Posts Tagged ‘Rechnitz’

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

Glossen – Britta Kallin on ‘Rechnitz’ by Elfriede Jelinek

This article was originally posted in November 2011 but only recently rediscovered by Caroline Schmitz.

It concerns Elfriede Jelinek’s play, Rechnitz. I had already been credited with the part our book, The Thyssen Art Macabre (in German: Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos), had played in the creation of her play but continued to be referred to by German-speaking academics, journalists and historians as a ‘sex and crime journalist’, ‘publicist’ and ‘sensationalist’. It was thus both refreshing and appreciated that Professor Kallin not only quoted my writing verbatim but displayed appropriate respect by referring to me as a ‘historian’! I was also impressed by the unadorned accuracy of her preamble account of the Rechnitz massacre and by her conclusions; my favourite being:

Rechnitz rightfully reminds audiences in Germany and Austria of sins that have not been forgiven because no one acknowledged the guilt in the first place of committing the murders, no one has been held responsible for the crimes, and no one has asked for repentance for the deadly shooting that killed close to two hundred jews, a mass murder committed seemingly as pure amusement for some of Margit Batthyany’s cruel party guests.’

On a somewhat lighter side, at the time Elfriede’s play was first performed I teased her by suggesting that for those who lacked her language skills and imagination, a similar style of writing could be achieved by running a conventionally written work backwards and forwards through Google Translate. I was somewhat amused therefore in reading Kallin’s superb explanation of the content and writing technique of the play, that Jelinek had indeed included a computer translation of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’.

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

Offener Brief an Janine Rumrich vom Literaturblog “Kapri-ziös” über Sacha Batthyany: “Und Was Hat Das Mit Mir Zu Tun?”

Sehr geehrte Frau Rumrich,

Anmerkung zu Ihrem Blogeintrag:

– Am 77. Jahrestag des Überfalls der deutschen Wehrmacht auf Polen –

Völker gibts, und Herrscher. Kriege passieren nicht, weil Völker einander hassen. Sie passieren aus der Profitgier der Mächtigen heraus. Fragen Sie sich bitte: gehört Sacha Batthyany zu den Völkern, oder gehört er zu den Herrschern? Die Batthyanys hatten in Österreich-Ungarn über Jahrhunderte das Sagen. Auch in Rechnitz. Und zwar in feudalem Stil. So etwas gewöhnt man sich nicht so schnell ab.

Der Autor profitierte ausserdem vom Geld der eingeheirateten Thyssens. Diese waren Waffenfabrikanten und Bankiers, ohne die Hitler seine Pläne nie und nimmer hätte verwirklichen können. Dann lässt er zu allem Überfluss auch noch sein Buch von der Goethe-Stiftung Zürich „großzügig unterstützen“. Diese verwaltet die Hinterlassenschaft des Emil Bührle, auch er ein „großer“ Waffenfabrikant. Ist es wirklich nötig, dass die Herrscher die Völker so sehr demütigen? Anscheinend schon. Nur weil wir angeblich in einer Demokratie leben heisst das noch lange nicht, dass die Systeme der vormals Herrschenden nicht weiterhin anhalten.

Am Schlimmsten jedoch dies: „Könntest Du das, Juden verstecken?“. Und dann seine Antwort: „Nein“. Er sagt nicht, wie Sie es verstanden haben: „Hättest Du DAMALS den Mut gehabt, einen Juden zu verstecken?“. Er sagt: KÖNNTEST Du das, Juden verstecken?“. Also im Hier und Jetzt. Aber 1.) Warum sollten wir dies nicht können? Wir leben in einer Demokratie und nicht mehr in einer Diktatur. Was also haben wir zu befürchten? Und 2.) Warum sollten wir Juden verstecken? Ist es denn schon wieder so weit?

Ich habe manchmal das Gefühl, dass Herr Batthyany gar nicht weiss, was genau er seinen Lesern eigentlich mitteilen will. Ich hoffe nur, die Lehren, die aus seinem Buch gezogen werden, sind am Ende nicht die Falschen.


Caroline Schmitz,


Literatur-Bloggerin Janine Rumrich, Thüringen und Sachsen


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Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family 1 Comment »

Die Unerlässlichkeit der “Impertinenz” oder Eine Erläuterung an eine Berliner Buch-Bloggerin über Sacha Batthyany und die Thyssen-Bornemiszas (von Caroline D Schmitz)

Die Aggressivität der Reaktion vieler deutsch-sprachiger Kommentatoren auf unseren Artikel im Feuilleton der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung im Jahr 2007, „Die Gastgeberin der Hölle“ (im Britischen Independent unter dem Titel „The Killer Countess“ erschienen), hat mich immer zutiefst schockiert. Hier war die mächtige Thyssen-Dynastie, die stets ihre überragende Beteiligung am nationalsozialistischen Regime nicht nur verschwieg, sondern vielmehr durch die Verbreitung irreführender Berichte pro-aktiv leugnen ließ. Und da waren wir, ein englischer Autor und eine deutsche Investigatorin, die der Zufall 1995 in England zusammengebracht hatte, und die durch die Weitsicht weniger herausragender Persönlichkeiten, nämlich Steven Bentinck, Heini Thyssen, Naim Attallah, George Weidenfeld, Frank Schirrmacher und Ernst Gerlach, in die glückliche Lage versetzt wurden, den alles bestimmenden Narrativ des unternehmerisch-akademisch-medialen Establishments in Sachen Thyssen zu durchbrechen und die Wahrheit vor der endgültigen Verschüttung zu bewahren.

Wir waren von Anfang an „impertinent“ im ursprünglichen Sinne des Wortes, nämlich „nicht (zum Establishment) dazu gehörig“, und unsere Recherche fand stets an Original-Schauplätzen statt. Vom „Rechnitz-Massaker“ erfuhren wir nicht im Internet, sondern vor Ort von Ortsansässigen. Zum Zeitpunkt des Erscheinens unseres FAZ-Artikels wussten wir nichts von Eduard Erne, der bereits 1994 einen Dokumentarfilm über das Geschehen mit dem Titel “Totschweigen” gedreht hatte (und der zur Zeit beim Schweizer Fernsehen arbeitet) und auch nichts von Paul Gulda, der 1991 den Verein Refugius (Rechnitzer Flüchtlings- und Gedenkinitiative) ins Leben rief. Als wir beide dann 2008 beim Rechnitz-Symposium im Burgenländischen Landesmuseum in Eisenstadt trafen, verhielten auch sie sich uns gegenüber sehr ablehnend, was wir uns nur damit erklären konnten, dass sie vielleicht glaubten, von uns bewusst übergangen worden zu sein. Dies war nicht der Fall und es war vielmehr so, dass sie nunmehr durch unsere Arbeit einem viel breiteren Publikum bekannt waren als vordem. Warum also attackierten sie uns und nahmen die Thyssens und Batthyanys in Schutz, die ihre Arbeit bislang ganz offensichtlich abgelehnt oder ignoriert hatten?

Ein Jahrzehnt später nun erscheint mit „Und was hat das mit mir zu tun?“ eine umfangreiche Stellungnahme in Buchform seitens eines Mitglieds der Dynastie, die unter großem Aufwand beworben wird und international bis nach Israel und Nordamerika verbreitet werden soll. In Großbritannien soll das Buch (Übersetzerin: Anthea Bell) im März 2017 unter dem Titel “A Crime in the Family” (i.e. „Ein Verbrechen in der Familie“) bei Quercus erscheinen, ein Titel, der auffallend an den Untertitel „Schande und Skandale in der Familie“, der englischen Ausgabe unseres Thyssen-Buchs „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ erinnert, der auf einer Aussage Heini Thyssens uns gegenüber beruhte.

In seiner Pressearbeit gibt Sacha Batthyany serien-mäßig an, „durch Zufall“ auf die negativen Seiten seiner Familiengeschichte, und speziell auf das Rechnitz-Massaker, gestoßen zu sein. Alles sei „ein Geheimnis“ gewesen, bis er eines Tages angefangen habe, Dinge zu untersuchen, von denen er vordem überhaupt gar nichts gewusst habe, da er in der „wattierten“ Schweiz aufgewachsen sei, wo man z.B. vom Zweiten Weltkrieg quasi überhaupt nichts wisse… Dies von einem Journalisten, dessen Familie zum Teil durch die von der Schweiz aus gesteuerten Kriegsprofite der Thyssens finanziert wurde, der ein Mitglied einer der einflussreichsten europäischen (ursprünglich österreichisch-ungarischen) Dynastien ist, unter anderem in Madrid studiert hat, viele Jahre für große internationale Tageszeitungen gearbeitet hat (z.B. für die Neue Zürcher Zeitung), und der einen Großteil seiner Jugend nicht in Zurich, sondern in Salzburg verbracht hat, obwohl er diese Tatsache immer nur dann exklusiv preis gibt, wenn er gerade einmal dort oder in Wien spricht (bis ins Burgenländische, nach Rechnitz oder Eisenstadt, hat er es mit seiner Pressearbeit unseres Wissens nach noch nicht geschafft – der Rechnitzer Bürgermeister, Engelbert Kenyeri, ist im Übrigen vom Buch des Herrn Batthyany nicht gerade sehr angetan, wie es scheint).

Selbst die FAZ (Sandra Kegel), die sich bei ihrer ursprünglichen Berichterstattung gegen massive Anfeindungen unter anderem durch die Neue Zürcher Zeitung zur Wehr setzen musste, und ohne die eine deutschsprachige Version unseres Buches nicht zur Verfügung stünde, unterschlug nun unseren Anstoß und lobte, wie so viele andere, durch die Werbung des Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlags Animierte, das Batthyanysche Werk als selbstlosen Akt eigenmotivierter Aufrichtigkeit. Dabei gäbe es sein Buch gar nicht, wäre die FAZ damals nicht so mutig gewesen, unsere „Impertinenz“ zu erlauben und das Risiko der ernsthaften Rufschädigung durch ihre Media-Kontrahenten einzugehen.

Ende Mai entschied sich die Berliner Buch-Bloggerin „Devona“ (, nach 75 Roman-Rezensionen zum ersten Mal ein Sach-Hörbuch zu kommentieren, wobei ihre Wahl auf „Und was hat das mit mir zu tun?“ fiel. Dabei tätigte sie Äusserungen über die Rolle der Margit Batthyany geborene Thyssen-Bornemisza im Rechnitz-Massaker, die ihr in Anbetracht ihres rudimentären Wissensstands zum Thema nicht zustanden. Unter anderem beschrieb sie Margit’s Deckung zweier Haupttäter nach dem Krieg als bloße „Vermutung“. Daraufhin wiesen wir sie auf die Unrichtigkeit und grobe Fatalität ihrer Äusserung hin. Selbst die im Ausmaß völlig unzulängliche Kommentierung des Rechnitz-Massakers auf der offiziellen Webseite der Familie Batthyany räumt seit wenigen Jahren ein, dass diese Deckung geschah, wieso sollte also eine anonyme, aber eindeutig Familien-fremde Person etwas Anderes verbreiten?

Devona reagierte innerhalb kürzester Zeit höchst verärgert auf den Inhalt unserer kritischen Analyse. Danach revidierte sie ihre Reaktion. Jetzt störte sie nicht mehr so sehr der Inhalt unserer Kritik, als viel mehr unsere angeblich „impertinente“ Art. Und dann tat die Autorin von „Buchimpressionen“ etwas ganz Sonderbares, indem sie zunächst den deutschen Titel unseres Buches (“Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos”) von ihrer Platform eliminierte, mit dem wir unsere Stellungnahme abgeschlossen hatten, uns danach vorwarf, unsere Arbeit nicht in der deutschen Sprache zugänglich gemacht zu haben, und, als sie herausfand dass unser Buch doch seit 2008 in Deutschland veröffentlicht ist, sich schließlich weigerte, dies anzuerkennen, weil „bis zum heutigen Tag bei Wikipedia nicht auf eine deutsche Version verwiesen wird“.

Die Bloggerin schrieb nun, sie „werde nicht hinter jedem Kommentator bis ans Ende des Internets her recherchieren“. Dabei hatte sie es in Wirklichkeit nicht weiter als bis zur ersten Haltestelle geschafft. Unser Buch existiert auf deutsch, aber für Devona existierte es nicht auf deutsch, weil es nicht auf Wikipedia stand, dass es auf deutsch existiert. Dies war so bezeichnend für die Weigerung von Deutschsprachigen, sich mit dem sachlichen Inhalt unseres Buches auseinander zu setzen. War diese Informations-Verarbeitende nur zu faul oder wollte sie von der Richtigstellung gar nichts wissen? Devona’s Äusserungen waren in ihrer ungefilterten Emotionalität zutiefst aufschlussreich. Auch sprach sie plötzlich nur noch „Herrn Litchfield“ an, nicht mehr mich, als ob das Buch allein Produkt eines Engländers sei und nicht eine englisch-deutsche Koproduktion.

Wikipedia ist unserer Ansicht nach problematisch, unter anderem deshalb, weil die FAZ 2007 bei der Aufarbeitung unseres Artikels aus dem Englischen ins Deutsche, unter anderem nach Gesprächen mit dem überheblichen Leiter des ThyssenKrupp Konzern-Archivs, Professor Manfred Rasch, und nach Überprüfung relevanter Wikipedia-Seiten, einige Änderungen an unserem Text vornahm. Die wichtigste dieser Änderungen ist diese: Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza hat sich nicht 1932, also ein Jahr vor Hitler’s Machtergreifung endgültig in der Schweiz nieder gelassen sondern erst 1938, wie wir bei unseren Nachforschungen herausgefunden haben. Im Independent stand 1938. In der FAZ steht 1932. Menschen mit adequatem historischen Sachverstand wissen, was das bedeutet und die Rollen im Zweiten Weltkrieg, sowohl des Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza als auch der Schweiz, sind in unserem Buch ausführlich beschrieben. Unerfahrenen Menschen sei nur so viel gesagt: es ist ein Umtausch, der winzig erscheinen mag, der in seiner Bedeutung aber zugleich fundamental und monumental ist.

Devona empfand unsere Richtigstellung ihres Blogeintrags als „unverschämt“, obwohl sie nicht mehr war als strikt. Und sie weigerte sich emphatisch, sich gebührend mit der Sache auseinander zu setzen. Das „Unverschämte“ in dieser Angelegenheit, aber, liegt nicht bei uns. Das „Unverschämte“, das „nicht zur Menschlichkeit dazu gehörige“ liegt in den Verbrechen, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs im Namen des deutschen Volkes geschahen. Die Impertinenz liegt in der Tatsache, dass die Thyssens (die in die Batthyany-Dynastie eingeheiratet und Teile dieser finanziert haben) dem anti-demokratischen, extremst menschenverachtenden Nazi-Regime Beihilfe geleistet haben, und dass sie Rahmenbedingungen geschaffen haben, in denen die monströsen Verbrechen vor allem gegen die Juden, aber auch die gegen andere Völker, inklusive denen gegen das deutsche Volk und seine Ehre, stattfinden konnten. Es ist unverschämt, dass sie 70 Jahre lang geschwiegen, ihre Rolle verleugnet und ihre Taten glorifiziert haben. Es ist impertinent, kurzum, dass sie die Allgemeinheit hinters Licht geführt haben und dies in großen Teilen auch weiterhin tun. Es war nur auf Grund dieser Verhaltensweise, dass diese Vermutung der Unschuld der Margit Batthyany-Thyssen durch diese Buch-Bloggerin zu diesem Zeitpunkt immer noch möglich war.

Die betreffenden Familien genießen eine komfortable Vormachtstellung in der Gesellschaft, im öffentlichen Diskurs und „Ansehen“, begründet auf ihrer Zugehörigkeit sowohl zur Welt des wirtschaftlichen Privilegs als auch zur Aristokratie, die allerdings sowohl in Deutschland als auch in Österreich längst obsolet ist und in einer Demokratie nur toleriert werden kann, wenn sie sich einwandfrei demokratisch verhält. Eine entscheidende Rolle spielt auch, dass thyssenkrupp heute noch einer der größten deutschen Arbeitgeber ist, und dass die deutsche Kohle- und Stahlindustrie, die unter anderen das Land nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg vor dem totalen Kollaps rettete (wie Herbert Grönemeyer in „Bochum“ singt: „Dein Grubengold hat uns wieder hoch geholt“), nach 1945 fatalerweise von den Thyssens weiter beherrscht werden durfte.

Im erz-konservativen Österreich nehmen die Batthyanys (als deren Teil Sacha Batthyany sich eindeutig sieht und gesehen wirrd, da er sich auf ihrer Homepage in ihrer Mitte abbilden lässt und von ihnen abgebildet wird – hintere Reihe zweiter von rechts, im großen Gruppenfoto der Mitglieder der jüngeren Generation) weiterhin eine Sonderstellung ein, die sich aus ihrer langen feudalen Geschichte herleitet (der gegenwärtige Familienchef Fürst Ladislaus Pascal Batthyany-Strattmann, ist päpstlicher Ehrenkämmerer!…).

Im Angesicht dieser Vormachtstellung begnügt sich die Allgemeinheit „pertinent“ damit, in ihrer untergeordneten Rolle als Empfänger Thyssenscher und Batthyanyscher Misinformation zu verharren. Ein Mitglied der Dynastie, Sacha Batthyany, hat nunmehr ein Buch geschrieben, das vorgibt, eine ehrliche Auseinandersetzung mit der Vergangenheit zu sein. Aber nicht jeder scheint überzeugt zu sein, dass es das wirklich ist (siehe v.a. Thomas Hummitzsch in “Der Freitag”, aber auch Michael André auf Getidan, und sogar Luzia Braun, Blaues Sofa, Leipziger Buchmesse).

Die meisten Kommentatoren des Rechnitz-Massakers geben an, sich einig zu sein, dass die Gräber der Opfer gefunden werden müssen. Doch während Ortsansässige behauptet haben, zu wissen, wo sich die Gräber befinden und die ursprünglichen russischen Grabungen die Gräber genau lokalisiert hatten, scheint es so, dass nicht alle einflussreicheren Mitglieder der Gemeinschaft, sowohl in der Vergangenheit wie auch in der Gegenwart, gleichsam bereit sind, zu solch einer Transparenz bei zu tragen.

Während es wie eine Utopie anmutet, darauf zu hoffen, dass sich dies irgendwann ändert, so haben sich die Zeiten seit 2007, als unser Buch erstmals erschien, doch rapide gewandelt. thyssenkrupp ist ein kranker Koloss, dessen Name schon bald nach einer Übernahme von Teilen oder insgesamt in dieser Form vielleicht keinen Bestand mehr haben könnte. Und die deutsche Rechtsprechung in Sachen Strafverfolgung der Nazi-Verbrechen geht nicht mehr automatisch von der Unschuldsvermutung aus, wenn eine aktive Tötungsbeteiligung nicht nachgewiesen werden kann. Eine Präsenz und Rolle im übergreifenden Verbrechen genügt, wobei das Verwaltungsbüro fernab der Gaskammer nah genug ist, um den unerlässlichen Beitrag zur Funktionsfähigkeit des Tötungsapparats nachweisen zu können. Genauso verhält es sich im Fall Rechnitz mit dem, durch die SS requirierten aber weiterhin Thyssen-finanzierten Schloss, und der Rechnitzer Mordgrube der Nacht vom 24. auf den 25. März 1945.

Immer noch werden vor allem die kleinen Fische vors Gericht gezogen, Menschen wie John Demjanjuk, Oskar Gröning und Reinhold Hanning. Doch die Uhr der historischen Aufrichtigkeit tickt unablässig auch für die Großen, die immer noch nicht freiwillig ihre Vergangenheit vollumfänglich aufarbeiten. Diejenigen Thyssens und Batthyanys, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs eine unrühmliche Rolle spielten, sind tot. Es ist die demokratische Pflicht ihrer Nachfahren, das Netz der Misinformation zu durchbrechen und nicht nur die positiven Seiten ihrer Geschichte hervor zu heben, sondern sich auch den negativen zu stellen. Nur durch ihr Geständnis können aus diesem Teil der Geschichte die letzten Lehren gezogen werden und eine langfristige Heilung und Versöhnung geschehen.

Genau das aber scheinen die Thyssen-Bornemiszas und Batthyanys nicht zu wollen, möglicherweise weil eine freie, aufgeklärte, demokratische Öffentlichkeit nur beherrscht werden kann, wenn man sie manipuliert, verunsichert und entzweit. Die Geschichte des Holocaust könnte längst aufgearbeitet worden sein, wenn diese Familien sich nicht ihrer Verantwortung entzogen hätten. Dem deutschen Volk bliebe die Weiterführung des Alptraums der tröpfchenweisen Aufarbeitung erspart, die so unendlich zermürbend und im Endeffekt kontraproduktiv ist, wenn diese Familien endlich reinen Wein einschenkten und unser Buch als korrekte, unabhängige, historische Aufzeichnung akzeptierten.

Die Namen Thyssen und Batthyany sind in den Urseelen der Deutschen und Österreicher unabdingbar mit dem Gefühl von Stolz und Ehre verbunden, aber diese Familien (die Thyssen-Bornemiszas über ihren Kopf Georg Thyssen, Kuratoriumsmitglied der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung und Unterstützer der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“, die bisher das Rechnitz-Massaker überhaupt nicht erwähnt, und die Batthyanys über ihren Kopf Graf Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattmann, Unterstützer der Bände „Die Familie Batthyany. Ein österreichisch-ungarisches Magnatengeschlecht vom Ende des Mittelalters bis zur Gegenwart“, der jegliche Beteiligung Margit Batthyany-Thyssens am Rechnitz Massaker glattweg bestreitet!), statt sich ehrenvoll zu verhalten, vermeiden eine unabhängige Untersuchung und kontrollieren ihre Zusammenarbeit in autorisierten Veröffentlichungen der Geschichtsschreibung.

Ihre Abschirmung führt dazu, dass selbst Deutsche und Österreicher, die anti-Nazi sind, oder es zumindest vorgeben, das ganze Ausmaß des Holocaust nicht erkennen können und deshalb die echte Bandbreite der Nazi-Verbrechen, wie z.B. im Fall des Rechnitz-Massakers, unfreiwillig decken, ein Vorgang, der letztendlich wie eine stillschweigende Billigung erscheinen kann.

Im Falle der Deutschen und Österreicher ist dies natürlich besonders verheerend. Aber diese Art von Ausweichmanöver muss auch gerade für Bürger angeblich „neutraler“ Länder wie der Schweiz, und insbesondere für Sacha Batthyany, absolut kontraindiziert sein. Auch ist die Anzahl der in seinem Buch und seiner Pressearbeit enthaltenen Äusserungen, die beleidigend sind, wie z.B.: „Mirta und Marga hatten den Holocaust, an den sie sich klammerten – was hatte ich?“, vollkommen inakzeptabel.

So lange Sacha Batthyany für die fragwürdige Aufrichtigkeit seiner Enthüllungen weiterhin Sympathie einfordert statt Schuld zu bekennen, so lange werden wir in dieser Sache beharrlich sein. Das ist keine „Impertinenz“, sondern unsere heilige Pflicht.

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

The indispensability of “impertinence” or An explanation to a Berlin book blogger concerning Sacha Batthyany and the Thyssen-Bornemiszas (by Caroline D Schmitz)

The aggressiveness of the reaction of many German-speaking commentators following our article in the Feuilleton of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2007, „The Hostess from Hell“ (previously published in Britain in The Independent under the title „The Killer Countess“), has always shocked me deeply. Here was the powerful Thyssen dynasty, who not just kept quiet about their overwhelming participation in the National Socialist regime, but who had their role pro-actively denied through the propagation of misleading reports. And there were we, an English author and a German researcher, who chance had brought together in England in 1995 and who, through a very small number of outstanding personalities, namely Steven Bentinck, Heini Thyssen, Naim Attallah, George Weidenfeld, Frank Schirrmacher and Ernst Gerlach, were put into the lucky position of being able to pierce the narrative of the corporate-academic-media establishment on the subject of Thyssen and save the truth from being entombed.

From the beginning, we were „impertinent“ in the original sense of the word which is „not being part of (the establishment)“, and our research always took place at the original locations. We did not learn of the Rechnitz massacre on the Internet, but in Rechnitz itself and from Rechnitz people. At the time our article was published in FAZ, we knew nothing of Eduard Erne, who had made a documentary film on the event entitled “Totschweigen” (i.e. “Silencing to Death”) as far back as 1994 (and who currently works for Swiss television), or of Paul Gulda, who in 1991 founded the Rechnitz Refugee and Commemoration Initiative (Refugius). When we met them both at the Rechnitz-symposium at the Burgenland County Museum in Eisenstadt (Austria) in 2008, they too treated us in an unfriendly manner, which we thought could only be because they felt we had ignored their work on purpose. This was not the case and moreover, because of us, their work was now much more prominent than before. So why were they attacking us and protecting the Thyssens and the Batthyanys who had obviously rejected or ignored their work in the past?

Now, a decade later, a sizeable statement by a member of the dynasty, Sacha Batthyany, has been published in Germany in the form of the book „What’s that to do with me?“, and is due to be released in Great Britain by Quercus in March 2017 (translator: Anthea Bell) under the title „A Crime in the Family“, (a line remarkably similar to the cover headline „Shame and scandal in the family“ we used on our book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“, and which was a statement originally made to us by Heini Thyssen himself). Great efforts of promotion are being lavished on Mr Batthyany’s book, which is to be distributed as widely as Israel and the USA.

In his press work, Sacha Batthyany tirelessly pretends that it was „chance“ that he came across the negative sides of his family history and in particular the Rechnitz massacre. He says it was all „unknown“ until one day he started investigating things of which he knew absolutely nothing before, which he says is because he grew up in the „padded“ country of Switzerland, where one knows nothing, for instance, about the Second World War… This from a journalist, whose family was financially supported by the Thyssens’ wartime profiteering organised from Switzerland, who is a member of one of the most influential European (originally Austro-Hungarian) dynasties, has studied in Madrid, has worked for various big international newspapers (e.g. Neue Zürcher Zeitung) and spent a big part of his youth not in Zurich, but in Salzburg (although he admits the latter very exclusively only when he happens to be speaking in the major Austrian towns of Salzburg or Vienna – his press work does not seem to have led him to the Burgenland provinces of Eisenstadt or Rechnitz so far, whose mayor Engelbert Kenyeri, poignantly, does not seem to be too impressed by Batthyany’s book).

Even FAZ (Sandra Kegel), which during its original coverage of our story had to fend off huge ill will from Neue Zürcher Zeitung and others and without whom the German-speaking version of our book would not be available, now withheld mention of our impulse and, as so many others showered by the promotion of the Kiepenheuer & Witsch publishing house, praised Batthyany’s work as a heroic act of self-motivated honesty. And this despite the fact that his book would not exist if FAZ, ten years ago, had not had the courage to allow our „impertinence“, thereby exposing itself to the risk of serious reputational attack at the hands of their rivals in the media.

At the end of May, the Berlin book blogger „Devona“ (, having reviewed 75 works of fiction, decided to review a non-fiction audio book for the first time in her life and chose „What’s that to do with me?“ to do so. In her review, she made statements about the role of Margit Batthyany nee Thyssen-Bornemisza in the Rechnitz massacre, which, according to the rudimentary state of her knowledge about the case, were not hers to make. For instance, she described the fact that Margit covered up for two main perpetrators of the crime after the war as mere „conjecture“. So we wrote a comment to her, pointing out the inaccuracy and coarse fatality of her statement. Even the statement concerning the Rechnitz massacre on the official website of the Batthyany family, which is still far from extensive enough, has been admitting for a few years now that this cover-up did happen. So why should an anonymous person, who is obviously not part of the family, disseminate contradictory information?

Devona reacted at great speed and very angrily to the content of our critical analysis. Then she revised her reaction. Now, it was no longer so much the content of our criticism that angered her, as our manner of expressing it, which she alleged to be „impertinent“. And then the author of „Buchimpressionen“ did something truly astonishing. She first took off the name of the German version of our Thyssen book („Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos“) from her platform, which had been part of our statement. She then accused us of not having provided the German public with a German-speaking version of our work. When she subsequently found out that a German version of our book has existed since 2008, she refused to recognise this fact, because, as she said, „to this day Wikipedia does not refer to a German version“.

The blogger now added that she would „not research to the ends of the Internet after every commentator“. But in truth she had not researched anywhere near the ends of the Internet, she had come to rest at its very first stop. Our book on the Thyssens exists in German, but for Devona it did not exist in German, because on Wikipedia it did not say that it exists in German. This was so indicative of German-speakers’ refusal to engage with the factual content of our book. Was this information handler just too lazy or did she not want to know about the correction? Devona’s statements, in their unfiltered emotionality, were highly revelatory. She had now also stopped addressing me and directed herself exclusively to „Mr Litchfield“, as if the book were the product of an Englishman only and not an English-German co-production.

Wikipedia as a reference point is problematic to us, particularly because FAZ in 2007, during the translation of our article from English to German, carried out several changes to our text, after, amongst other things, conversations with the presumptious head of the ThyssenKrupp archives, Professor Manfred Rasch, and after checking various Wikipedia-pages. The most important one of these changes is this: Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza did not settle permanently in Switzerland in 1932, i.e. one year before Adolf Hitler came to power, but only in 1938, as we found out during our research. The Independent article said 1938, but the FAZ article says 1932. People with adequate historical knowledge know what that means and the roles of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and of Switzerland during the Second World War have been explained at length in our book. To the less experienced we say simply this: it is a swap that might appear tiny, and which yet has a meaning that is both fundamental and monumental.

Devona thought of our comments to her as being „impertinent“, although they were merely strict. And she refused emphatically to look into the matter in a way that was befitting its gravity. The „impertinence“ of the matter, however, does not lie with us. The outrageousness and the aberration lies with the crimes that were committed in the name of the German people during the Second World War. The impertinence lies with the fact that the Thyssens (who had married into and financed parts of the Batthyany family) gave aid to the anti-democratic, grievously inhumane Nazi-regime, that they set the parameters in which the monstrous crimes against above all the Jews, but also against other people, including the crimes against the German people and their honour, could be carried out. It is impertinent that they have remained silent about it for 70 years, have denied their role and glorified their deeds. It is impertinent that they, in short, have misled the general public and that in large parts they continue to do so. It is only because of their behaviour that this book blogger at this time was still able to express her assumption of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen’s guiltlessness.

The families in question enjoy a comfortable supremacy in society, within the public discourse and in the „regard“ of people, based on their membership of both the world of the financially privileged and of the aristocracy. (NB: the latter is strictly long since defunct both in Germany and in Austria and can be accepted in a democracy only if it does behave in an impeccably democratic manner). Furthermore their status is due to the fact that ThyssenKrupp is still one of the major German employers and that the coal and steel industries, which the Thyssens were unfortunately allowed to continue to control after 1945, helped prevent a total collapse of the country following the Second World War (as Herbert Grönemeyer sings in his song „Bochum“: „your pit gold lifted us up again“).

In arch-conservative Austria, the Batthyanys (who Sacha Batthyany obviously considers himself part of and vice-a-versa, as he lets himself be and is pictured in their midst on their homepage – last row, second from right in the big group picture of the younger generation) continue to have a special status which derives from their long feudal history (the current head of the clan, Count Ladislaus Pascal Batthyany-Strattmann, is a Gentleman of the Papal Household!…).

In view of this, the general public continues „pertinently“ to content itself with its submissive role of being recipients of Thyssen and Batthyany misinformation. One member of the dynasty, Sacha Batthyany, has now written a book, which purports to be an honest examination of the past. But not everyone remains convinced (see in particular Thomas Hummitzsch in “Der Freitag”, but also Michael André on Getidan, and even Luzia Braun, Blue Sofa, Leipzig Book Fair).

Most of the commentators of the Rechnitz massacre say they agree that the graves of the victims have to be found. But while local people have claimed they know where the graves are and the original Russian investigations certainly located them, not everyone amongst the more powerful members of the community, both past and present, seem to be equally willing to contribute to such transparency.

While it appears to be utopic to hope that this might change, times have moved on rapidly since 2007, when our book first appeared. Thyssenkrupp is now an ailing colossus, whose name quite possibly might not exist in its present form in the foreseeable future, following a sale or take-over of all or parts. And German legislation concerning the prosecution of Nazi crimes no longer assumes automatic guiltlessness if a direct participation in acts of killing cannot be proven. A presence and role in the overall crime suffices, and an administrative office some distance away from a gas chamber is close enough for its essential contribution to the effectiveness of the killing machine to be proven. The same goes in the case of Rechnitz for the castle (which was requisitioned by the SS but continued to be financed by the Thyssens) and the Rechnitz murder pit of the night of 24/25 March 1945.

Today it is still mainly the small fish that get dragged before the courts, people such as John Demjanjuk, Oskar Gröning and Reinhold Hanning. But the clock of historical honesty is ticking relentlessly for the big fish too, who still are not working through their past voluntarily and comprehensively. Those Thyssens and Batthyanys, who played unsavoury roles during the Second World War, are dead. It is the democratic duty of their descendants finally to cut through the web of misinformation and stick by not only the positive sides of their history but the negative sides too. Only through their confession can the general public learn the last serious lessons from this history. Only then can permanent healing and reconciliation happen.

But the Thyssen-Bornemiszas and Batthyanys, it seems, do not wish this to happen, possibly because a free, enlightened, democratic public can be better controlled through unsettling, divisive manipulation. The history of the Holocaust could be comprehensively settled by now, if these families had not shirked their responsibilities. The German people could finally be released from a continuation of the drip-drip-drip of Aufarbeitung which is so bone-grinding and thereby effectively counter-productive, if these families did now come clean and accepted the fact that our book is an accurate, independent, historical record.

Deep in the souls of the German and Austrian people, the names Thyssen and Batthyany are inextricably linked to the feelings of honour and pride. However, these families (the Thyssen-Bornemiszas through their head Georg Thyssen, board member of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and backer of the series „Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century“ (which so far does not mention the Rechnitz massacre at all) and the Batthyanys through their head Count Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattmann, backer of the tomes „The Batthyany Family. An Austro-Hungarian Dynasty of Magnates from the End of the Middle Ages until Today“, which rejects outright any involvement of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in the Rechnitz massacre!) fail to act honourably by avoiding independent scrutiny and controlling their cooperation in authorised historical publications.

Their shielding leads to a situation where even Germans and Austrians who are anti-Nazi, or purport to be so, cannot recognise the full extent of the Holocaust and thus unwittingly help cover up the true nature of some Nazi crimes, such as the Rechnitz massacre, a process that can all too easily appear to be that of a silent approval.

In the case of Germans and Austrians this is of course particularly devastating. But this kind of dodging is also especially contraindicated for citizens of supposedly „neutral“ countries such as Switzerland, and particularly for Sacha Batthyany. The number of statements he makes in his book and in his press work that are offensive, such as „Marga and Mirta had the Holocaust that they could hold on to. What did I have?“, is also inacceptable.

As long as Sacha Batthyany will continue to claim sympathy rather than guilt for the questionable honesty of his revelations, we will be persistent in this matter. And that is not an „impertinence“. It is our holy duty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Lorne Thyssen – Buying Scholarship or: ‘does money smell’?

While both ThyssenKrupp and the Thyssen Bornemisza Group continue to pay academics and charitable foundations to rewrite their past, one member of the family has additionally been funding scholarship in order to buy an exalted academic identity for himself; with wealth polluted by the same tarnished history.

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza was born in Switzerland to the Scottish fashion model Fiona Campbell-Walter, who by the time of his birth was already separated from Lorne’s legal father, the Hungarian, Dutch, Swiss, German, Catholic, industrialist and art collector, Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza; a man with his own identity problems, for whom Fiona had been his third wife.

As his second son, Lorne was also encouraged to adopt the ‘theatrical’ Austro-Hungarian title of ‘Baron’, despite the fact that in Switzerland (where waiters refer to him as ‘Mr Baron’), Austria and Hungary, the title has no legal status and Heini claimed his adopted son’s biological father was actually the American, Jewish, TV producer Sheldon Reynolds. But that didn’t stop Heini from accepting Lorne as a legal heir and supplying him with a dangerously generous allowance.

Lorne was educated at Le Rosey, a cosmopolitan, Swiss school that is perhaps better known for the wealth of its students’ parents than their off-springs’ academic achievement and from where he was expelled prior to completion of his International Baccalaureate studies. However, he did subsequently complete his basic Swiss Military Service while displaying less enthusiasm for gainful employment at the Thyssen Bornemisza Group´s corporate headquarters in Monaco.

Having adopted English as his first language, Lorne then established his colourful and extravagant social presence in London before endeavouring to read politics and philosophy at Edinburgh University. But as a result of the social distractions afforded him by his generous allowance, he failed to devote sufficient time to his studies and was obliged to abandon his academic ambitions.

He then moved to New York where he attended acting classes and even achieved some small measure of success in an off-Broadway Shakespeare play before moving on to Paris and from there to Beirut; where he acted in, and directed, a multi-million dollar, Thyssen-Bornemisza funded movie. He also adopted Muslim faith and became involved in Islamic mysticism, via the Sufi movement; whose funds he contributed to.

His generosity and the size of his inherited fortune were doubtless also instrumental in his being awarded a seat on the board of the Muslim Cogito Scholarship Foundation.

By now it must have begun to occur to Lorne that he could ‘procure’ academic status without the time-consuming inconvenience of having to study or take exams.

Heini had also taught him that cultural status could be obtained by the simple expedient of loaning out parts of his inherited art collection. A policy that would save on the cost of art storage and insurance.

So it was that he chose to loan his inherited collection of Muslim carpets to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; which resulted in a considerable enhancement of his standing amongst Germany’s cultural elite.

Considering the amount of time and effort that the Thyssen-Bornemiszas had invested in avoiding being considered German and denying their historic connections with the country, particularly during World War II, Berlin was, despite being the recognised centre of oriental carpet dealing, an extremely strange choice of location. Presumably it was an attempt to enhance his profile in Germany while his adopted family history was coming under academic scrutiny.

But given that Lorne wanted to achieve academic status in the UK, his choice of Oxford was logical, entirely predictable and possibly offered tax advantages to both parties. Given the Thyssens’ history of support for the Reich, use of industrial slave labour, involvement in violent anti-Semitism, profits from arms manufacturing in two World Wars, avoidance of reparations and retrieval of German assets by means of manipulated nationality and use of covert international banking, Lorne’s acceptance as an Honorary Fellow by the Wolfson College, Oxford University, in return for setting up the ‘Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics’, was nauseating; particularly as the College was originally founded and funded by Isaac Wolfson, a devout orthodox Jew and committed Zionist.

This was certainly not the first time that the Thyssens had used philanthropy to enhance their academic status while hiding the less palatable details of their past, which doubtless led to great aunt Amelie Thyssen’s creation of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and aunt Gaby (Gabrielle Bentinck nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) giving money to Tel Aviv University via Lord George Weidenfeld, who developed a masterly skill in brokering such philanthropic deals. This process may also have encouraged Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Commemoration, Documentation, Research and Education Centre) to overlook the Thyssens´ involvement in the slaughter of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave workers as after dinner entertainment at their castle in Rechnitz, Burgenland, Austria, on 24./25.03.1945. For one of the unfortunate by-products of academic philanthropy is that in protecting their benefactors, seats of learning are often encouraged to participate in historical amnesia.

Subsequently, Lorne’s freshly-minted academic status may have awarded his recently opened Kallos Gallery in London’s Mayfair some additional degree of credibility in its sale of his ancient Greek artefacts; if only he had resisted having the temerity to announce that he had signed up to ‘read’ Classical Studies with the Open University (having first presented the OU with ‘two fully funded MA scholarships…made possible through the generosity of Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza. The scholarships will provide the full fees for two year part-time MA studentships in Classical Studies at the Open University’) presumably in an attempt to acquire some small measure of legitimate, academic achievement.

Though I doubt that professional image builders would have encouraged such a revelation, as it could only serve to demote his elevated status as a ‘Fellow’ and ‘Honorary Fellow’ elsewhere.

I admire the Open University and used to respect Oxford University as what I believe I should expect it to be; an incorruptible seat of learning. But I don’t admire or respect academic whoring. There is too much of it about and, in this case, it is in clear contradiction of the old Latin adage, ‘Pecunia non olet.’

(p.s.: Lorne Thyssen is also a Fellow of The Royal Numismatic Society. At its 2012 International Congress held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem he acted as a chairperson with presentations given by members of Staatliche Museen Berlin, Tel Aviv University and Oxford University – thus closing the circle of – what we have the right to consider – duplicity).

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza pretending to be British and clean (

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What have ThyssenKrupp’s historians been doing all this time?

Quite why ThyssenKrupp have waited so long to authorise their archivist and historian, Manfred Rasch, to bring out a book of letters between August Thyssen and his son Heinrich, seems somewhat of a mystery. The two men have, after all, been dead for 84 and 63 years respectively. But the professor appears to confirm my belief that this is part of the corporate and family response to my book, by including a rather bizarre statement amongst the credits, which runs thus (page 10):

People who are less interested in historically substantiated studies with traceable references and who would rather form their opinions based on sex-and-crime journalism might be entertained by Litchfield, David: The Thyssen Art Macabre, London 2006 (German edition: Die Thyssen-Dynastie, Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos, Oberhausen 2008).’

I feel such a statement says more about Rasch than it does about me, and I appreciate the publicity it has afforded my book, including the increase in visits to this website, particularly from the Ruhr district. However, a recent critical review awarded Rasch’s book on Amazon by a reader in Munich might have been unlikely to have imbued him with a similar spirit of generosity:

‘Unfortunately, the title of this book is somewhat misleading, as of the 214 letters only 4 are by Heinrich Thyssen’s hand. It also does not limit the scope of its contents to the years 1919-1926 but includes furthermore a considerable amount of historical material on the history of the Thyssen family and its industries which has been written by Professor Manfred Rasch who is listed as editor of the book. As Professor Rasch is also the head of the archives at ThyssenKrupp, it makes it difficult to accept the impartiality of his views. The style of the book is academic and thus requires an overwhelming interest in the subject matter, as much is being taken up with supportive material in the form of bibliography, sources, commentaries etc.

One also gets the impression that this book, despite its size and the obvious complexity of the research, was in fact created in some haste, as on far too many occasions it sidesteps various historical issues by announcing that scientific research is still ongoing. But what I find even more surprising is the way Prof. Rasch deals with other authors, some of whom have published considerable research about the subject, for instance the Briton David R L Litchfield (‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, in German: ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie’), whose description of the murder of 180 Hungarian slave labourers during a party organised at Rechnitz Castle by Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza caused a big stir a few years ago. Prof. Rasch suggests that his readers should view Litchfield’s book as mere entertainment: just an alarming error of judgement or a worrying example of professional jealousy?

This is particularly disturbing in the light of the anti-Semitism in the Thyssen family (see letters dated 9.9.1919, 21.7.1923 and 30.7.1923) which the book presents to the interested public. All in all, however, this is a fascinating read which contains much material of interest to both amateur and professional historians’.

One certainly gets the impression that the corporation may now be trying somewhat too hard to paper over the cracks in their historiography. You may no longer be able to see the cracks but you can certainly see where they have been, which only serves to draw attention to the papering.

I was also particularly interested in the impression that ThyssenKrupp is now giving of having archives that are open to the public. This was certainly not the case when we were researching our book. In fact quite the opposite. However, Rasch still seems determined to believe that, having been denied access to his archives, we chose to create our book without documentary evidence. This is of course totally and completely inaccurate and an opinion that appears to have been based on his wishful thinking.

Apart from the fact that our book is most certainly based on fully documented evidence, Rasch, who is obviously holding me responsible for the cracks in his professional credibility, would perhaps have been better advised not to talk of ‘entertainment’ in connection with a family that was responsible for the financing and use of slave labour, in particular (but not exclusively) in the context of the Rechnitz massacre (which Rasch chooses to ignore, apart from providing a link to an Austrian website).

To assist Manfred Rasch with future editions of his book, I include in this post excerpts of documents confirming the Thyssens’ war-time financing of their SS-occupied castle in Rechnitz, documents which I can only assume he overlooked in his haste to publish his book. They concern meetings of Heinrich and his son Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (‘Heini’) with their managers Heinrich Lübke and Wilhelm Roelen on 22 August 1941 in Flims, on 9 November 1941 in Zurich and on 2 February 1944 in Davos and include details of the RM 400,000 loan from August Thyssen Bank Berlin to Rechnitz, yearly contributions of RM 30,000 for Margit Batthyany and RM 18,000 for the upkeep of the castle, as well as a notification that Thyssengas (then Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke) was generally ‘looking after’ Rechnitz.

Scanned Document
Scanned Document-1
Scanned Document-2

(all excerpts of documents in this post are from the archives of David R L Litchfield and are to be reproduced with his permission only).

ThyssenKrupp's historian and archivist Prof. Manfred Rasch

Documents substantiating Thyssen funding of Rechnitz castle during the second World War (Archives of David R L Litchfield, not to be reproduced without permission)

Documents substantiating Thyssen funding of Rechnitz castle during the second World War (Archives of David R L Litchfield, not to be reproduced without permission)

Documents substantiating Thyssen funding of Rechnitz castle during the second World War (Archives of David R L Litchfield, not to be reproduced without permission)

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