Posts Tagged ‘SS’

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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Fritz Thyssen and the forced sterilisation of 400,000 Germans (by Caroline D Schmitz and David R L Litchfield)

The Thyssens have always denied their involvement in Nazi ideology.

Following our book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“ (2007), a group of German academics was commissioned by the Thyssen family and corporation, sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, to publish a series of books on the Thyssens. In the latest volume, Felix de Taillez writes that Fritz Thyssen, in November 1933, became a member of the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy at the Reich’s Ministry of the Interior. Other members included Roland Freisler and Heinrich Himmler.

In a manner described by Pinto-Duschinsky as „grey-washing“, the author then defends the indefensible by alleging that Fritz Thyssen accepted many roles on various boards of Nazi institutions, such as the Academy of German Law, only because he was „trophy hunting“ for titles. He writes that Thyssen never put any serious time and effort into the posts and never became involved in actual decision making.

But ignorance is no defence in a court of law and these were not any institutions. The Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy in July 1933 decreed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. It came into effect on 1 January 1934. This means that Fritz Thyssen gave his official support to an institution that was responsible for the forced sterilisation of 400,000 German citizens.

By extension, his function as a national role model helped bolster and legitimise the fundamental corruption of medical and legal ethics that formed the basis of the implementation of the Holocaust of 11 million Jews, Slavs, Russians, Romani people, as well as disabled, homosexuals, communists, christians and freemasons of German and foreign ethnicity.

It has taken 70 years for this information concerning Fritz Thyssen’s involvement in Nazi racial policies to be mentioned in an official Thyssen publication. This adds to all the information published by us on his and his brother Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s financing of the Nazis, their arming of and banking for the regime, their use of forced labour, the family’s membership in National Socialist institutions including the SS, their profiteering from the persecution of Jews and their participation in the facilitation of exterminations.

To this day, the victims of the Nazi forced sterilisation programme, including the Federal Cross of Merit holder Dorothea Buck-Zerchin, have not been recognised in law as victims of Nazi persecution and have not received adequate compensation. This might of course be due to lingering Nazi continuities. 20,000 victims are still believed to be alive.

The continued „grey-washing“ carried out by their official historiographers means that the „transnational“ Thyssens can still refuse to accept their family’s co-responsibility and share of guilt for the crimes of the Nazi regime. They thus persistently reject the request to fairly lighten the load of remembrance carried by the German people. This is completely untenable, particularly in view of the fact that Holocaust remembrance as such has now been called into question by an increasingly radical Alternative für Deutschland party in Germany.

Holocaust remembrance must acknowledge that German people were also victims of the Holocaust. And it must acknowledge that „transnationals“ such as the Thyssens were also perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Thyssens need to start acknowledging their family’s historical responsibility truthfully and publicly and stop denying our historiographic contribution.

They also finally need to express remorse.

Dorothea Buck-Zerchin, a prominent victim of the Nazi forced sterilisation programme, which Fritz Thyssen officially supported (photo copyright Miguel Ferras, taz newspaper Berlin)

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Fritz Thyssen und die Zwangssterilisation von 400.000 Deutschen (von Caroline D Schmitz und David R L Litchfield)

Die Thyssens haben stets bestritten, mit der Nazi Ideologie involviert gewesen zu sein.

Nachfolgend zu unserem Buch „Die Thyssen-Dynastie“ (2008) wurde eine Gruppe von deutschen Akademikern von der Thyssen Familie und ihren Unternehmen beauftragt und von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung finanziert, eine Reihe von Büchern über die Thyssens zu veröffentlichen. Im neuesten Band hält Felix de Taillez fest, dass Fritz Thyssen im November 1933 Mitglied des Sachverständigenbeirats für Bevölkerungs- und Rassenpolitik im Reichsministerium des Innern wurde. Weitere Mitglieder waren unter anderem Roland Freisler und Heinrich Himmler.

In einer Art, die Pinto-Duschinsky als „Grau-Waschen“ beschreibt, verteidigt der Autor sodann das Unhaltbare indem er behauptet, Fritz Thyssen habe nur als „Trophäenjäger“ Posten verschiedener Nazi Institutionen, wie z.B. der Akademie für Deutsches Recht, gesammelt, aber sich nie wirklich um diese gekümmert oder irgendwelche Entscheidungen selbst mit getragen.

Doch Unkenntnis schützt vor Strafe nicht und dies waren nicht irgend welche Institutionen. Der Sachverständigenbeirat für Bevölkerungs- und Rassenpolitik im Reichsministerium des Innern beschloss im Juli 1933 das Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses. Es trat am 1. Januar 1934 in Kraft. Dies bedeutet, dass Fritz Thyssen bereit war, eine Einrichtung offiziell zu unterstützen, die für die Zwangssterilisation von 400.000 Deutschen verantwortlich war.

Er half so durch seine Vorbildfunktion, die fundamentale Korruption der medizinischen und rechtlichen Ethik zu bestärken und zu legitimieren, die die Basis für die Umsetzung des Holocaust an insgesamt 11 Millionen Juden, Slaven, Russen, Roma, Sinti, sowie deutschen und ausländischen Behinderten, Homosexuellen, Kommunisten, Christen und Freimaurern bildete.

70 Jahre hat es gedauert, bis diese Information über Fritz Thyssens Verstrickung in die Rassenpolitik der Nazis in einer offiziellen Thyssen Publikation veröffentlicht wurde. Sie kommt zu all der Information über die Finanzierung der Nazis durch ihn und seinen Bruder Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza hinzu, über ihre Aufrüstung und Finanzgeschäfte für das Regime, ihre Verwendung von Zwangsarbeitern, die Mitgliedschaft in Institutionen des Nationalsozialismus, inklusive der SS, ihre Profite aus der Judenverfolgung und ihre Beteiligung an der Ermöglichung von Vernichtungen, die wir bereits veröffentlicht haben.

Bis heute sind die Opfer des Nazi Programms der Zwangssterilisation, inklusive der Bundesverdienstkreuz-Trägerin Dorothea Buck-Zerchin, nicht vom Gesetz als Verfolgte des Nazi Regimes anerkannt worden. Möglicher Weise infolge von NS-Kontinuitäten. Und sie haben keine angemessene Entschädigung erhalten. 20,000 dieser Opfer leben heute.

Das anhaltende „Grau-Waschen“ durch die offiziellen Geschichtsschreiber führt dazu, dass die „transnationalen“ Thyssens es weiterhin von sich weisen können, die Mitverantwortung ihrer Familie und deren Schuldanteil an den Verbrechen der Nazis eingestehen zu müssen. Damit weigern sie sich beharrlich, die Last der Erinnerung, die auf den Schultern des deutschen Volkes ruht, fair mit zu tragen. Dies is absolut unhaltbar, nicht zuletzt nachdem das Erinnern an den Holocaust jetzt von einer zunehmend radikalen Alternative für Deutschland Partei in Frage gestellt worden ist.

Das Erinnern an den Holocaust muss berücksichtigen, dass auch Deutsche Opfer des Holocaust waren. Und es muss berücksichtigen, dass auch „Transnationale“ wie die Thyssens Täter des Holocaust waren.

Die Thyssens müssen anfangen, die historische Verantwortung ihrer Familie ehrlich und öffentlich an zu erkennen und aufhören, unseren historiographischen Beitrag zu verleugnen.

Und sie müssen endlich Reue zum Ausdruck bringen.

Dorothea Buck-Zerchin, ein prominentes Opfer des Nazi Programms zur Zwangssterilisation, welches Fritz Thyssen offiziell unterstützte (Foto copyright Miguel Ferras, taz Berlin)

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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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Rechnitz Revisited I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But: does anybody find this message acceptable?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johannes Gramlich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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