „off-putting designations“, „misleading“, „rubbish“, etc. etc. etc. The Baron retaliated by getting the „right-wing press“ (!) in particular to write positive articles about his so-called artistic endeavours, patriotic deed and philanthropic largesse, an altruistic attitude which was not based on fact but solely on Thyssen-financed public relations inputs.

The book almost completely leaves out Heini Thyssen’s art activities which is puzzling since he was by far the most important collector within the dynasty. Instead, a lot of information is relayed which has nothing whatsoever to do with art, such as the fact that Fritz Thyssen bought Schloss Puchhof estate and that it was run by Willi Grünberg. In the words of Gramlich: „Fritz Thyssen advised (Grünberg) to get the maximum out of the farm without consideration for sustainability. As a consequence the land was totally depleted afterwards. The denazification court however came to the conclusion that these methods of exhaustive cultivation were due mainly to the manager who was doing it to get more profit for himself“. Apparently Grünberg also abused at least 100 POWs there during the war but, after a short period of post-war examination, was reinstated as estate manager by Fritz Thyssen. This gives an indication not only of the failings of the denazification proceedings, but also of Thyssen’s concepts of human rights and the non-applicability of general laws to people of his standing.

One is also left wondering why Fritz Thyssen would be said to have bought the biggest estate in Bavaria in 1938, for an over-priced 2 million RM, specifically for his daughter Anita Zichy-Thyssen and son-in-law Gabor Zichy to live in, when Heini Thyssen and his cousin Barbara Stengel told us very specifically that the Zichy-Thyssens, with the help of Hermann Göring, for whom Anita had worked as his personal secretary, left Germany to live in Argentina in 1938, being transported there aboard a German naval vessel. After repeating the old myth that Anita’s family was with her parents when they fled Germany on the eve of World War Two, this book now makes the additional „revelation“ that Anita and her family arrived in Argentina in February 1940, without, however, explaining where they might have been in the meantime, while Fritz and Amelie Thyssen were taken back to Germany by the Gestapo. Of course February 1940 is also the date when Fritz and Amelie, of whom Anita would inherit, were stripped of their German citizenship, a fact that was to become crucial in them being able to regain their German assets after the war.

The defensive attitude of this book is also revealed when Eduard von der Heydt, another Nazi banker, war profiteer and close art investment advisor to the Thyssens, is said to be „still deeply rooted and present in (the Ruhr) in positive connotations, despite all protest and difficulties“. This has to refer not least to the fact – but for some reason does not spell it out – that some Germans, mindful of his role as a Nazi banker, have managed to get the name of the cultural prize of the town of Wuppertal-Elberfeld, where the von der Heydt Museum stands, changed from Eduard von der Heydt Prize to Von der Heydt Prize. Clearly because Willi Grünberg was but a foot soldier and Eduard von der Heydt a wealthy cosmopolitan, Grünberg gets the bad press while von der Heydt receives the diplomatic treatment, in the same way as book 2 of the series (on forced labour) blames managers and foremen and practically exonerates the Thyssens. It is a distorting way of working through Nazi history which should no longer be happening. Meanwhile, Johannes Gramlich is allowed to reveal that in view of revolutionary turmoils in Germany in 1931, Fritz Thyssen sent his collection to Switzerland only for it to be brought back to Germany in the summer of 1933 – as if a stronger indication could possibly be had for his deep satisfaction with Hitler’s ascent to power.

In the same period, Heinrich, after his disastrous 1930 Munich exhibition, teased the Düsseldorf Museum with a „non-committal prospect“ to loan them his collection for a number of years. It is also said that he planned to build an „August Thyssen House“ in Düsseldorf to house his collection permanently. Considering the time and huge effort Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza spent during his entire life and beyond on not being considered a German, it is strange that Johannes Gramlich does not qualify this venture as being either a fake plan or proof of Heinrich’s hidden teutonic loyalties. In view of the dismal quality of Heinrich’s art there was of course no real collection worth being shown at the Düsseldorf Museum at all, which did not, however, stop its Director Dr Karl Koetschau from lobbying for it for years. He was disappointed at Heinrich’s behaviour of stringing them along, which is an episode that leaves even Gramlich to concede: „(the Baron) accepted all benefits and gave nothing in return“. While the „Schloss Rohoncz Collection“ is said to have arrived at his private residence in Lugano from 1934, this book still fails to inform us of the precise timing and logistics of the transfer (some 500 paintings), a grave omission for which there is no excuse. It is also worth remembering that 1934 was the year Switzerland implemented its bank secrecy law, which would have been the ultimate reason why Heinrich chose Lugano as final seat of his „art collection“.

The many painfully obvious omissions in this book are revealing, particularly in the case of Heini Thyssen having a bust made of himself by the artist Nison Tregor when the fact that he also had one made by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favourite sculptor, is left out. But they become utterly inacceptable in the case of the silence about the „aryanisation“ of the Erlenhof stud farm in 1933 (from Oppenheimer to Thyssen-Bornemisza) or the involvement of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, together with her SS-lovers, in the atrocity on 180 Jewish slave labourers at the SS-requisitioned but Thyssen-funded Rechnitz castle estate in March 1945. Both matters continue to remain persistently unmentioned and thus form cases of Holocaust denial which are akin to the efforts of one David Irving.

It is also astonishing how the author seems to have a desperate need for mystifying the question of the financing of Heinrich Thyssen’s collection, when Heini Thyssen told us very clearly that his father did this through a loan from his own bank, Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart. This fact is very straightforward, yet Johannes Gramlich makes it sound so complicated that one can only think this must be because he wants to make it appear like Thyssen had money available in some kind of holy grail-like golden pot somewhere that had nothing to do with Thyssen companies and confirmed that he really was descended from some ancient, aristocratic line as he would have liked (and in his own head believed!) to have done.

The equally unlikely fact is purported that all the details of every single one of the several thousand pieces of art purchased by the Thyssens has been entered by „the team“ into a huge database containing a sophisticated network of cross-referenced information. Yet, in the whole of this book, the author mentions only a handful of the actual contents of Thyssen pictures. Time and time again the reader is left with the burning question: why, as the subject was so important to the Thyssens, did they leave it to such an unenlightened man rather than an experienced art historian to write about it? Is it because it is easier to get such a person to write statements such as “personal documents (of Fritz Thyssen) were destroyed during the confiscation of his fortune by the National Socialists and his business documents were mainly destroyed by WWII bombing“, because the organisation does not want to publish the true details of Fritz and Amelie’s wartime life? (one small tip: the bad bad Nazis threw them in a concentration camp and left them to rot is definitely not what happened). Or because he is prepared to write: „The correspondence of Hans Heinrich (Heini Thyssen) referring to art has been transmitted systematically from 1960 onwards“ and „for lack of sources, it is not possible to establish who was responsible for the movements in the collection inventory during the 1950s“ , because for a man whose assets are alleged to have been expropriated until 1955, it would be difficult to explain why he was able to buy and deal with expensive art before then?

Was Dr Gramlich commissioned because a man with his lack of experience can write about „APC“ being an American company that Heini Thyssen’s company was “negotiating with”, because he does not know that the letters stand for „Alien Property Custodian“? Or because time and time and time again he will praise the „outstanding quality“ of the Thyssens’ collections, despite the fact that far too many pictures, including Heinrich’s „Vermeer“ and „Dürer“ or Fritz’s „Rembrandt“ and „Fragonard“ turned out to be fakes? The Lost Art Coordination Point in Magdeburg, by the way, describes this Fragonard as having been missing since 1945 from Marburg. But Gramlich says it has been missing since 1965 from the Fritz Thyssen Collection in Munich, when it was “only valued at 3.000 Deutschmarks any longer, because its originality was now questioned”.

At one point, Gramlich writes about the „two paintings by Albrecht Dürer“ in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection without naming either of them. He describes that one of them was sold by Heini Thyssen in 1948. It went to the American art collector Samuel H Kress and finally to the Washington National Gallery. What Gramlich does not say is that this was in fact “Madonna with Child“. The other one remained in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and can still be viewed at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid to this day under the title „Jesus among the Scribes“. Only, it has received a highly damning appraisal by one of the world’s foremost Dürer experts, Dr Thomas Schauerte; Johannes Gramlich does not tell his readers about this.

The truth in all this is that no matter how many books and articles (and there have been many!) are financed by Thyssen money to tell us that Heini Thyssen bought German expressionist art in order to show how „anti-Nazi“ he was, such a thing is not actually possible and is not even believable after the Nazi period. It is ludicrous to say that August Thyssen saw Kaiser Wilhelm II as „Germany’s downfall“, since he had the Kaiser’s picture on his wall and started buying into the Bremer Vulkan submarine- producing shipyard in 1916, specifically in order to profit from the Kaiser’s war. And it is not believable, in view of Fritz Thyssen’s deeply-held antisemitism, to say he helped Jakob Goldschmidt to take some of his art out of Germany in 1934, because he was such a loyal friend of this Jewish man. Fritz Thyssen helped Jakob Goldschmidt despite him being Jewish and only because Goldschmidt was an incredibly well-connected and thus indispensable international banker – who in turn helped the Thyssens save their assets from allied retribution after WWII.

All the Thyssens have ever done with art – and this book, despite aiming to do the contrary, does in fact confirm it – is to have used art in order to camouflage not just their taxable assets, but themselves as well. They have used art to hide the problematic source of parts of their fortune, as well as the fact they were simple parvenus. In the same way as Professor Manfred Rasch is not an independent historian but only a Thyssen filing clerk (the way he repeatedly gets his „academic“ underlings to include disrespectful remarks about us in their work is highly unprofessional), so the Thyssens are not, never have been and never will be „autodidactic“ „connoisseurs“. And that is because art does not happen on a cheque book signature line but is, in its very essence, the exact opposite of just about anything the Thyssens, with a few exceptions, have ever stood for.

As Max Friedländer summarised it, their kind of attitude was that of: „the vain desire, social ambition, speculation for rise in value….of ostentatiously presenting one’s assets…..so that this admiration of the assets reflects back on the owner himself“. Despite the best efforts of the Thyssen machine to present a favourable academic evaluation of the Thyssens’ art collecting jaunts, in view of their infinitely immoral standards, the assurances of both the aesthetic qualities and investment value of their „art collections“, as mentioned so nauseatingly frequently in this book, are of no consequence whatsoever. The only thing that is relevant is that the extent of the family’s industrial wealth was so vast, that the pool of pretence for both them and their art was limitless. Thus their intended camouflage through culture failed and the second-generation Thyssens in particular ended up being exposed as Philistines.

Johannes Gramlich

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‘Killing’ Thyssen Party

On the night of 27 November 2009, Francesca Habsburg (nee Thyssen) gave a party to celebrate her gold medal award by the county of Vienna, for her services to art. To present the niece of Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen), owner of Rechnitz Castle and hostess of the party in March 1945 during which 180 Hungarian Jews were murdered, with a gold medal, while the investigations are ongoing, is, in my opinion, extremely questionable. But for Francesca to indicate on her invitation that she expects her guests to come ‘DRESSED TO KILL’ is more than a step too far. Let us hope that it is purely the result of her arrogance and thoughtlessness, rather than some insulting gesture to the memory of the victims of the Rechnitz Massacre.

Unfortunately, I cannot voice my reaction as explicitly as I would like, for legal reasons. Interestingly, some of the Austrian commentators were also less than impressed:

23. November 2009, 17:08 (Andrea Schurian, DER STANDARD Printausgabe 24.11.2009)

‘Eine Frage der Ehre (Verdienstvolle Zeichen)

Wien preist seine ehrenwerten Bürgerinnen und Bürger in sieben Abstufungen; da gibt es Halsdekorationen mit und ohne Bruststernen; nur Bruststerne. Oder, in den hinteren Rängen: Medaillen. Das Goldene Verdienstzeichen des Landes Wien ist eine Medaille mit goldenen Strahlen, vergeben für große Verdienste. Danach kommt nur mehr Silber. Alles klar so weit.

Am Donnerstag vergoldet Wien der Kunstmäzenin Francesca Habsburg-Lothringen, née Thyssen- Bornemisza, ihre großen Verdienste mit einer solchen Medaille. Mit ihrer Kunststiftung namens T-B A21 tut sie viel für die Kunst – und die Künstler (mitunter auch die öffentliche Hand) viel für sie und ihren Ruhm.

Kurzum: Alles sehr verdienstvoll. Auch die superlative Goldmedaillen-Party alias DJ-Battle alias Wohltätigkeits-Event: sehr ehrenvoll. Eintritt für einfache Charity-Dancer von 50 Euro aufwärts, einen Zehnpersonentisch gibt es für minimum 1000 Mäuse. Klamottencode: Dressed to kill. Auch klar.

Nur das mit der Location war nicht so ganz klar. Das Mak [Museum für angewandte Kunst] werde Schauplatz der DJ-Sause, hieß es im Profil. Aber Peter Noever wollte nicht so gut sein und das Museum gratis zur Verfügung stellen. Weil: warum? Und zu wessen höherer Ehre?

Andererseits: Wie kann man sich denn so richtig toll fühlen, wenn es die anderen nicht so gut mit einem meinen? Die Party findet nun in der Ankerbrotfabrik statt. Eine Frage der Ehre. Klar.’

Mrs Habsburg

Mrs Habsburg

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The ThyssenArt Beast (1928-2009): A Letter To Tavarua Blogspot (by Caroline Schmitz)

Dear Author of Tavarua – The Traveler Blogspot,

I feel compelled to comment on your post dated 21 October entitled ‘A Legendary Art Collector’, where you repeat several of the Thyssen mantras, including that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection was once housed at the family castle in Hungary. How far away from the truth you are can be seen from the evidence as described in our book. For instance, the foreword to the first exhibition of this collection, which took place in Munich in 1930, is extremely explicit and I will quote the most relevant passages from it to illustrate my comment to you:

‘…It was known to the inner circle of experts that during the last few years, shielded from the public, the basis for a new collection was created in Germany…..Even the owner and creator of the collection so far renounced the pleasure of seeing all of his treasures assembled in one place. Rather, he left them first of all under the seal of confidentiality in all those various locations where they had been acquired. This is why the Directorate of the Bavarian State Art Collections were so grateful and excited when, upon their suggestion, the collector Dr Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza decided to assemble the works, dispersed in Paris, The Hague, London, Berlin and other cities, temporarily in Munich and to entrust them to the ‘Neue Pinakothek’ for an exhibition…

…Here they are gathered for the first time to be appreciated by the public. One will note with amazement what has been possible in a surprisingly short period of time…I only wish to point out that it was possible to use the big movements on the art market, which the recent turmoils have brought with them, with circumspection and energy……

…Here they are: an exquisite male portrait by Michael Pacher and a female portrait by Albrecht Altdorfer, which we wholeheartedly commend as one of the high points of German art, as the perfect representation of German womanhood of that time in insurpassable truth and freedom…

…This new creation stands entirely alone in our German present……We believe that the national treasure can experience no greater enhancement and grounding than through the acquisition of great, noble works of art…

…The increasing impoverishment of our ‘Volk’ [the German people] and the financial crisis of our stately powers, which are becoming more dangerous every day, make us fear that the maintenance of cultural institutions will fall behind more and more…

…Dr Rudolf Heinemann-Fleischmann also carried out the laborious task of gathering all the works to be exhibited from their various locations….’ (Dr Fr Dörnhöffer, Munich, June 1930).

The sad truth about the Thyssen connection with Rechnitz (which has been Austrian, rather than Hungarian since 1921, before which it was known as Rohoncz) is that to this day the Thyssen family uses the name of the place to hide both the real provenance of their paintings and their own national provenance, which was firmly German, not Hungarian, Swiss, or anything else. This would not be quite as bad if, in March 1945, an appalling crime had not taken place in Rechnitz, which has tarnished the town’s image for ever.

The fact that, to this day, the Thyssens refuse to own up to their involvement in the Rechnitz Massacre of over 180 Jewish slave labourers to my mind makes their continued use of the town’s good name as a cloak for the early years of their collection especially distasteful.

Jan Lievens, 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' (ca. 1635): The first painting purchased for the Thyssen / Rohoncz Collection, in the year 1928. It never went anywhere near Rohoncz (Rechnitz) Castle and neither did any of the other 524 of Heinrich Thyssen's paintings.

Jan Lievens, 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' (ca. 1635): The first painting purchased for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (Rohoncz Collection), in the year 1928. It never went anywhere near Rohoncz (Rechnitz) Castle and neither did any of the other 542 of Heinrich Thyssen's paintings.

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‘The Thyssen Dynasty – A Masterclass In The Unacceptable Face Of Capitalism’

Book Review by Dr Erika Abcynski, Dormagen, Germany (translated by Caroline Schmitz):

‘David R L Litchfield has written a book about the Thyssen family from the founding of the Thyssen Concern to its collapse. Litchfield has assembled much interesting information about the Thyssens and thus about German capitalism per se.

As early as the founding of the first Thyssen works in 1870 August Thyssen combined greed, cleverness and sharp practice against his first business partner and brother-in-law as well as the elimination of competitors and the procurement of capital through marriage. Indeed, he concealed from his brother-in-law that he wanted to found his own rolling work in direct competition to him. The company Bechem & Keetman in Duisburg had to produce machinery exclusively for him. In the area surrounding Duisburg nobody but August Thyssen was able to buy machinery for a rolling work.

For the workers of the Thyssen works there was the rule of carrot and stick. “August’s expectations of his workers were very simple and straightforward. He expected them to abide by the ‘Reglement’, work very hard with the minimum of waste in time or materials, and produce as much as their engineer managers could get out of them…..The Meisters were expected to act as sub-contracting entrepreneurs rather than production or workshop supervisors of their respective departments”.

“The workers… remained entrapped by the Thyssens’ policy of supplying, and owning, all the worker’s needs ‘on-site’. The story, baths, canteens and lodging houses were all a man had time to need.” (quoted from David Litchfield, ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie’). People were fired for minute transgressions. In 1928 the Thyssen-brothers Fritz and Heinrich locked out 225,000 workers for one month. Through the ownership of 67,000 workers’ lodgings, pressure could be exerted on the workforce and the government could be blackmailed through the threat of mass redundancies.

The Thyssen balance sheet for 1912 claimed the value of the Concern to be 562,153,182 Reichsmark. Before and during the First World War, there was strong collaboration between Thyssen and the Imperial government. One of August Thyssen’s friends was Hjalmar Schacht, later Hitler’s Economics Minister. Thyssens armaments production for German increased. By 1918, practically the whole enterprise produced for the war. The founding of firms in The Netherlands safeguarded Thyssen assets in case the war would be lost. Furthermore, tricks were used through the Thyssen-owned Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart NV and assets safeguarded. Using the Hungarian citizenship of the Thyssen-son Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, topped by a residency in the Netherlands, the Thyssen fortune was protected from allied confiscation, also after 1945. Heinrich Thyssen had married the daughter of the Hungarian Baron Bornemisza and had had himself adopted by his father-in-law in order to gain the title of Baron.

In 1923 there were the first contacts to Hitler. Fritz Thyssen knew about the plans for the putsch. He donated 100,000 Goldmarks for the National Socialist Party. He liked the fact that Hitler wanted to sort out the workers’ movement once and for all. At the beginning of the 1940s, Fritz Thyssen conceded that he had donated 62 million Reichsmark to the Nazi party over a 12 year period. Göring was one of his friends. In 1933 Fritz Thyssen joined the Nazi party, his wife had done so even earlier.

Tax evasion was an important business tool for the Thyssens. From 1919 to 1939 there were constant investigations by the financial authorities. In 1939 the Tax Directorate in Düsseldorf was able to prove that Fritz Thyssen had committed tax evasion and illegal foreign currency transactions, which Hitler had declared to be a capital offense. A fearful Fritz left for Switzerland on 1. September 1939, then moved to France. All his assets were placed by Göring under the trusteeship of Prussia and managed by joint friends and business partners of the two men. In other words, it was not his enmity against Hitler or any concerns about the mistreatment of Jews that led to Fritz Thyssen’s persecution, but the fact he was lining his own pockets. From the 1930s the Thyssens once again made money from armaments production, but also began simultaneously, just like August Thyssen during WWI, to safeguard their fortune, for instance in the USA and in South America. August Thyssen Hütte had nine POW-camps and seventeen camps for forced labourers. Heinrich Thyssen lived in Switzerland, led the affairs of his firms from there and continued to do business with the Nazis, but not publicly. From 1941 onwards he made his son Heini attend the meetings in Switzerland with the managers of his enterprises, which were also sometimes attended by Baron von Schröder of the Nazi bank Stein in Cologne, who was the trustee for Fritz’s confiscated industrial shares.

The most disgraceful story which members of the Thyssen family were involved in, is the murder of 200 Jews at Rechnitz Castle, where the eldest daughter of Heinrich Thyssen, Margit Batthyany, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, lived with her husband, Count Batthyany, and high-ranking Nazis and SS-officers. During the night of 24 March 1945 the Ortsgruppen-leader Podezin, a Gestapo-official, left a party hosted by Count and Countess Batthyany with guests to shoot the Jews. The victims were 200 half-starved Jews who had been declared unfit for work. Local people said that Podezin had been in the habit of shooting Jews who were locked up in the castle cellars and that the Countess had enjoyed watching these events. After the war neither Margit nor other members of the Thyssen family wanted to know anything about this massacre and they were never prosecuted for it.

Litchfield has also assembled much information about the behaviour of the Americans and the British towards the Thyssens. For fear of the communists the Thyssens were handed back all of their fortune, works, shares and gold, despite their role in the Third Reich.

After 1945, Heinrich Thyssen transferred his role within the Thyssen Bornemisza Group to his son Heini Thyssen. But he did not much care for the Concern. Rather, he spent most of his time with sharing out his fortune. Other than that he had many relationships with glamorous, high society women and with the excesses of alcoholism. As a form of investment he bought many hundreds of paintings which were first exhibited and stored at his father’s villa in Switzerland. August Thyssen had started the art collection by buying works of Rodin, also as an investment. When Heini realised, that the maintenance of his collection was expensive, he searched for another way of handling it. Here he used all of his business acumen and various goods contacts, thus managing to sell about half of his art works to the Spanish state for 350 million dollars, payable free of tax, outside Spain, having first loaned the collection to the Spanish for 5 million dollars a year. The Spanish state met all costs for the use of the Thyssen pictures as a permanent public display.

The facts assembled in this review represent only a tiny fraction of the innumerable data painstakingly collected by Litchfield, which illustrate the greed and corruption of the Thyssens. The book is over 500 pages long and a thrilling read, the part about Heini Thyssen is somewhat too extensive.’


http://www.secarts.org/journal/index.php?show=article&id=948&PHPSESSID=ec1b0e599e946f1f299627d9346a7f4a

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Thyssen Truth Must Come Out Before More Tax Money Goes In (by Caroline Schmitz)

I recently came across an article about August Thyssen in the summer series on famous scions of the Lower Rhine region, published by the Rheinische Post newspaper, under the promising headline ‘A Globaliser From The Start’. But it contained the sentence ‘After the World War, August Thyssen lost his foreign participations’. As somebody who has studied the Thyssens for some fourteen years now, it was the kind of throw-away remark that sharply reminded me once again of the systematic manipulation of history that has accompanied this dynasty’s personal and corporate affairs for a very long time.

If you wish to get a very basic idea of what I’m talking about, go to German Wikipedia and check out the entries for Alfred Krupp, Hugo Stinnes, Friedrich Flick and August Thyssen; all four legendary German industrialists of similar status and place in history. Krupp warrants 5 illustrated pages, Stinnes 11, Flick 10, but Thyssen barely manages to make three quarters of a page! Why should this be so? The chief publicist and archivist of ThyssenKrupp, Professor Manfred Rasch, is more than capable of producing lengthy features on the founder of the Thyssen empire at opportune moments in local publications, such as Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which are hugely sympathetic to the image of a company that still remains one of the major employers in the Ruhr area, as well as far beyond. So why does he not ensure that extensive and accurate information is available on a more general level?

The answer is: because there are many black holes in this dynasty’s history which would be too difficult to broach. Instead, gloss-overs and simplifications have been produced over the years by the official guardians of the Thyssen legacy and reproduced by unwitting journalists and historians. But even the most consistently spin-doctored histories are eventually bound to come unravelled. This is particularly true in times of bust such as today, when money becomes scarce and people re-examine their loyalties; as long, of course, as they can enjoy the freedom of democracy rather than being forced into the shackles of authoritarian rule so admired by the likes of Ecclestone, Mosley & Co.

One reason why the Thyssens have always purported to have ‘lost everything’ in the war (for the family members tend to ‘go the extra mile’, insisting all was lost, not just the foreign assets) is to excuse their involvement in arming the German Empires of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler respectively. If it were shown that they actually profited from those regimes, the Thyssens would receive far less sympathy and respect than they do when portrayed as the sacrificial victims of the conflicts, who had to rebuild their fortunes each time from scratch by the sweat of their own brows. The latter being very much the picture painted on the new website of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

In actual fact, while other industrialists were punished for their support of the Reich, the Thyssens were not. They were even compensated for their losses. After World War I, this included their Lorraine ore mines and steel works, which the French insisted they give up. Heini Thyssen himself admitted to David and myself that far from his family losing, for instance, his grand-father’s Brazilian interests after 1918, he was able to liquidate some of them in the 1970s at vast profit. Despite such good fortune, ‘foreign assets’ have always been a particularly contentious issue in the Thyssen historiography, not least because this most quintessential of German dynasties, whose name still remains one of those inextricably linked with the fatherland’s deepest sense of national prosperity, honour and pride, has continuously reaped the benefits of German industry, while simultaneously refusing to admit allegiance to the country.

While the destruction of August Thyssen’s personal files after his death in 1926 ensured the public could never realise that this supposed German patriot had in fact moved his ultimate ownership structures abroad before 1914, a more overt public relations exercise was necessary after 1945 when the magnitude of the Nazis’ criminal activity came to light. That is why official communiques began to over-engineer Heinrich Thyssen’s cosmopolitan credentials, giving assurances that he ‘had distanced himself from Germany as a young man’, that he ‘became a Hungarian in 1906’, that he ‘gained a doctorate in philosophy in London’ and that he ‘settled in Switzerland in 1932’. On closer inspection even of the official sites, however, inconsistencies soon start to appear for all of these claims.

As far as Heinrich’s nationality is concerned, ThyssenKrupp AG has for some time now resorted to the line: ‘He kept his Hungarian citizenship until he died, but nevertheless acted ‘deutsch-nationally’ at times in the 1920s and 1930s. For this vague statement to be allowed to paraphrase the activities of such an important (if shielded) figure of 20th century history is quite simply astonishing. And of course it can in no way explain how German works owned by Heinrich Thyssen were still able to claim war damages from the allied government for Germany in 1946 on the basis of Heinrich being ‘a German abroad’. The fact is: Heinrich Thyssen lived in Lugano from 1938 (not 1932! – more of this later) until his death in 1947, controlling his German interests with the help of visiting managers and this makes him somebody who acted ‘deutsch-nationally’ (if this is what you want to call it), throughout Hitler’s time in power and beyond.

Turning to Heinrich’s academic title: the assertion of a doctorate in philosophy gained in London is pure fabrication. That is why it does not appear on the German websites, where it is clear and very acceptable to people that the doctorate was gained in Germany in the field of natural sciences. It is, on the other hand, very much emphasised in Spain, where the government’s expenditure of in excess of $600 million dollars on the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection seems to make it imperative to stress the founder’s alleged cultural and specifically non-German credentials.

Here on www.museothyssen.org, we also find echoes of Francesca Habsburg‘s recent attempts to designate August Thyssen as the true founder of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (even to the extent where a recent museum web-incarnation called him ‘August Thyssen-Bornemisza’!), thereby rebranding the whole dynasty as the art collectors she would like them to be (making her fourth in a row) rather than the industrialists and bankers that they really were. But the official website of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum also makes another announcement: ‘We know the collection was installed at Rohoncz Castle before Heinrich abandoned Hungary in 1919’. This is particularly worrying as the comprehensive catalogue of the museum squarely confirms the documentation in the Thyssen Archives showing that the first purchase made for the collection was in 1928 (unless that too has now been re-written!)

The smoke and mirrors at Museo Thyssen continue: ‘It is through the correspondence between August Thyssen and Auguste Rodin, namely in a letter from 1911, that we can see that August’s son Heinrich had by that time started his collection’. We have researched the same letters during the writing of our book but never came across anything that would confirm this. The official line basically intimates that with his transformation into a ‘Hungarian aristocrat’ in 1905 (the real dated being 1906-07), Heinrich Thyssen had also, somehow, acquired an art collection.

What seems clear to me is that people in charge of that museum are finally realising that they have a particularly grave problem on their hands. However, not knowing what to do about it, their inability to address serious issues breeds insecurity and confusion. That’s why another sentence has been added to the website: ‘We have few details about the first years of the collection’. While I guess it would be unfairly over-stressing the point if one reminded the Spanish tax payer once again, how much money he contributed and is still paying to the Thyssen Museum, the indelible facts concerning the early history of the collection are these: the Thyssen Collection was never at Rohoncz (Rechnitz). It was only named ‘Rohoncz Collection’ by Heinrich Thyssen with the specific aim of making it sound like an Austro-Hungarian heirloom. Unbelievably, the public as well as the media have bought this fiction decade after decade.

The staff of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung got equally confused in October 2007, when they ran David’s piece on Heinrich Thyssen’s daughter, Margit Batthyany, and her involvement in the murder of 180 Hungarian Jews at Rechnitz Castle in March 1945, which had been published two weeks earlier in The Independent. None of the many continental journalists and historians who subsequently busied themselves in denigrating our work, such as Anja Seeliger of Perlentaucher fame for instance, actually figured out that the reason why the two features were markedly different was not only because of overt censorship in Germany, but also because staff at FAZ saw fit to fact-check the article – the fruit of 14 years of research – against the grossly inaccurate (ThyssenKrupp AG / Museo Thyssen / Thyssen Family) Gospel According to Wikipedia, the same Wikipedia that has rejected our corrective suggestions outright.

Back at Frankfurter Allgemeine: out came 1938 as Heinrich’s settlement date in Switzerland, in went 1932 (to ensure that Heinrich’s presence in Germany after Hitler’s ascension to power could be denied). Out went the proviso that the collection was never at Rohoncz, in went the age-old phrase that it was housed there. Out came our statement that the Thyssens acquired the Erlenhof stud farm from the liquidators of the persecuted Jew, Moritz James Oppenheimer, in 1933. In went the fabrication that Heinrich Thyssen’s business empire was completely separate from August or Fritz Thyssen’s empire. While we are grateful to FAZ for publishing the feature, this type of inaccurate ‘editing’ of copy in a newspaper of such quality should be of concern to everyone.

And even today, two years after the publication of our book, the Spanish museum continues to insist that ‘Heinrich Thyssen’s enterprises were completely separate from the German steel industry’, when even ThyssenKrupp’s website has been admitting for a while now that Heinrich owned the Press- and Rolling Works Reisholz and the Oberbilker Steelworks, both plants that produced canon for Adolf.

Spain is also still holding on to the idea that Heinrich was ensconced in Switzerland from 1932 onwards, where he ‘opened the doors of his gallery to the public in 1936’. Apart from family archival evidence, Heinrich’s own war-time curator, butler and companion, Sandor Berkes, assured us that the gallery building remained unfinished until 1940 and was only opened to the public in 1948. As can be seen from the picture above, far from being locked away in his Swiss villa, in 1936 Heinrich was, amongst other things, happily socialising at the German Derby with his personal friend Hermann Göring, whom he also assisted with personal and Reich banking facilities.

With a background of such systematic disinformation, it does not come as a surprise that the personal assertions by Thyssen family members are also becoming more and more ‘retrograde’. Francesca Thyssen is quoted as explaining to the Austrian ‘News’ Magazine in November 2008 (available in hard copy version only, not online!): ‘Of course my great-uncle (Fritz) was truly deeply enmeshed in Nazi-crimes, that’s no secret. That’s why my grandfather (Heinrich) took the name Bornemisza from his wife, because he left this whole family. Because he wanted to be different and wanted to leave this family’. Or, in other words: Heinrich Thyssen foresaw the coming of the Third Reich by 27 years!…

I can understand that the various guardians of the Thyssen legacy would feel the need to rewrite the unacceptable history of this family. But I do not appreciate the fact that journalists, historians and those who should know better continue to encourage the belief in facts which they know to be untrue or should admit to be so since the publication of our book. As far as the Spanish public in particular is concerned, which is at this very moment being told by Guillermo Solana, the director of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, that new gallery space is urgently needed in Malaga and Sant Feliu de Guixols because the Madrid museum is ‘running out of space’, I feel the time has come to tell him that before any more tax funds are poured into Thyssen projects, the Thyssens might be more truthful about their past and that of the collection, while the Spanish government must admit how much they have and are paying the Thyssens for the display and storage of their paintings.

Celebrating the victory of Erlenhof's 'Nereide' at the 1936 German Derby. At the centre of the picture are (to the right) the winning horse's owner, Heinrich Thyssen (in grey top hat) and (to the left) his friend and associate Hermann Göring (in white suit to the left) (photo: Tachyphot Berlin, copyright: David R L Litchfield

Celebrating the victory of stud farm Erlenhof's 'Nereide' at the 1936 German Derby. In the centre of the picture are (to the right) the winning horse's owner, Heinrich Thyssen (in grey top hat) and (to the left) his friend and associate Hermann Göring (in white suit) (photo: Tachyphot Berlin, copyright: David R L Litchfield)

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