Posts Tagged ‘slave labour’

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.’

https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/person-type/honorary

https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/ancient-world/lorne-thyssen-research-fund

http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/classical-studies/baron-thyssen-ma-scholarship.shtml

(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 (www.thyssenpetroleum.com).

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Why I am angry with the Thyssens (by Caroline D Schmitz)

When I left Germany to live in England in 1992, my fatherland was only just beginning to get over the end of the Cold War, during which the Aufarbeitung of the Nazi era had been put on hold. In England, I got the amazing opportunity to work with David Litchfield on a biography of the Thyssen family which took us 14 years to complete and publish in England, Spain and Germany.

Now I am back in Germany and am delighted to see that a new wind is blowing as far as the renewed Aufarbeitung is concerned. But still it meets with opposition from those scrutinised. And yet, the time really is over-ripe for the descendants of those once in power to come clean and say „yes, what happened was terrible, and our families are admitting exactly what important role they played in it, and we are sorry“.

Instead, the Thyssen family in particular is still spending vast sums to produce sanitised versions of their history and this is particularly hurtful for me as a German whose family members were soldiers in Hitler`s war, who died or were maimed and never ever received any support whatsoever to cope with their horrific wartime experiences. This tragedy has had an overarching and enduring negative effect on German society. And this is why I am so angry with the way the Thyssens are behaving.

Heini Thyssen`s widow Carmen Cervera this year brought out his „memoirs“ in Spain, which is mostly theatrical nonsense but has a few unintended, highly interesting pieces of information, which we will present on this website in the new year. In particular, we will contrast her „effort“ with the other big Thyssen Whitewash Project that has seen the first fruits ripen in 2014.

As our manuscript was circulating in 2006, Heini`s son Georg Thyssen set up the „Thyssen Industrial History Foundation“ and later teamed up with the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the ThyssenKrupp Archives under Manfred Rasch. They commissioned more than a dozen German academics under Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Günther Schulz and Hans Günter Hockerts to write a series of books on the Thyssens in the 20th century. So far, two volumes have appeared: „The United Steelworks under National Socialism“ by Alexander Donges and „Slave Labour at Thyssen“ by Thomas Urban. A third volume, “The Thyssens as Art Collectors” by Johannes Gramlich, is set to appear in March 2015 and some five more volumes thereafter.

Although these books do contain a number of admissions, the overall theme is still a denial of any wrong-doing on the side of the Thyssens. The smoke-and-mirror style convolutedness of the project`s mission statement can be seen from the summary of a conference held at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in June 2014.

Based on our research and in the interest of historical truth, we will in the coming months and years on this website provide our readers with a detailed critical analysis of this Thyssen-financed „Aufarbeitung“.

Freiburg im Breisgau following a British bombing raid, November 1944

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Is B r o a d v i e w TV’s Sebastian Dehnhardt helping the Thyssens to white-wash their history? (by Caroline Schmitz)

Back in February we learned that Broadview TV in Cologne was producing a documentary on the Thyssens to be shown on German television (ARD channel) later this year as part of their ‘German Dynasties’ series. This was interesting news, as we knew that for several years such a venture has been planned in Germany but had so far failed to materialise.Following the publication of our book, a major rewriting of the family and corporate history was initiated, co-sponsored by the Thyssen corporation (via Fritz Thyssen Foundation) and the Thyssen family (represented by Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza). Now Broadview TV was announcing that their film (see this Scanned Document) would feature ‘August, Fritz and Heini Thyssen’, making no mention of either Heini’s father Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a key figure of the story whose role we have researched and reported extensively, or Fritz’s wife Amelie, who was a committed Nazi, yet regained ownership and control of the corporation after Fritz’s death in Argentina (not in Germany) in 1951, while never publicly recanting her political beliefs.

Instead, Broadview TV announced that their emphasis would be on ‘Fritz Thyssen’s TRAGIC embroilment with the Third Reich’ as well as ‘the patron of the arts Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’.

For a brief moment we paused to think what Heinrich and Heini Thyssen, who had spent most of their lives aggressively denying their Germanness, would think about being turned back into ‘Germans’ posthumously! And hadn’t Fritz and Amelie always insisted they were stateless? In my opinion as a German it is wrong for the German public to be asked to accept this family back into their national consciousness as one of their own, without being given the chance of seeing an unbiased picture of BOTH their achievements AND their failings.

We are not in any way denying the Thyssens’ achievements. They created a vast industrial empire, thousands of jobs and careers as well as wealth for the German nation and beyond. To be more precise, August and his brother Josef did those things, as well as their workers, foremen and managers. But Fritz (& Amelie) and Heinrich Thyssen were big cogs, very big cogs indeed in the process that brought Adolf Hitler to power.  As such, the Thyssens’ ‘embroilment’ with the Nazis was NOT, I repeat NOT tragic for the Thyssens. The Thyssens were not victims. They were perpetrators. They supported the Nazis because they wished to eradicate Communism and Socialism and ensure their own profits and lifestyles.

The actual tragedy was the one that befell the people of Europe and of the wider world who died in their millions or survived to live on with their haunting memories. More often than not they were offered no support to come to terms with their experiences, while the Thyssens were allowed back into the position of role models. Now they’re reintroduced into the German media and, in our opinion, instead of owning up fully to their historic role, commission sanitised reports which airbrush inconvenient truths out of the public picture. This is evident in recent publications where embarrassing facts were circumvented or ignored.

We decided to contact Mr Dehnhardt to try and find out what kind of course he was planning to take with his documentary. Having written to him early in February we heard nothing. So we wrote to the Head of ARD, Mr Peter Boudgoust. He wrote back a very nice letter, saying he had passed our concerns on to the commissioning editors, in this case Christiane Hinz at WDR in Cologne. But we heard nothing from Mrs Hinz, even when emailing and phoning her.

Finally, after another letter to Mr Boudgoust, Mrs Hinz replied. She suggested our worries were ‘unfounded’, that the ‘POSSIBLE film about the Thyssens’ was still ‘ONLY AT A PROJECT STAGE’, that ‘all relevant historical points’ would be researched and that ‘if any questions arose that only [we] could answer’ they would ‘of course’ contact us. No apology was made for her previous silence.

Now finally – after 4.5 months – Mr Dehnhardt too has chosen to communicate with us, though rather pointedly, he has addressed his reply (see enclosed) to David only, not to myself, his German kinswoman, although our letter came from both of us. Once again, like Mrs Hinz before him, Mr Dehnhardt points out that ‘all relevant themes, including those from the time of the Third Reich’ will be dealt with, but adds ‘you have no right to expect for the interpretations derived from your research to be given an automatic platform in our programme’.  He also bemoans our sceptical approach, stating that it is ‘devoid of any reality’, particularly in view of the fact we ‘know nothing about the concept, form and content of [his] film’. Meanwhile, however, he still fails to communicate any of the concept, form and content in the professional manner that we would expect.

The word ‘interpretation’, of course, is a very interesting choice in this context, as it carries all the connotations of ‘spin’. The fact is that if you leave Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and Amelie Thyssen out of the picture, you refuse to deal with real historical issues, namely those of managing German companies throughout the war from a Swiss safehaven, including the use of slave labour, international Nazi banking, the Rechnitz Massacre, the Thyssens’ post-war protection from Allied retribution, etc, etc, etc. These are straightforward facts; not ‘interpretations’.

Mr Dehnhardt has been criticised in the past for producing a documentary in which the views were said to have been over-emotional and unbalanced. Kultura Online Magazin found that his film on the battle of Stalingrad did not give a voice to the Russian side and only described the results but not the reasons for the historic developments in question. When confronted with this criticism, Mr Dehnhardt replied: ‘I think the individual [German] soldier also has the right to be a victim, especially in the context of Stalingrad. My film shows that he was only a small cog in a big machine’.

Here Mr Dehnhadt is right. But this statement begs the question as to how he will deal with the ‘big cogs’ when it comes to his documentary on the Thyssens. Will he still have the likes of his father (or my father and uncles for that matter) in mind or will he now bow to the power and influence of the cosmopolitan ‘big cogs’? Will he tell the German public the tale of Fritz Thyssen suffering in a concentration camp, although we established he was under comfortable, protective custody while his brother Heinrich continued to supply the Nazis with coal, submarines and aerial torpedoes from the safety of Switzerland? And will he tell people what an art expert Heini Thyssen was when we showed that Heini Thyssen himself told us his father had bought the collection simply in order to transfer money out of Germany and Thyssen art has been used and abused as a convenient veneer behind which to hide a guilty past ever since?

We shall have to wait and see. But after our experiences of looking into all things Thyssen for over fourteen years, we remain sceptical, particularly since Mr Dehnhardt makes several films on different subjects every year. In this short space of time he could not possibly have enough insight into a vast topic such as Thyssen to offer anything but a simplified view. A view that is in danger of misrepresenting the past in a way that will once again allow the Thyssen big cogs to indulge their privileges while shunning their historic responsibilities.

We really hope to be proved wrong, because for the last seventy plus years the German public has been misinformed regarding Thyssen. We believe that while they may not like the image of the Thyssens that we have revealed, it is up to them, not to what might prove to be a Thyssen-influenced media company, to decide.

The programme was finally aired on 8 November 2010.

COMMENTS:

eldeadpixel writes: Thanks for this good article. I wonder if that documentary will be shown here in Spain… Keep us up to date!

Sebastian Dehnhardt, film producer and managing director of Broadview TV, Cologne

Four and a half months for a reply - And they call us 'illogical'...

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Posted in The Thyssen Art Macabre, Thyssen Art, Thyssen Corporate, Thyssen Family 3 Comments »

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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ThyssenKrupp’s Spring Sale Complications

Apart from the highly successful manufacture of U-Boats during both world wars, due, in part  – particularly during WWII -, to their financially advantageous use of slave labour, the Thyssens have not always been fortunate in their shipbuilding endeavours; as you will see from our book ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, which exclusively reveals the full details of Heini Thyssen’s legendary ‘Swiss’ banana boat company.

But more recent embarrassments have included the Greeks’ reluctance to pay for several submarines built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems which they considered unfit for purpose. Somewhat more ironic is the news that the Israelis, of all people, have agreed to commission ThyssenKrupp to build them two frigates, possibly with the additional incentive of various financial aid measures supplied by the German government.

Even less successful has been the manufacture of commercial ships which has been reflected by the news that the ThyssenKrupp owned shipyard Blohm + Voss is in future intending to abandon all commercial shipbuilding. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

Due in part to the inclement financial situation and ThyssenKrupp’s disastrous investment in Brazil, they have decided to sell off a number of divisions in a grand spring sale. First through the door, by all accounts, were the guys from Abu Dhabi MAR. Not content with assisting in bailing out the world’s largest and most spectacular property fiasco in neighbouring Dubai, Abu Dhabi has expressed an interest in buying into ALL ThyssenKrupp’s shipbuilding enterprises, both commercial AND military.

No one has seen fit to comment on how this might affect the Israelis’ frigates, but the concept of German-funded, Muslim-built, Jewish warships is certainly an interesting one. Perhaps the companies involved could ask the court in Augsburg if it could lend them Karl-Heinz Schreiber for a while to help seal the deals.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Abgesehen vom überaus erfolgreichen U-Boot-Bau in beiden Weltkriegen, teils basierend – vor allem im 2. WK – auf ihrer finanziell vorteilhaften Anwendung von Zwangsarbeit, waren die Schiffsbauunternehmungen der Thyssens nicht immer erfolgreich; dies ist in unserem Buch ‘Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos’ nachzulesen, welches alle Details über Heini Thyssen’s ruhmreiche ‘Schweizerische Bananendampfer-Firmen‘ exklusiv darlegt.

Peinlichkeiten jüngeren Datums schliessen Griechenlands Verweigerung der Zahlung für eine Anzahl von U-Booten ein, die von ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems gebaut wurden, und bei denen der Auftraggeber technische Mängel anprangerte. Etwas ironischer ist die Neuigkeit, dass ausgerechnet die Israelis beschlossen haben, bei ThyssenKrupp den Bau zweier Fregatten in Auftrag zu geben, und zwar möglicherweise unter Zuhilfenahme verschiedener finanzieller Unterstützungsmassnahmen der deutschen Regierung.

Noch weniger erfolgreich war seit einiger Zeit die Produktion von Handelsschiffen, was daran ablesbar ist, dass die zu ThyssenKrupp gehörende Blohm + Voss Werft in Zukunft jeglichen Handelsschiffsbau abstossen will. Leider ist die Geschichte damit noch nicht zu ende.

Unter anderem aufgrund der schlechten Finanzlage und ThyssenKrupp’s katastrophalen Fehlentscheidungen in Brasilien hat man beschlossen, eine Anzahl von Zweigen in einem grossangelegten Frühjahrsschlussverkauf zu veräussern. Als erste Anwärter präsentierten sich die Leute von Abu Dhabi MAR. Ungesättigt von seinen Rettungsaktionen nach dem erstaunlichen Immobilienfiasko des Nachbarstaats Dubai hat Abu Dhabi nunmehr sein Interesse daran angekündigt, sich in ALLE Schiffsbauunternehmungen von ThyssenKrupp einzukaufen, sowohl im zivilen wie auch im militärischen Bereich.

Bisher hat noch niemand kommentiert, wie sich dies auf die Israelischen Fregatten auswirken könnte, aber das Konzept von jüdischen Kriegsschiffen, welche von Deutschland finanziert und von Muslimen gebaut werden ist sicherlich hochinteressant. Vielleicht können die beteiligten Firmen ja beim Gericht in Augsburg anfragen, ob sie sich Karl-Heinz Schreiber eine Zeit lang ausleihen können, bis die Geschäfte erfolgreich abgeschlossen sind.

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Al Nahyan, current President of the United Arab Emirates (UEA) and emir of Abu Dhabi

Civilian or military? That's the 100 Billion Dollar question

Schreiber The Fat Man, Singing

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