Posts Tagged ‘Thyssen Family’

Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 4: ‘The Thyssens. Family and Fortune’, by Simone Derix, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2016

Reviewing this book is a huge aggravation to us, as so much of it has been derived from our groundbreaking work on the Thyssens, published a decade earlier, for which the author grants us not a single credit. It is surprising that Simone Derix does not have the respect for professional ethics to acknowledge our historiographic contribution; especially since she stated in a 2009 conference that non-academic works, whilst creating feelings of fear amongst academics of losing their prerogative to interpret history, are taking on increasing importance.

Ms Derix herself is not the fearful type of course, though somewhat hypocritical. She appears to be preemptively obedient and committed to pleasing her presumably partisan paymasters, in the form of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. Alas, she is clearly not the smartest person either; writing, for instance, that Heinrich Lübke, Director of the August Thyssen Bank (he died in 1962), was the same Heinrich Lübke who was President of Germany (in that position until 1969).

But Ms Derix’s intellectual shortcomings are much more serious than simple factual errors, which should, in any case, have been picked up by at least one of her two associate writers, three project leaders, four academic mentors and six research assistants. She is in all seriousness trying to convince us that research into the lives of wealthy persons is a brand new branch of academia, and that she is its most illustrious, pioneering proponent. Does she not know that recorded history has traditionally been by the rich, of the rich and for the rich only? Has she forgotten that even basic reading and writing were privileges of the few until some hundred and fifty years ago?

At the same time, contrary to us, Derix does not appear to have had any first hand experience of exceptionally rich people at all, particularly Thyssens. Her sponsorship, earlier in her studies, by the well-endowed Gerda Henkel Foundation, was presumably an equally ‘arm’s length’ relationship. Rich people only mix with rich people, and unless Derix got paid by the word, there is no evidence that she ever in any way qualified for serious comment on their modus operandi.

What is new, of course, is that feudalism has been swept away and replaced by democratic societies, where knowledge is broadly accessible and equality before the law is paramount. Yes, her assertion that super-rich people’s archives are difficult to access is true. They only ever want you to know glorious things about them and keep the realities cloaked behind their outstanding wealth. To suggest that this series is being issued because the Thyssens have suddenly decided to engage in an exercise of honesty, generously letting official historians browse their most private documents, however, is ludicrous. The only reason why Simone Derix is revealing some controversial facts about the Thyssens is because we already revealed them. The difference is that she repackages our evidence in decidedly positive terms, so as to comply with the series’ overall damage limitation program.

Thus, Derix seems to believe she can run with the fox and hunt with the hounds; a balancing act made considerably easier by her pronouncement, early on, that any considerations of ethics or morality are to be categorically excluded from her study. The fact that the Thyssens camouflaged their German companies (including those manufacturing weapons and using forced labour) behind international strawmen, with the benefit of facilitating the large-scale evasion of German taxes, is re-branded by Derix as being a misleading description ‘made from a state perspective’ and which ‘tried to establish a desired order rather than depict an already existing order’. As if ‘the state’, as we democrats understand it, is some kind of devious entity that needs fending off, rather than the collective support mechanism of all equal, law-abiding citizens.

It is just one of the many statements that appears to show how much the arguably authoritarian mindset of her sponsors may have rubbed off on her. The fact that academics employed by publicly funded universities should be used thus as PR-agents for the self-serving entities that are the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation and the ThyssenKrupp Konzern Archive is highly questionable by any standards, but particularly by supposedly academic ones. Especially when they claim to be independent.


In Derix’s world, the Thyssens are still (!) mostly referred to as ‘victims’, ‘(tax) refugees’, ‘dispossessed’ and ‘disenfranchised’, even if she admits briefly, once or twice in 500 pages, that ‘in the long-term it seems that they were able always to secure their assets and keep them available for their own personal needs’.

As far as the Thyssens’ involvement with National Socialism is concerned, she calls them ‘entangled’ in it, ‘related’ to it, being ‘present’ in it and ‘living in it’. With two or three exceptions they are never properly described as the active, profiting contributors to the existence and aims of the regime. Rather, as in volume 2 (‘Forced Labour at Thyssen’), the blame is again largely transferred to their managers. This is very convenient for the Thyssens, as the families of these men do not have the resources to finance counter-histories to clear their loved ones’ names.

But for Simone Derix to say that ‘from the perspective of nation states these (Thyssen managers) had to appear to be hoodlums’ really oversteps the boundaries of fair comment. The outrageousnness of her allegation is compounded by the fact that she fails to quote evidence, as reproduced in our book, showing that allied investigators made clear reference to the Thyssens themselves being the real perpetrators and obfuscators.

Yet still, Derix purports to be invoking German greatness, honour and patriotism in her quest for Thyssen gloss. She alleges bombastically that the mausoleum at Landsberg Castle in Mülheim-Kettwig ‘guarantees (the family’s) presence and attachment to the Ruhr’ and that there is an ‘indissoluble connection between the Thyssen family, their enterprises, the region and their catholic faith’. But she fails to properly range them alongside the industrialist families of Krupp, Quandt, Siemens and Bosch, preferring to surround their name hyperbolically with those of the Bismarck, Hohenzollern, Thurn und Taxis and Wittelsbach ruling dynasties.

In reality, many Thyssen heirs chose to turn their backs on Germany and live transnational lives abroad. Their mausoleum is not even accessible to the general public. Contrary to what Derix implies, the iconic name that engenders such a strong feeling of allegiance in Germany is that of the public Thyssen (now ThyssenKrupp) company alone, as one of the main national employers. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any respect for the descendants of the formidable August Thyssen, most of whom are, for reason of their chosen absence, completely unknown in the country.


In this context, it is indicative that Simone Derix categorises the Thyssens as ‘old money’, as well as ‘working rich people’. But while in the early 19th century Friedrich Thyssen was already a banker, it was only his sons August (75% share) and Josef (25% share), from 1871 onwards (and with the ensuing profits from the two world wars) who created through their relentless work, and that of their employees and workers, the enormous Thyssen fortune. Their equal was never seen again in subsequent Thyssen generations.

Thus the Thyssens became ‘ultra-rich’ and were completely set apart from the established aristocratic-bourgeois upper class. They could hardly be called ‘old money’ and neither could their heirs, despite trying everything in their power to adopt the trappings of the aristocracy (which beggars the question why volume 6 of the series is called ‘Fritz and Heinrich Thyssen – Two bourgeois lives in the public eye’). This included marrying into the Hungarian, increasingly faux aristocracy, whereby, even Derix has to admit, by the 1920s every fifth Hungarian citizen pretended to be an aristocrat.

The line of Bornemiszas, for instance, which Heinrich married into, were not the old ‘ruling dynastic line’ that Derix still pretends they were. The Thyssen-Bornemiszas came to be connected with the Dutch royals not because Heinrich’s wife Margit was such a (self-styled) ‘success’ at court, but because the Thyssens had important business interests in that country. Thus Heinrich became a banker to the Dutch royal household, as well as a personal friend of Queen Wilhelmina’s husband Prince Hendrik.

The truth is: apart from such money-orientated connections, neither the German nor the English or any other European nobility welcomed these parvenus into their immediate ranks (religion too played a role, of course, as the Thyssens were and are catholics). Until, that is, social conventions had moved on enough by the 1930s and their daughters were able to marry into the truly old Hungarian dynasties of Batthyany and Zichy.

But until that time, based on their outstanding wealth, this did not stop the brothers from adopting many of the domains of grandeur for themselves. Fritz Thyssen, according to Derix, even spent his time in the early 1900s importing horses from England, introducing English fox hunting to Germany and owning a pack of staghounds. He also had his servant quarters built lower down from his own in his new country seat, specifically to signal class distinction.

These are indeed remarkable new revelations showing that the traditional image put out by the Thyssen organisation of bad cop German, ‘temporarily’ fascist industrialist Fritz Thyssen, good cop Hungarian ‘nobleman’ Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is even more misleading than we always thought.


Truly lamentable are Derix’s attempts to portray Fritz Thyssen as a devout, christian peacenik and centrist party member. And so are her lengthy contortions in presenting Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza as the perfectly assimilated Hungarian country squire. She does, however, report that Heinrich’s wife had stated he did not speak a word of the language, which does not stop Felix de Taillez in volume 6 writing that he did speak Hungarian. ‘If you can’t beat them, confuse them’ was Heini Thyssen’s motto. Clearly, it has also become the motto of these Thyssen-financed academics.

Meanwhile, Derix’s book is the first work supported by the Thyssen organisation to confirm that Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza did retain his German (then Prussian) citizenship. She also does venture to state that his adoption of the Hungarian nationality ‘might’ have been ‘strategic’. But these gems of truthfulness are swamped under the fountains of her gushing propaganda designed to make the second generation Thyssens look better than they were. This includes her development of August Junior’s role from black sheep of the family to committed businessman.

On the other hand, the author still fails to explain any business-related details on the much more important Heinrich Thyssen’s life in England at the turn of the century (cues: banking and diplomacy). How exactly did the family come to be closely acquainted with the likes of Henry Mowbray Howard (British liaison officer at the French Naval Ministry) or Guy L’Estrange Ewen (special envoy to the British royals)? A huge chance of genuine transparency was wasted here.

Derix also fails to draw attention to the fact that the August Thyssen and Josef Thyssen branches of the family developed in very different ways. August’s heirs exploited, left and betrayed Germany and were decidedly ‘nouveau riche’, except for Heinrich’s son Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza and his son Georg Thyssen, who really did involve themselves in the management of their companies.

By contrast, Josef’s heirs Hans and Julius Thyssen stayed in Germany (respectively were prepared to return there in the 1930s from Switzerland when foreign exchange restrictions came into force), paid their taxes, worked in the Thyssen Konzern before selling out in the 1940s, pooling their resources and adopting careers in the professions. Only the Josef Thyssen side of the family is listed in the German Manager Magazine Rich List; but for unexplained reasons Derix leaves these truly ‘working rich’ Thyssens largely unmentioned in her book.


Fortunately, Derix does not concentrate all her efforts in creative fiction and plagiarisation, but manages to provide at least some substantive politico-economic facts as well. So she reveals that Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza was a member of the supervisory board of the United Steelworks of Düsseldorf until 1933, i.e. until after Adolf Hitler’s assumption of power. This, combined with her statement that ‘Heinrich seems to have orientated himself towards Berlin on a permanent basis as early as 1927/8 (from Scheveningen in The Netherlands)’ pokes a hole in one of the major Thyssen convenience legends, that of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza having had his main residence in neutral Switzerland from 1932 onwards (i.e. conveniently from before Hitler’ assumption of power; having ‘left Germany just in time’); though this does not stop Derix from subsequently repeating that fallacy just the same (- ‘If you can’t beat them, confuse them’-).

Fact is that, despite buying Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland in 1932, Heinrich Thyssen continued to spend the largest amounts of his time living a hotel life in a permanent suite in Berlin and elsewhere and also kept a main residence in Holland (where Heini Thyssen grew up almost alone, except for the staff). His Ticino lawyer Roberto van Aken had to remind him in 1936 that he still had not applied for permanent residency in Switzerland. It was not until November 1937 that Heinrich Thyssen and his wife Gunhilde received their Swiss foreigner passes (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, page 116).

Derix also readjusts the old Thyssen myth that Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza went their separate ways in business as soon as they inherited from their father, who died in 1926. We always said that the two brothers remained strongly interlinked until well into the second half of the 20th century. And hey presto, here we have Simone Derix alleging now that ‘historians so far have always assumed that the separation had been concluded by 1936’. She adds ‘despite all attempts at separating the shares of Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the fortunes of Fritz and Heinrich remained interlocked (regulated contractually) well into the time after the second world war’.

But it is her next sentence that most infuriates: ‘Obviously it was very difficult for outsiders to recognise this connection’. The truth of the matter is that the situation was opaque because the Thyssens and their organisation went to extraordinary lengths and did everything in their power to obfuscate matters, particularly as it meant hiding Fritz Thyssen’s and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s joint involvement in supporting the Nazi regime.


Amongst the Thyssens’ many advisors, the author introduces Dutchman Hendrik J Kouwenhoven as the main connecting link between the brothers, who ‘opened up opportunities and thought up financial instruments’. He worked from 1914 at the family’s Handels en Transport Maatschappij Vulcaan and then at their Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart (BVHS) in Rotterdam from its official inception in 1918 to his sacking by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza during the second world war.

The asset management or trust company of BVHS was called Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor (RTK), which Derix describes as ‘repository for the finance capital of the Thyssen enterprises, as well as for the Thyssens’ private funds’. She does not say when it was created. ‘Its offices and all the important papers that Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had lodged (at RTK) were all destroyed in a German aerial bombardment of Rotterdam on 14.05.1940’, according to Derix. To us this sounds like a highly suspicious piece of information.

Of the files of BVHS she curtly says that ‘a complete set of source materials is not available’. How convenient, especially since no-one outside the Thyssen organisation will ever be able to verify this claim truly independently; or at least until the protective mantle of Professor Manfred Rasch, head of the ThyssenKrupp Konzern Archive, retires.

Derix alludes to ‘the early internationalisation of the Thyssen Konzern from 1900’, ascribing her knowledge of its bases in raw material purchases and the implementation of a Thyssen-owned trading and transport network to Jörg Lesczenski, who published two years after us (and whose work, like that of Derix herself, was backed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation). But she leaves cross-references aside concerning the first tax havens (including that of The Netherlands) which were set up in the outgoing 19th century, conveniently referring this area to ‘research that should be carried out in the future’.

Derix names the 1906 Transportkontor Vulkan GmbH Duisburg-Hamborn with its Rotterdam branch (see above) and the 1913 Deutsch-Überseeische Handelsgesellschaft der Thyssenschen Werke mbH of Buenos Aires (by the way: to this day ThyssenKrupp AG is a major trader in raw materials). She also states that American loans to the Thyssen Konzern started in 1919 via the ‘Vulcaan Coal Company’ (failing to mention that this company was based in London).


According to Derix, August Thyssen began transferring his shares in the Thyssen companies to his sons Fritz and Heinrich in 1919, first those of Thyssen & Co. and from 1921 onwards those of the August Thyssen smelting works. She then adds that existing Thyssen institutions outside of Germany were used in order to carry out this transfer.

From 1920 onwards, Fritz Thyssen began to buy real estate in Argentina. Meanwhile, the Thyssens’ Union Banking Corporation (UBC), founded in 1924 in the Harriman Building on New York’s Broadway, is described solely in the language of the ‘transnational dimension of the Thyssens’ financial network’ and as being ‘the American branch of the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart’.

We had already detailed in our book how Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, via Hendrik Kouwenhoven, set up in Switzerland the Kaszony Family Foundation in 1926 to lodge his inherited participations and the Rohoncz Collection Foundation in 1931 to place art works he bought as easily movable capital investments from 1928 onwards. Now Derix writes that the Rohoncz Foundation too was founded in 1926. This is astonishing, since it means that this entity was set up a whole two years prior to Heinrich Thyssen buying the first painting to find its way into what he called the ‘Rohoncz Castle Collection’ (despite the fact that none of the pictures ever went anywhere near his Hungarian, then Austrian castle, in which he had stopped living in 1919).

The timing of the creation of this offshore instrument just proves how contrived Heinrich’s reinvention as a ‘fine art connaisseur and collector’ really was.

Derix even freely admits that these Thyssen family foundations were ‘antagonists of states and governments’. However, just like Johannes Gramlich in volume 3 (‘The Thyssens as Art Collectors’), she too leaves the logistics of the transfer of some 500 paintings by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza into Switzerland in the 1930s completely unmentioned, including the fact that this represented a method of massive capital flight out of Germany. The associated topics of tax evasion and tax avoidance stay completely off her academic radar; ignoring our documented proof.


In another bold rewriting of official Thyssen history the author states that the Thyssen brothers frequently acted in parallel in their financial affairs. And so it was that the Pelzer Foundation and Faminta AG came to be created , by Kouwenhoven, in Switzerland, on behalf of Fritz Thyssen and his immediate family. (Derix is hazy about exact dates. We published: 1929 for Faminta AG and the late 1930s for the Pelzer Foundation).

Derix points out that these two instruments also allowed secret transactions between the Thyssen brothers. She adds enigmatically that ‘Faminta protected the foreign assets of the August Thyssen smelting works from a possible confiscation by the German authorities’, whilst withholding any reference to a time scale of when such a confiscation might have been on the cards (is she suggesting a possibility prior to Fritz Thyssen’s flight in September 1939, i.e. anytime during the period 1929-1939?).

At the same time, in the 1920s, Fritz and Amelie Thyssen established a firm base in the south of the German Reich, namely in Bavaria – far away from the Thyssen heartland of the Ruhr – which Derix brands as a fact which has ‘so far been almost completely ignored by historians’. Of course, not only was this most royalist of German states close to Switzerland, but it was also, at that time, the cradle of the Nazi movement. Adolf Hitler also much preferred Munich to Berlin.

All the family’s financial instruments, meanwhile, continued to be administrated by Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor in The Netherlands. ‘These new Thyssen banks, companies, holdings and foundations created since the 1920s were connected to the Thyssen industrial enterprises (in Germany) through participations’, Derix continues.

These enterprises etc. were also supportive of the rising Nazi movement of course, such as when their Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart around 1930 demonstrably made a loan of some 350,000 RM to the Nazi party, at a time when both Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had controlling interests in BVHS.

According to Derix, it was starting in 1930 that Heinrich Thyssen sold his shares in the United Steelworks to Fritz while Fritz sold his Dutch participations to Heinrich and as a result Heinrich Thyssen alone was in control of the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart from 1936 onwards.

Specifically, it was a Thyssen entity called Holland-American Investment Corporation (HAIC) which facilitated Fritz Thyssen’s capital flight from Germany. According to Derix, ‘(in the autumn of 1933, the Pelzer Foundation acquired) shares in HAIC from Fritz and therefore his Dutch participations which were pooled therein. This was done in agreement with the German authorities who knew of HAIC. But in 1940, the Germans found out that there was a considerable discrepancy between the 1,5 million Reichsmark of Dutch participations held in HAIC as had been stated and the actual, true value, which turned out to be 100 to 130 million RM.’

This is staggering, as the modern day equivalent is many hundreds of millions of Euros!

Considering that Heinrich’s wife stated that he had taken some 200 million Swiss Francs of his assets into neutral countries, this would mean that, together, the Thyssen brothers possibly succeeded in extracting from Germany the cash equivalent of close to the complete monetary value of the Thyssen enterprises! This is not, however, a conclusion drawn by Simone Derix.

One begins to wonder what there was actually left to confiscate from Fritz Thyssen once he fled Germany at the onset of war in 1939. Derix admits that his flight happened not least because he preferred to complete his self-interested financial transactions from the safety of Switzerland, with the help of Heinrich Blass at Credit Suisse in Zurich.

Although we had managed to unearth several leads, we did not know that the real overall extent of the Thyssen brothers’ capital flight was quite this drastic. For Simone Derix to point this out on behalf of the Thyssen organisation is significant; even if she fails to draw any appropriate conclusions, as they would most likely be at odds with her blue-sky remit.

Truly, and in the words of the far more experienced Harald Wixforth no less: for these ‘mega-capitalist(s) (…) the profit of their enterprises (i.e. their own) always assumed far greater priority than the public’s welfare’.

Needless to say that we await Harald Wixforth’s and Boris Gehlen’s volumes on the Thyssen Bornemisza Group 1919-1932, respectively 1932-1947 with great interest.


In this readjusted official light, Derix’s admission that Fritz and Amelie Thyssen’s ‘expropriation’ in late 1939 ‘did not directly result in any curtailment of their way of life’ no longer comes as any surprise.

The author also finally reveals for the first time official departure details of Fritz Thyssen’s daughter Anita, her husband Gabor and their son Federico Zichy to Argentina. Apparently they travelled from Genua, sailing on 17.02.1940 on board the ship Conte Grande, bound for Buenos Aires. In order to provide her with befitting financial support, shares in Faminta AG had been transferred to the Übersee-Trust of Vaduz shortly beforehand, of which Anita Zichy-Thyssen, a Hungarian national, was the sole beneficiary.

Derix then states that by April 1940, Fritz Thyssen ‘used his political knowledge on the German Reich and the German armaments industry as an asset that he could use in exchange for support for his personal wishes’. But what exactly were those wishes? The hubristically delusional Fritz obviously thought he could get rid of Hitler as easily as he had helped him get into power. For this, he was prepared to share German state secrets with French Foreign Minister Alexis Leger and Armament Minister Raoul Dautry in Paris. But for Derix, rather than being anything as contentious as active treason or an expression of power, his behaviour is nothing more than an ultra-rich man’s legitimate right to express his elevated lifestyle choices.

While all previous Thyssen biographers, apart from us, have purported that Fritz and Amelie Thyssen suffered tremendous ‘excrutiations’ during their time in concentration camps, Derix confirms our information that they spent most of their German captivity in the comfortable, private sanatorium of Dr Sinn in Berlin-Neubabelsberg. She writes that they were kept there ‘on Hitler’s personal orders’ and ‘on trust’, though Fritz and Heinrich’s personal friend Hermann Göring, during his post-war allied interrogations, stated that their privileged treatment had been down to his initiative. After Neubabelsberg, they were taken to different concentration camps, but Derix is now forced to admit that they enjoyed ‘a special status’ which is retraceable ‘for each and every location’. Which makes one wonder, why German historians previously felt the need to misrepresent these facts.

Derix’s list of Fritz Thyssen’s allied, post-war interrogations is particularly noteworthy. It illustrates the seriousness in which he was considered to have been guilty of (albeit blue collar) war crimes, which should have been punishable by incarceration:

In July 1945 he was taken to Schloss Kransberg near Bad Nauheim, namely to the so-called ‘US/UK Dustbin Centre for scientists and industrialists’. In August, he went on to Kornwestheim before being taken, in September, to the 7th Army Interrogation Center in Augsburg.

Derix also vagely asserts that Fritz Thyssen was interrogated at some point ‘in 1945’ by Robert Kempner, chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials.

Thyssen suffered a collapse and had to go into medical care. He was taken to the US prisoners’ camp of Seckenheim, then to Oberursel. His health deteriorated. From April to November 1946 he went through various hospitals and convalescent homes between Königstein (where he made a surprise recovery) and Oberursel. From November 1946 onwards, he was at the Nuremberg follow-up trials as a witness (one presumes in the cases of Alfried Krupp and Friedrich Flick amongst others), while receiving continuous hospital treatment in Fürth.

On 15.01.1947 Fritz Thyssen was released to join his wife Amelie in Bad Wiessee. This was followed by his German denazification proceedings in Königstein, where he and Amelie lived at the sanatorium of Dr Amelung. In that court, as befitting his insincere character, Fritz Thyssen described himself as penniless.

Meanwhile, according to Derix, Anita Zichy-Thyssen made contact with Edmund Stinnes, who lived in the US and his brother-in-law Gero von Schulze-Gaevernitz, a close collaborator of US-secret service chief Allen Dulles. In the spring of 1947, ‘hoping to facilitate exit permits for her parents to go to America’, she met former US-senator Burton K Wheeler in Argentina, who travelled to Germany in 1948 ‘in order to help Fritz Thyssen out of his denazification problems’. It is certainly an aspect of high-level influence which we documented even more intensively, but which, astonishingly, Johannes Bähr in volume 5 (‘Thyssen in the Adenauer Period’) of the series has totally rejected.


Another Thyssen who should have had problems with his denazification, but didn’t, was Heinrich’s son Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza.

While his brother Heini Thyssen went to the German school in The Hague, Stephan had boarded at the Lyceum Alpinum in Zuoz, Switzerland, where most pupils were from German speaking Switzerland, The Netherlands and the German Reich, respectively were Germans living abroad. Consequently, the school ran three houses named ‘Teutonia’, ‘Orania’ and ‘Helvetia’. After studying chemistry in Zurich and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became an assistant at a research laboratory of the Shell Petroleum Company in St Louis. He then wrote his dissertation at Budapest University and began working in natural resources deposit research.

Since 1932, whilst living in Hanover, Stephan worked for Seismos GmbH, a prospecting company founded in 1921 by Deutsch-Lux, Phoenix, Hoesch, Rheinstahl and Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks AG. Derix writes: ‘From 1927 Gelsenkirchener, which belonged to the United Steelworks founded in 1926, was the main shareholder, holding 50% of the shares. This means Seismos came under Fritz Thyssen’s part of the family inheritance. (…) In the 1920s, prospecting groups of Seismos worked for oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell or Roxana Petroleum in Texas, Louisiana and Mexico, looking for Oil. (…) Its radius then extended to the Near East, South-Eastern Europe and England’.

In 1937, Seismos was bought for 1.5 million RM by Heinrich Thyssen and incorporated into his Thyssensche Gas- and Waterworks. During the war, according to Derix, the company was ‘involved in the exploitation of raw materials in the (Nazi) occupied territories (…) During their withdrawal from the Eastern Ukraine during the 1943 tank battle of Kursk they had to leave behind much equipment’.

So, of no little importance for a company which so far, in Thyssen-backed histories, had been portrayed, if at all, as being of little consequence.

And not for the secretive Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza either, whose son Heini Thyssen shortly after the war would get his Swiss lawyer Roberto van Aken to lie to the US visa application department thus: ‘From the advent of the Nazis’ rise to power, and particularly from 1938 onwards, Dr Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s (…) corporations were directed with the definitive purpose of minimising the Nazi armament efforts’ (The Thyssen Art Macabre, page 207).

It is, if anything, in that same obfuscating spirit that Derix still conceals the fact that the Seismos company moved its headquarters from Hanover to the Harz mountains during the war, where the Nazis’ weapons of mass destruction program (V-rockets) would come to be based.

Derix reveals that Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza was a member of the Nazi Aircorps and confirms he was a contributing member of the SS. Nazi officials apparently declared Stephan Thyssen’s political stance to be ‘beyond all doubt’. But Derix cannot bring herself to even mention, let alone detail his additional involvement with another company, namely Maschinen- und Apparatebau AG (MABAG) of Nordhausen, also in the Harz.

We had already established that Stephan Thyssen had become chairman of the supervisory board of MABAG in the early years of the war. This company, in conjunction with IG Farben, ‘had built a vast network of caves and tunnels in the Kohnstein mountain near Nordhausen equipped with tanks and pumps (…). From Februar 1942, Armaments and Munitions Minister Albert Speer recommended all possible support for the development of rockets. This represented massively ambitious armaments manufacturing plans and a great deal more work for MABAG, who, under the control of the Wehrmacht, were now also producing turbo fuel pumps for V-rockets’ (The Thyssen Art Macabre, page 160).

We had speculated that Stephan’s position of chairman of MABAG must have been due to a major investment made by his father Heinrich. While Simone Derix entirely fails to address any aspects of this topic, the lawyer and historian Frank Baranowski has unearthed a highly important document and explains on his website:

‘In 1940, the Deutsche Petroleum Konzern, following a change in their management, divested itself of all its works which did not fit into their framework of petroleum and coal extraction, including MABAG. Deutsche Bank negotiated the transfer of the share capital of 1 million Reichsmark into various hands. The majority was acquired by the solicitor and notary Paul Langkopf of Hanover (590,000 RM), which was most likely done on the orders of a client who wished to remain anonymous. Smaller share parcels were held by the Deutsche Bank in Leipzig (158,000 RM) and in Nordhausen (14,000 RM) as well as by Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza in Hanover (50,000 RM). On 14.09.1940 MABAG elected its new supervisory board: Director Schirner, Paul Langkopf, Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Leipzig bank director Gustav Köllmann. (MABAG came to see itself as a company entirely geared to the production of armaments, …..including grenades, grenade launchers …….and turbo pumps for the A4-rockets)’.

It just so happens that Paul Langkopf was a professional whose services had been engaged by various members of the Thyssen family over the years. It can be presumed with near certainty that the ‘anonymous’ shareholder was Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The secrecy of the transaction fits his style completely. And while Baranowski’s and our views on the use of forced labour by MABAG differ, his evidence is another indication towards the fact that Heinrich was definitely 100% pro-Nazi during the war, even while he was apparently retiring from the world, far away in his Swiss safehaven, pretending to have nothing to do with anything.

The great Simone Derix, meanwhile, prefers to concentrate on relatively trivial revelations such as the fact that Stephan’s mother Margit also lived in Switzerland with her second husband, the ‘germanophile’, ‘antisemitic’ Janos Wettstein von Westersheimb, who lost his job at the Hungarian embassy in Berne when the war turned in 1943. Apparently, she lobbied ‘for Stephan to be allowed out of Germany (after the war) via Heinrich Rothmund, who during the war had been responsible in large parts for the anti-Jewish asylum policies of Switzerland’.


Finally Simone Derix covers two other important topics in her book – as did we, albeit to a different degree -; namely: 1.) The Thyssens’ pre-war London gold deposits and their fate during, respectively after the war and 2.) the removal of the Thyssens’ and Dutch royals’ share certificates from the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam to the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin during the war, and their return to Rotterdam after the war, through an illegal act by a Dutch Military Mission, code named ‘Operation Juliana’. We will analyse the coverage of those topics more adequately in our reviews of Jan Schleusener’s, Harald Wixforth’s and Boris Gehlen’s forthcoming volumes.

In both matters, members and associates of the Thyssen family played questionable roles, using their high-level (diplomatic and other) positions, to help the Thyssens play off one host nation against another, in their pursuit of limitless personal advantage. Simone Derix only takes her critical analysis as far as to say that these interferences allowed smaller states such as The Netherlands or Switzerland to pressurise victorious powers of the second world war in order to safeguard their own national interests in the Thyssens’ fortune.

While our book has been called a possible ‘handbook for revolution’, Derix describes hers as ‘a model showing the way concerning the central, investigative strands for a history of the infrastructures of wealth’. She evokes the driving forces of ‘jealousy’ à la Ralf Dahrendorf, by the general public towards the super-rich, while ignoring the concept of ‘anger’ at their selfish sense of perennial legal immunity, as described by many such as Tom Wohlfahrt.

Simone Derix’s writing style is very clear and during her book presentation at the Historisches Kolleg in Munich, the suave voice of the specially engaged Bavarian Radio reader made the passages sound like high literature, marinated in integrity. However, this academic, who was introduced to the audience by Professor Margit Szöllösi-Janze as ‘elite researcher’, definitely arrogates to herself a greater authority in broadcasting historical judgements than she is currently entitled to.

At the subsequent podium conversation with the historian and journalist Dr Joachim Käppner of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Derix rejected the concepts of power and of guilt unequivocally on behalf of the Thyssen family. In doing so, however, she had to be coaxed by Käppner repeatedly to focus her extremely hesitant flow of answers, which gave every impression, nevertheless, of having been pre-agreed.

Let’s hope Simone Derix does not remain the only contributor of the series to formulate answers to these important questions – But with more honesty, hopefully, if not greater independence from the questionable role of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Fritz Thyssen and Hermann Göring in Essen, copyright Stiftung Ruhr Museum Essen, Fotoarchiv

Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and Hermann Göring at the German Derby, 1936, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Batthyany-Clan, ca. 1930s, third from left Ivan Batthyany, husband of Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Hendrik J. Kouwenhoven, general representative of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, copyright Stadsarchief Rotterdam

Three Thyssen brothers in harmony: from left Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, August Thyssen Junior, Fritz Thyssen, Villa Favorita, Lugano, September 1938, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield


Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza with his wife Ingeborg, Hanover, ca. 1940s (Foto Alice Prestel-Hofmann, Hanover), copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, Year End Report 1929, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, Supervisory Board and Management Board 1929, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, Bank Counters, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, 1929, Reception Room, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield

Thyssen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart Rotterdam, 1929, Steel Vaults, copyright Archive David R L Litchfield






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

*   *   *

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

by Baroness T. B. de Kaszon

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

(free pdf-File, click here)

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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


A self-indulgently fantastical, highly disturbing manifesto

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


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Göring & Thyssen – Partners in crime

Hermann GöringFriend, banking client and protector of the Thyssen family and corporate fortune, seen here with Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in relaxed, equestrian circumstances in 1936 (photo copyright strictly Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock Photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And more importantly: if not, why not?

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

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The Thyssens’ Poisoned Chalice

It was recently announced that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid has suffered a loss of some 4.5 million Euros during 2014. Considering the fragile state of Spain’s economy and the fact that, contractually, they are not permitted to capitalise on the value of the collection by selling any of the pictures, it was bad news.

But worse was to come. For it was also revealed that the total legal costs of defending a claim by surviving members of a German Jewish family against the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for the return of a picture painted by Camille Pissarro that they claim to have sold under duress to the Nazis in 1939, and which was subsequently procured by the Thyssen family before being sold on to the Spanish nation, has now reached 1.3 million Euros.

Heini Thyssen and his father had always used their art collection as a smoke screen behind which they could hide the fact that much of their fortune was the result of profits earned fuelling and arming the Third Reich and supplying it with banking facilities.

One of the unfortunate effects of such a restitution claim is that it reminds people of the Thyssens’ Nazi past and the fact that it is the Spanish people who are being obliged to fund the protection of the Spanish ‘investment’ as well as the defence of the Thyssens’ name, who in turn have not exactly been forthcoming in contributing to the coffers of the Spanish tax authorities.

And while the American lawyers are representing the Cassirers on a contingency basis, which avoids the family having to make any contribution to costs, the plaintiffs remain all too aware that every time they mount another appeal (which they are doing at this very minute), the Spanish legal fees, for which there is no ultimate profit which they can be offset against, continue to mount. As do the Museum’s losses. Thus there must come a time when the Spanish will be obliged to ‘take a view’ and hand the picture back.

To us it has always been clear that this collection would one day reveal itself as a poisoned chalice for the host country. The Cassirer claim, if successful, could open the gates to further claims against the museum, as there is no shortage of paintings in its holdings with questionable provenances, a fact that the Spanish failed to identify by independent verification before they committed to buy. The potential for a major eclat is intrinsic to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. The only question is: how long will it take to unravel?

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On 4th April 2016 Mark Kochanski commented:

In a recent court brief the Foundation contends that the plaintiffs (the Cassirers) ”continue their campaign to tarnish the Foundation’s image with “red flags” to suggest actual knowledge of the 1939 taking or, at the very least, a level of negligence that warrants punishment.” The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has tarnished its own image by knowingly hoarding Nazi looted art in violation of the Washington Conference Principles and the Terezin Declaration. This is shameful and the “Baroness” needs to be held to account.

Camille Pissarro: "Rue St Honore, apres-midi, effet de pluie" (1897).

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Will The Thyssen Family Be Looking For A New HQ?

Four or five years ago, a member of the Thyssen family told me his brother Georg was selling off their manufacturing companies and concentrating on investment services. Apparently, he had already been getting a regular 10% return on family money when the best anyone else was getting was 5 or 6%.

Well, it appears Georg was probably getting as much as 15 or 16% and taking the margin as profit. It was obviously good business. So good that he managed to sell the deal to others. So far, so good. But then the source of his miraculous return ceased to be so miraculous, as Bernie Madoff’s dark little secret became very, very public.

Quite rapidly those who had used the services of the Thyssen-Bornemisza company ‘Thybo Advisory’ realised that the chances of getting their money back from Bernie were non-existent, especially when he was awarded a 150-year jail sentence, so they (US-Trustee Irving Picard and the Belgian Investor Representative Deminor) decided to take Thybo Advisory to court. Judging by the fact that Thybo’s secretive Monaco offices were recently the subject of a police raid, one has to assume there may have been a certain lack of transparency somewhere down the line.

This is obviously bad news for the Thyssens, and all those who invested in Thybo. It appears that the amount lost may have been a great deal more than originally thought. The Monegasque authorities are also particularly allergic to these kind of goings on and may soon be asking the family to relocate. Perhaps the Thyssens will join many others in learning that the reluctance to pay tax and the desire to make a profit without working inevitably ends in tears.

The Monaco headquarters of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte

The Monaco headquarters of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group and Thybo Advisory on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte

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