Posts Tagged ‘Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke’

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 Leczenski, 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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Simone Derix Tarnt Thyssen Schuld – Rechnitz Revisited II

Die Thyssens haben es stets vermieden, Einzelheiten ihrer Nazi Vergangenheit zu offenbaren, und zwar über eine Mischung von Leugnung, Verschleierung und Bestechung. Doch mit der Veröffentlichung unseres Buches „Die Thyssen-Dynastie“ 2007 und den Enthüllungen zum schrecklichen „Rechnitz Massaker“ wurde es immer schwieriger, diese Philosophie aufrecht zu erhalten. Familienmitglieder beschlossen endlich, über die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung zehn Akademiker zu beauftragen, um ihre persönliche, gesellschaftliche, politische und industrielle Vergangenheit umzuschreiben (in der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“) und damit ihren Ruf aufzupolieren.

Dieser Plan ist zum Teil aufgegangen und zum Teil nicht, denn trotz ihrer geschmiedeten Pläne offenbaren diese Bände oft mehr als es den Thyssens wahrscheinlich recht ist, sei es direkt oder durch die Bloßstellung von Widersprüchen.

Wir rezensieren hier die von der Thyssen Organisation gesponsorten Abhandlungen in der Abfolge ihres Erscheinens und werden dies auch mit dem neuesten Band, „Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen“ von Simone Derix tun. Zunächst jedoch wollen wir einen einzigartigen Bestandteil des Buches untersuchen, denn der neueste Band ist gleichzeitig, ein ganzes Jahrzehnt nach unserer Veröffentlichung, die erste offizielle Thyssen Publikation, die eine Beschreibung dessen enthält, wie die Dynastie im Leben der Gemeinde Rechnitz, und insbesondere bei den Vorfällen des „Rechnitz Massakers“ vom 24./25. März 1945 in Erscheinung getreten ist. Es ist ein Thema, das uns ganz besonders am Herzen liegt.

Leider hat die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Simone Derix erlaubt, die gerade einmal sieben Seiten (einer 500 Seiten starken Abhandlung, die sich von ihrer Habilitationsschrift ableitet) einem Manifesto einzuverleiben, das sowohl eine Public Relations Arbeit für die Thyssens wie auch ein Ausdruck ihrer eigenen, ambitionierten Selbstdarstellung im „neuen“ Feld der „Reichen-Forschung“ ist. Dabei ist die Grundaussage von Derix die, dass die Thyssens ob ihres herausragenden Reichtums gefeiert werden sollten, während sie für ihre Viktimisierung durch Journalisten, Berater, Staatsgewalten, Verwandte, Bolschewisten, Nationalsozialisten, etc., etc. zu bemittleiden sind.

Das macht Derix zu der Art Verteidiger, von denen Ralph Giordano gesagt hat, dass sie nicht müde werden, „aus Opfern Täter und aus Tätern Opfer zu machen“. Die Tatsache, dass der Deutsche Historikerverband es für angebracht gehalten hat, Simone Derix für ihre Arbeit den Carl-Erdmann-Preis zu verleihen, der nach einem wahren Opfer nationalsozialistischer Verfolgung benannt ist, verstört zusätzlich.

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Deutschland war ein Spätentwickler in Sachen Industrialisierung und Nationalstaat und stieg mit einer explosionsartigen Energie auf die internationale Bühne empor, die zur Katastrophe führen sollte. Während die unfassbar hart arbeitenden Brüder August und Josef Thyssen im Mittelstand verankert waren und von dort Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts das enorme, industrielle Thyssen-Vermögen erschufen, kehrten August’s Söhne Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, unter dem Einfluss ihrer gesellschaftlich ehrgeizigen Mutter, dem Bürgertum den Rücken zu und benutzten ihren ererbten Wohlstand dazu, in einen neuartigen, hoch reaktionären Landadel aufzusteigen.

Derix beschreibt, wie Fritz Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts, weitab der ursprünglichen Thyssen-Basis in der Ruhr, das Rittergut Gleina bei Naumburg/Saale pachtete, das Rittergut Götschendorf in der Uckermark kaufte und verkaufte und das Rittergut Neu Schlagsdorf bei Schwerin, sowie Schloss Puchhof in Bayern kaufte. Wir wussten bereits, dass Heinrich unter anderem den Rennstall Landswerth bei Wien, das Gestüt Erlenhof bei Bad Homburg, mit Rennstall in Hoppegarten bei Berlin und die Gut Rechnitz im österreichischen (vordem ungarischen) Burgenland erstand.

Durch unsere Forschungen wissen wir, dass die Thyssen Brüder auf den Ländereien des jeweils anderen jagten. Dies widerlegt einmal mehr die fadenscheinige Behauptung, die in der Serie „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“ immer und immer wieder, auch von Simone Derix, vorgebracht wird, dass Fritz und Heinrich Thyssen sich nicht verstanden hätten. Es ist eine Behauptung, die darauf abzielt, die Synergien in den wirtschaftlichen Unternehmungen der Thyssen Brüder zu verschleiern, insbesondere jene, die dem Nazi Regime zuträglich waren.

Beide Männer verhielten sich wie Feudalherren, die die Zufuhr von billigen Arbeitern und Zwangsarbeitern zu schätzen wussten, die Ihren Unternehmen durch die Unterdrückung von Arbeiterbewegungen und durch internationale, bewaffnete Konflikte geboten wurden, für die Ihre Fabriken Waffen und Munitionen lieferten. Die Thyssen Brüder mischten sich in eigennütziger Weise in die Politik ein, und zwar offen (Fritz) bzw. hinter den Kulissen, über diskrete, diplomatische und gesellschaftliche Kanäle (Heinrich) – obwohl Letzteres von Derix und ihren akademischen Kollegen vehement bestritten wird.

Beide Thyssen Brüder halfen dabei, den Nazis zum Aufstieg zu verhelfen. Aber Simone Derix versucht wiederum, sie als die schuldfreien, in die „Falle“ gelockten, illustren Industriellen darzustellen, die sie zu keinem Zeitpunkt gewesen sind.

1933 schaffte es Heinrich’s Tochter Margit – durch ihren unerbittlichen Vater, ihre anti-semitische Mutter und ihre pseudo-fromme, elitäre Sacré Coeur Erziehung verdorben -, die im Rechnitzer Schloss geboren und aufgewachsen war, den Status der Familie durch ihre Einheiratung in den ungarischen Adel (Ivan Batthyany) zu erheben – Das Gleiche erreichte auch Fritz Thyssen’s Tochter Anita (Gabor Zichy).

Am 8. April 1938, eine Woche nach dem Anschluss Österreichs an Nazi Deutschland, übertrug Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sein Gut Rechnitz, welches einst jahrhundertelang (von 1527 bis 1871) im Besitz der Batthyanys gewesen war, an Margit. Unsere Forschungen deuten darauf hin, dass dies geschah, sodass der im Tessin verschanzte Baron keine offensichtlichen Besitzungen im Deutschen Reich mehr aufwies.

Simone Derix gibt an, dies sei statt dessen aus steuerlichen Gründen geschehen.

Da alle seine deutschen Firmen durch holländische Finanzinstrumente gehalten wurden, waren die schweizer Behörden, die, obwohl offiziell neutral, bis zur Kriegswende 1943 pro-Deutsch eingestellt waren, versichert, dass Heinrich Thyssen für sie nicht zum politischen Problem werden würde.

Über sein Unternehmen Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (später Thyssengas) finanzierte Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sowohl Schloss Rechnitz als auch das Ehepar Batthyany-Thyssen diskret weiter. Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs verwendete seine Ruhr-Zeche Walsum, die zu Thyssengas gehörte, Zwangsarbeiter in der Größenordnung von zwei Dritteln der Gesamtbelegschaft; ein Rekord in der damaligen deutschen Industrie. In der Umgebung von Rechnitz wurden bergbauliche Interessen durch Thyssengas ausgeschöpft.

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Während Jahrhunderten war das riesige Rechnitzer Schloss, in dessen Hof, so wurde gesagt, ein ganzes Husarenregiment exerzieren konnte, das Machtzentrum von Rechnitz gewesen. Wie genau veränderte sich diese Situation nachdem die Nazis in Österreich die Staatsgewalt übernommen hatten? Wo genau in Rechnitz installierte sich die Partei mit ihren verschiedenen Organisationen?

Simone Derix liefert keine Antworten auf diese Fragen, obwohl sie mittels viel wortreichem Wirbel vorgibt, genau das zu tun. Stattdessen schreibt sie in vager, ausweichender Manier: “…..die Batthyanys (fanden) auf Schloss Rechnitz im Zweiten Weltkrieg mit Repräsentanten der NSDAP und des NS-Regimes ein einvernehmliches Auskommen“.

1934 lebten 170 Juden in Rechnitz. Am 1. November 1938, eine Woche vor der Reichskristallnacht, wurde Rechnitz als „Judenfrei“ erklärt, eine Situation die gewisse Mitglieder der Thyssen Familie begrüßt hätten (siehe hier). Doch Simone Derix weigert sich, den Antisemitismus von Schlüsselfiguren der Familie anzuerkennen. Sie beschränkt diese Eigenschaft statt dessen auf Randfiguren.

Im Frühjahr 1939, so Derix, wurde Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, dessen Vater Oberingenieur bei Thyssen war und der selbst auf landwirtschaftlichen Gütern der Thyssen-Familie gearbeitet hatte, nach Schloss Rechnitz gesandt, um dessen Bewirtschaftung zu übernehmen, welche sich schon bald auf Zwangsarbeiter aus dem ganzen Nazi-besetzten Europa stützte.

In jenem Sommer kam Franz Podezin als Beamter des Gestapo Grenzpostens nach Rechnitz. Er war seit 1931 ein Mitglied der SA gewesen und wurde später SS-Hauptscharführer. Er wurde ebenfalls Leiter der NSDAP in Rechnitz.

Simone Derix kommentiert: „Beide (Dienst)stellen (von Podezin) waren räumlich getrennt“, aber sie sagt nicht, wo genau diese Stellen lokalisiert waren. Stefan Klemp vom Simon Wiesenthal Zentrum hat geschrieben, dass das Hauptquartier der Rechnitzer Gestapo im Rechnitzer Schloss war. Entweder ist seine Aussage korrekt oder aber Simone Derix hat Recht, wenn sie sagt, dass Podezin erst im Herbst 1944 ein Büro im Schloss bezog, als er NSDAP Leiter des Unterabschnitts I des Abschnitts VI (Rechnitz) des Südostwall-Baus wurde.

Indem sie Klarheit vermissen lässt, umgeht Derix den wunden Punkt und trägt zur Rechtfertigung von Schuldigen bei – insbesondere der Thyssens als Besitzer, Geldgeber und „Herrschaften“ des Schlosses.

Die Aktivitäten an diesem verstärkten Verteidigungssystem, welches die Rote Armee aufhalten sollte, wurden von der Organisation Todt koordiniert (geleitet vom Rüstungsminister Albert Speer), vom Wehrmacht Generalmajor Wilhelm Weiss, und, im betreffenden Abschnitt, vom Gauleiter der Steiermark, zu der das Burgenland damals gehörte, Siegfried Uiberreither.

Ortsansässige und Zwangsarbeiter verschiedener Nationen wurden eingesetzt. Ihre Behandlung hing von ihrer Position innerhalb der Rassenhierarchie ab, welche die Nazi-Ideologen verfasst hatten. Am untersten Ende, und damit den schlechtesten Bedingungen und größten Schikanen ausgesetzt waren Slawen, Russen und Völker der Staaten der Sowjetunion. Niemand jedoch wurde so schlecht behandelt wie die Juden.

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Wie genau verbrachte Margit Batthyany-Thyssen die 12 Jahre der Nazi Tyrannei?

Die Gräfin übernahm die Rolle ihrer Mutter und Großmutter vor ihr als „Königin von Rechnitz“, während sie weiterhin weitläufig innerhalb des Reiches reiste. Nachdem sie die Pferdebegeisterung ihres Vaters geerbt hatte, beaufsichtigte sie die Thyssenschen Pferdezucht- und Rennsportaktivitäten in Bad Homburg bei Frankfurt, Hoppegarten/Berlin und Wien, besuchte Rennen in verschiedenen europäischen Städten und nahm Trophäen im Namen ihres Vaters entgegen, dem nicht mehr länger daran gelegen war, ausserhalb seines sicheren Tessiner Hafens gesehen zu werden.

1942 gewann ihr Erlenhof Hengst Ticino das Österreichische Derby in Wien-Friedenau und das Deutsche Derby in Hamburg. 1944 gelang dasselbe ihrem Erlenhof Hengst Nordlicht, doch das Deutsche Derby wurde wegen der Schäden in Hamburg durch alliierte Bombardierungen in Berlin abgehalten.

Bei diesen öffentlichen Veranstaltungen war Margit Batthyany im Kreise von Nazi Offiziellen zu sehen und wurde von diesen als ein Mitglied der höchsten Elite im Nazi Staat gefeiert. Es ist eindeutig, dass der Krieg für sie keine Veränderung in ihrem privilegierten Lebensstil mit sich brachte.

Jedes dieser Ereignisse war auch ein sehr öffentlicher Ausdruck der Unterstützung und Legitimierung des Nazi Regimes im Namen der Thyssens und der Batthyanys, doch jeglicher Bezug zu dieser Funktion fehlt in Derix’s Abhandlung.

Margit reiste auch regelmäßig während des Kriegs in die Schweiz, wo sie ihren Bruder Heini und ihren Vater Heinrich in Lugano, Zürich, Davos oder Flims traf. Es ist klar, dass auch sie Margit’s Lebensstil unterstützten. Dies bleibt bei Derix wiederum unerwähnt.

Während des Krieges in Rechnitz hatte Margit Batthyany anscheinend Liebesbeziehungen mit Hans Joachim Oldenburg (von der Familie Batthyany bestätigt) und Franz Podezin (durch einen Schlossangestellten angegeben und von Simone Derix erwähnt). Dies spiegelt die Informationen wider, die uns vor vielen Jahren durch Heini Thyssen’s ungarischen Rechtsanwalt, Josi Groh, gegeben wurden. Angestellte der Thyssens waren in einer idealen Position, solche Dinge zu beobachten, da sie Aufenthaltsräume säubern, Frühstück im Bett servieren und Gegenstände des täglichen Lebens der privaten Natur beschaffen mussten.

Seltsamerweise hat Simone Derix trotzdem das Bedürfnis, solche Details als „Spekulationen“ zu brandmarken, wodurch sie nahe legt, dass sie künstlich erhoben werden, um ein ungerechtfertigt schlechtes Licht auf ein Mitglied der Thyssen Familie zu lenken.

Der einzige Grund, warum wir Margit Batthyany’s spezifische Sexualneigung beleuchtet haben war, weil sie die intime Beziehung der Thyssens mit dem Nazi Regime so kraftvoll symbolisiert. Diese wird im Rahmen der Aufarbeitung der Rechnitzer Kriegsverbrechen nach dem Krieg an besonderer Bedeutung gewinnen.

Akademiker wie Simone Derix und Walter Manoschek, sowie Mitglieder der Refugius Gedenkinitiative sind nicht müde geworden zu beschwören, wir hätten die Geschichtsschreibung dieses Kapitels aus dem Kontext gerissen und in eine billige ‘Sex & Crime’ Saga verwandelt. Das Einzige, was durch diese fehlgeleiteten Beschuldigungen erreicht wird, ist das die Thyssens und Batthyanys einmal mehr davor abgeschirmt werden, ihre Verantwortung zu übernehmen, der sie sich, mit Ausnahme von Sacha Batthyany, bisher so energisch entzogen haben.

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Mit dem Jahr 1944 wurde der Nazi-Traum zum Alptraum. Im März besetzte Deutschland Ungarn und installierte ein Sondereinsatzkommando unter Adolf Eichmann, der die Deportation von 825.000 Juden organisierte. Bis Juli wurden 320.000 davon in den Gaskammern von Auschwitz ermordet und ca. 60.000 machte man zu Zwangsarbeiter in Österreich. Im Oktober, als die ungarischen Faschisten die Regierungsgeschäfte von dem authoritären Miklos Horthy übernahmen, wurden 200.000 Budapester Juden zur Zielscheibe.

Laut Eva Schwarzmayer wurden ca. 35.000 ungarische Juden für Holz- und Schanzarbeiten am Südostwall-Bau eingesetzt. Von diesen arbeiteten insgesamt bis zu 6.000 im Abschnitt Rechnitz und waren in vier verschiedenen Lagern untergebracht: In den Kellern und Lagerräumen des Schlosses, im sogenannten Schweizermeierhof in der Nähe des Kreuzstadls, in einem Barackenlager namens „Wald“ oder „Süd“ und in der früheren Synagoge. Währenddessen wurde der Volkssturm konstituiert, dem Hans Joachim Oldenburg beitrat.

Nichts von alledem wird von Simone Derix erwähnt.

Mit Beginn des Jahres 1945, als die westlichen und sowjetischen Armeen auf Hitler’s Deutschland eindrangen, geschahen zunehmend die sogenannten „Endphase-Verbrechen“ als Teil der Nazi Politik der ‘verbrannten Erde’. Dies bedeutet, dass Belastungsmaterial, inklusive Lagerinsassen, vernichtet und gleichermaßen diejenigen heimischen Bürger ausgeschaltet werden sollten, die ihre Ansicht zum Ausdruck brachten, der Krieg sei für die Deutschen verloren.

Diese Einstellung währte bis in die Nachkriegszeit hinein, sodass Zeugen, die bereit waren, gegen nationalsozialistische Kriegsverbrecher auszusagen, durch politische Fememorde zum Schweigen gebracht wurde. Dies geschah in Rechnitz mehrmals.

Nun begannen die sogenannten „Todesmärsche“, in denen Nazi Opfer aus ihren Gefängnissen evakuiert und vor den alliierten Fronten hergetrieben wurden, wobei viele unterwegs starben oder von Mitgliedern der SA, SS, des Volkssturms, der Hitlerjugend, der örtlichen Polizei etc., die sie bewachten, in aller Öffentlichkeit, oft in Sichtweite der örtlichen Bevölkerung, ermordet wurden.

Insgesamt scheinen mindestens 800 Juden in dieser Endphase des Kriegs in Rechnitz getötet worden zu sein. Das sogenannte „Massaker von Rechnitz“ an ca. 180 Juden in der Nacht vom 24./25. März 1945 ist in Wirklichkeit nur eines von mehreren mörderischen Aktionen. Simone Derix erwähnt kurz „bereits vor dem 24. März 1945 sind Erschießungen (in Rechnitz) bekannt“. Aber sie macht keinerlei Angaben zu diesen anderen Rechnitzer Massakern.

Annemarie Vitzthum aus Rechnitz gab während der Verfahren 1946/8 vor dem Volksgericht zu Protokoll, dass im Februar 1945 acht hundert Juden zu Fuß in Rechnitz angekommen seien und dass Franz Podezin sie „willkommen geheissen“ habe, in dem er hoch zu Pferde auf den erschöpften Menschen herumgetrampelt sei.

Laut österreichischen Ermittlern wurden Anfang März 220 ungarische Juden in Rechnitz erschossen.

Franz Cserer aus Rechnitz gab an, dass ca. Mitte März acht kranke Juden von Schachendorf nach Rechnitz gebracht worden seien und dass Franz Podezin sie beim jüdischen Friedhof erschossen habe.

Josef Mandel aus Rechnitz machte eine Aussage, dass am 17. oder 19. März ein Transport von 800 Juden aus Bozsok (Poschendorf) in Rechnitz angekommen sei. Der Überlebende Paul Szomogyi gab an, dass am 26. März 400 Juden aus seiner Zwangsarbeitergruppe in Rechnitz ermordet worden seien.

Simone Derix erwähnt mit keinem Wort die erhebliche Größenordnung dieser zusätzlichen Verbrechen.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel schreibt: „Paul Szomogyi war am 22. oder 23. März zusammen mit 3-5.000 Leidensgenossen von Köszeg in den Abschnitt Rechnitz verlegt worden“. Otto Ickowitz berichtete, dass kranke Gefangene aus einer Gruppe, die vom Lager in Bucsu kamen in einem Wald bei Rechnitz ermordet wurden.

Unglaublicherweise behandelt Simone Derix diesen beschleunigenden Horror indem sie die folgende, technokratische Sprache verwendet: „In den letzten Kriegsmonaten trafen in Rechnitz ganz unterschiedliche Typen von Lagergesellschaften und die jeweils damit verbundenen Erfahrungen aufeinander und verquickten sich mit lokalen Herrschaftsstrukturen“.

Dies klingt fast wie eine Zeile aus der Hand von Adolf Eichmann persönlich.

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Die Personen, die in der Nacht vom 24./25. März in das Massaker und/oder das Fest involviert waren umfassten unter anderem: den Kreisleiter von Oberwart, Eduard Nicka und weitere Funktionäre des gleichen Hauptquartiers der NSDAP, verschiedene Steyrische SA-Männer, Franz Podezin, seine Sekretärin Hildegard Stadler, Hans-Joachim Oldenburg, das SS-Mitglied Ludwig Groll, den Leiter des Unterabschnitts II des Abschnitts VI des Südostwall-Baus Josef Muralter, Stefan Beigelböck, Johann Paal (Transport), Franz Ostermann (Transport) und Hermann Schwarz (Transport).

Derix kommentiert: „Die mutmaßlichen Täter/innen rekrutierten sich aus dem Kreis dieser Festgesellschaft, zu der auch die Schlossherren Margit und Ivan Batthyany zählten“.

Später half Margit Batthyany den zwei Hauptverdächtigen, Podezin und Oldenburg, zu fliehen und sich einer Strafverfolgung zu entziehen. Wenn sie nichts mit dem Rechnitz Massaker zu tun gehabt und die Vorkommnisse verwerflich gefunden hätte, erscheint es logisch, davon auszugehen, dass sie geholfen hätte, die Verantwortlichen ihrer gerechten Strafe zuzuführen, statt Ihnen dabei zu helfen, dieser auszuweichen.

Simone Derix erscheint fixiert darauf, die Thyssens frei zu sprechen und geht dabei sogar soweit, in Erwägung zu ziehen, dass Margit eventuell Opfern geholfen haben könnte – gibt dabei aber keinerlei Hinweise, wie sie zu dieser Einschätzung kommt.

Während der Nachkriegsverfahren wurde Josef Muralter als Organisator des Gefolgschaftsfests dargestellt. Verschiedene Akademiker haben auf diese angebliche Tatsache viel Wert gelegt, um zu zeigen, dass Margit Batthyany nicht die Gastgeberin des Abends gewesen sei, wie wir angegeben haben.

Aber solange keine Dokumente vorliegen, die beweisen, dass eine nationalsozialistische Organisation für das Fest bezahlt hat (und Derix legt solche Dokumente nicht vor) bleibt es Tatsache, dass Margit Batthyany die übergeordnete Gastgeberin war, denn es war ihre Familie, die für das Schloss und alles, was darin geschah bezahlte. Hierfür gibt es dokumentarische Beweise (siehe hier).

Simone Derix gesteht die zentrale Rolle der Personengruppe, die im Schloss Batthyany-Thyssen ansässig waren, bei den schrecklichen Missandlungen ein, die während des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Rechnitz stattfanden. Sie räumt sogar ein, dass manche Menschen der Ansicht sein könnten, es gebe hier Raum, Fragen der moralischen und juristischen Verantwortung an die Besitzer zu richten. Aber sie klagt die Thyssens und die Batthyanys nie ob dieser Verantwortung oder Schuld an, und impliziert statt dessen, dass sie wahrscheinlich „nichts gesehen“ haben.

Es ist die gleiche Art der Verteidigung, die auch Albert Speer anwendete, als er Hugh Trevor-Roper anlog, dass er über das Programm der Endlösung nicht unterrichtet gewesen sei, weil es „so schwierig war, dieses Geheimnis zu kennen, selbst wenn man Mitglied der Regierung war“. Diese Taktik zielt darauf ab, mächtige Individuen abzuschirmen und die Gesamtschuld der Allgemeinheit zu zu schieben.

Wie in bisherigen Bänden der Serie so sind es auch hier wieder die Thyssen Manager, die beschuldigt werden, und in diesem Falle insbesondere Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Derix behauptet, er habe „seine Machtbefugnisse – auch gegenüber den Arbeitgebern – erweitern (können)“, er sei „aktiv an der Herstellung einer nationalsozialistischen ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ beteiligt (gewesen) und habe „rassistisch und antisemitisch“ agiert. Derix erwähnt jedoch nicht einen einzigen Beweis für ihre Beschuldigungen.

Falls Margit Batthyany ein Problem mit diesen Verhaltensweisen gehabt hätte, wäre es für sie einfach gewesen, sich für die Dauer des Krieges in irgend ein europäisches Hotel einzumieten. Sie tat dies aber nicht. Man muss also annehmen, dass sie mit den rassistischen und politischen Drangsalierungen der damaligen Zeit einverstanden war. Derix aber zieht diese logische Schlussfolgerung nicht.

Margit wählte die Teilnahme am Rechnitzer Terrorregime. Derix bevorzugt es, den weniger negativ klingenden Begriff der „Volksgemeinschaft“ anzuwenden.

Erst als die russische Armee sich näherte ergriff Margit Batthyany, zusammen mit Hans-Joachim Oldenburg und einigen ihrer Angestellten, die Flucht in privaten Automobilen und ließ alle anderen im Stich. Ebenso tat es Podezin.

Emmerich Cserer aus Rechnitz sagte aus, dass am 28. und 29. März große Transporte von jeweils hunderten von Zwangsarbeitern Rechnitz verließen. Josef Muralter gab zu Protokoll, dass er am 29. März das Schloss mit 400 Gefangenen aus dem Schlosskeller verließ.

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Die Einwohner von Rechnitz mussten danach die Konfrontation mit der Roten Armee ertragen, das Niederbrennen ihres zentralen, 600-Jahre alten Schlosses als Teil der Nazi Politik der verbrannten Erde, die Nachkriegsermittlungen und die Stigmatisierung ihres Städtchens, die bis heute anhält. Diese Stigmatisierung ist jedoch nicht darauf zurück zu führen, wie Derix behauptet, dass der Fall durch Medienreportagen wie unserer „skandalisiert“ worden sei. Sie ist vielmehr Folge der Tatsache, dass die Verbrechen ob der Verschlagenheit der Flüchtenden nie richtig aufgeklärt und bestraft werden konnten.

Die Einwohner von Rechnitz haben ihre Pflicht getan, indem sie viele Zeugenaussagen tätigten, die es ermöglicht hätten, die Schuldigen zu verurteilen. Nichtsdestotrotz wurden sie später von Akademikern und manchen Medien beschuldigt, über die Vorfälle geschwiegen zu haben. Als wir als englisch-sprachige Außenseiter nach Rechnitz kamen sprachen Menschen zu uns unaufgefordert und frei über die Ereignisse. Allen voran der Historiker des Städtchens, Josef Hotwagner, der uns empfohlen worden war. Sie verbargen in keinster Weise, was dort geschehen war.

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Nach ihrer Flucht, so Simone Derix, installierte sich Margit Batthyany im April 1945 in einem Haus in Düns in Vorarlberg. Während des Sommers sei sie „reisen“ gegangen. Was Derix nicht erwähnt, ist dass Margit Batthyany, anscheinend ohne jegliche Probleme, im Juli 1945 zum ersten Mal nach dem Krieg in die Schweiz einreiste. Es ist nicht vorstellbar, dass die Schweizer Behörden zu diesem Zeitpunkt nicht darüber informiert waren, was wenige Monate davor im Burgenland geschehen war.

Laut Derix war Batthyany ab November für die Französische Militärregierung im österreichischen Feldkirch tätig, mit anderen Worten, sie schaffte es, sich in die alliierten Verwaltungsstrukturen einzubinden. Dies dürfte mit den top-level Verbindungen ihrer Familie zusammen gehangen haben und mit der Tatsache, dass sie Informationen über eine Region bieten konnte, die nunmehr unter sowjetischer Besatzung war. Derix aber gibt ihrerseits keinerlei Anhaltspunkte für den Grund dieser plötzlichen „Anstellung“.

Ein Jahr später, im Juli 1946, so schreibt Derix, habe Margit ihren Bruder Stephan Thyssen-Bornemisza in Hannover besucht. Dies war ein Mann, der ein förderndes Mitglied der SS gewesen war, und während des Krieges in verschiedene industrielle Aktivitäten involviert war, die den deutschen Kriegsanstrengungen unter Verwendung von Zwangsarbeitern zugute kamen, was er nach dem Krieg strikt leugnete. Derix erwähnt Stephan Thyssen’s pro-Nazi Aktivitäten an dieser Stelle jedoch nicht.

Laut Derix zog Margit Batthyany, finanziell von ihrem Vater abhängig wie sie war, im August 1946 in seine Villa Favorita in Lugano.

Unsere Forschungen ergaben, dass Margit im November 1946 an ihre Schwester Gaby Bentinck schrieb: „Damit es nicht auffällt, habe ich mit O.(ldenburg) besprochen, dass er vorerst zwei Jahre alleine nach Südamerika geht. Habe Visa für ihn in Aussicht, was sagst Du dazu?“ Diese Hinweise übergaben wir Sacha Batthyany und er verwendete sie in seinem Artikel (aber nicht in seinem Buch!). Simone Derix ignoriert sie und erwähnt lediglich, dass Margit im November 1946 „Pläne“ gehabt habe, „Europa zu verlassen“.

Die Tatsache dass Margit Batthyany zu diesem Zeitpunkt in Erwägung ziehen konnte, Vermögenswerte zwischen Ländern und sogar Kontinenten zu verschieben zeigt wiederum, wie privilegiert Ihre Lebensumstände im Vergleich zu denen der großen Mehrheit waren. Sicherlich hat sie auch auf Investitionen zurück greifen können, die die Familie bereits vor dem Krieg in Südamerika getätigt hatte.

Während dessen wurden im Burgenland 1946 achtzehn Menschen beschuldigt, in Rechnitz Kriegsverbrechen begangen zu haben, von denen sieben in einem Volksgerichtshof angeklagt wurden, inklusive, in Abwesenheit, Franz Podezin und Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Aber nur zwei wurden verurteilt, und diese Urteile in den frühen 1950er Jahren durch österreichische Amnestiegesetze aufgehoben. Die Verfahren erstreckten sich über zwei Jahre und wurden sogar erst 20 Jahre später im Jahr 1965 in Deutschland endgültig abgeschlossen.

Am 7. Januar 1947 wurde Margit Batthyany das erste und einzige Mal in der Sache befragt, und zwar durch die Schweizerische Kantonalpolizei in Buchs (Schweizer Staatsschutz-Fiche, Akteneintrag C.2.16505). Sie musste nie als Zeugin vor dem österreichischen Gericht erscheinen, eine Tatsache, die auf einer Informationstafel des 2012 eröffneten Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museums angeprangert wird (in den kleineren englischen und ungarischen Versionen, nicht aber in der deutschen Hauptversion).

Wurde Margit Batthyany-Thyssen je aufgefordert, vor Gericht zu erscheinen? Falls nicht, weshalb nicht? Spielte die Neutralität ihres Gastlandes eine Rolle hierbei? Oder leitete sich der Schutz, den sie offensichtlich genoss direkt von ihrer überaus bevorteilten gesellschaftlichen Stellung ab?

Simone Derix behauptet, die Gräfin habe während ihrer Befragung „versucht“, Oldenburg ein Alibi zu verschaffen. In Wahrheit hat sie ihm ein Alibi verschafft, indem sie sagte, er habe sich die ganze Nacht auf dem Schloss aufgehalten. Sacha Batthyany’s Schlussfolgerung ist eindeutiger: „Sie schützt ihn, ihren Geliebten, denn Oldenburg ist von Zeugen beim Massaker gesehen worden“.

Im Sommer 1948, so unsere Forschungen, schrieb Margit ihrer Schwester Gaby Bentinck: „O.(ldenburg) hat ein fabelhaftes Angebot nach Argentinien zur größten Molkereiwirtschaft. Im August ist er dort“. Auch dieser Beweis wurde von uns an Sacha Batthyany weiter gegeben, der ihn veröffentlichte, aber von Simone Derix wird er nicht erwähnt. Sie versäumte es auch, gewisse Familienarchive in London zu konsultieren.

Am 13. August 1948 hielt das Gericht fest, dass laut einer mündlichen Information der Polizeidienststelle Oberwart, sowohl Franz Podezin als auch Hans-Joachim Oldenburg in der Schweiz anwesend waren und planten, mit Margit Batthyany nach Südamerika auszuwandern, und damit ihrem Mann zu folgen, der bereits dort war. Am 30. August 1948 informierte Interpol Wien die Behörden in Lugano per Telegramm:

„Es besteht die Gefahr, dass sich die beiden nach Südamerika begeben. Bitte um Festnahme“. Die Verhaftungsbefehle gegen die Flüchtigen wurden im Schweizer Polizeianzeiger vom 30.08.48, Seite 1643, Art. 16965 ausgeschrieben. All dies ist von Sacha Batthyany recherchiert und veröffentlicht worden. Simone Derix erwähnt es nicht.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel fasst die Gerichtsverfahren 1946/8 folgendermaßen zusammen: „Wegen der Flucht der beiden verdächtigten Rädelsführer Podezin und Oldenburg hatte das Gericht erhebliche Probleme bei der Wahrheitsfindung.“

Sacha Batthyany kommentiert: „Sie (Margit) hat ihm zur Flucht verholfen, dem mutmaßlichen Massenmörder (Oldenburg)“.

Aber die Linie, die Simone Derix verfolgt ist wiederum die, Margit Batthyany-Thyssen zu beschützen, indem sie schreibt: „Unklar blieb auch, welche Rolle Margit Batthyany dabei zukam, als es zwei Hauptverdächtigen (Oldenburg und Podezin), gelang, sich der Befragung durch die österreichischen Behörden zu entziehen und so letzlich einer möglichen Bestrafung zu entgehen“.

Simone Derix behauptet auch, Franz Podezin sei in der Sache befragt worden. Dies ist unwahr. Podezin ist nie über seine angebliche Verstrickung in das Rechnitz Massaker befragt worden.

Derix praktiziert also nicht nur eine gravierende Entlastung zugunsten der Thyssen Familie, ihre Publikation bleibt auch hinter der gegenwärtigen Forschungslage zurück und ist in einem fundamentalen Punkt unwahr.

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Margit Batthyany-Thyssen und ihr Mann Ivan Batthyany lebten von 1948 bis 1954 auf einem Gut, das sie in Uruguay gekauft hatten. Was aus Podezin’s und Oldenburg’s Reiseplänen wurde ist weniger klar.

Simone Derix erklärt, dass Hans Joachim Oldenburg ab 1950 auf dem Gut Obringhoven arbeitete, welches Thyssengas gehörte, ein Fakt, der noch nie zuvor erwähnt worden ist. Dies ist ein seltener, kostbarer Beitrag von Derix zum Fall Rechnitz.

Dies zeigt auch, dass die Thyssens kein Problem damit hatten, diesen Gutsverwalter, der vor einem österreichischen Gericht angeklagt worden war, an Kriegsverbrechen teilgenommen zu haben, wieder zu beschäftigen. Die Thyssens gaben damit Hans-Joachim Oldenburg nicht nur eine Arbeitsstelle, sondern, so scheint es, auch Schutz vor weiteren Ermittlungen gegen ihn.

Doch Derix versäumt es, diesen Hintergrund kritisch zu beleuchten

Soweit es Podezin angeht, so schreibt Stefan Klemp vom Simon Wiesenthal Zentrum, er sei als Agent für die Westmächte in Ost-Deutschland untergetaucht. Podezin wurde anscheinend in der sowjetischen Besatzungszone wegen seiner Aktivitäten für die alliierten Geheimdienste verhaftet und zu 25 Jahren Gefängnis verurteilt, allerdings nach 11 Jahren frei gelassen. Er siedelte dann nach West-Deutschland über, wo er sich als Versicherungskaufmann in Kiel niederließ.

1958 wurde die Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen in Ludwigsburg gegründet. Diese eröffnete 1963 ein Mordermittlungsverfahren gegen Franz Podezin und Hans-Joachim Oldenburg. Ein Brief vom 18.02.1963 macht klar, dass der Staatsanwalt wusste, dass Podezin so stark belastet war, dass seine Verhaftung von Nöten war. Und dennoch verzögerte er das Verfahren. Oldenburg wurde seinerseits am 26.03.1963 von der Zentralstelle in Dortmund befragt.

Als die Polizei schließlich versuchte, am 10. Mai Podezin zu verhaften, war dieser nach Dänemark geflohen. Kurt Griese, ein früherer SS-Hauptscharführer und nunmehr Regierungskriminalermittler, blockierte nun das Verfahren weiter, so Klemp, sodass es Podezin möglich war, in die Schweiz auszureisen. Von dort erpresste er Margit Batthyany, ihm bei der Flucht nach Südafrika behilflich zu sein. Dort arbeitete er für Hytec, eine Firma mit Geschäftsverbindungen zur Thyssen AG, wie Stefan Klemp ermittelte.

Sacha Batthyany schreibt: „Ob Tante Margit (Podezin) in den Sechzigerjahren zur Flucht verhalf und ihm auch noch einen Job vermittelte in Südafrika?“. Aber das Thema wird von Simone Derix außen vor gelassen.

Wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung zusätzlich zu unserem Artikel 2007 berichtete, wurde gegen Margit Batthyany nie Anklage erhoben, obwohl einer der deutschen Ermittler 1963 dem österreichischen Justizministerium anzeigte, dass sie verdächtigt wurde, den beiden Rechnitz Mördern zur Flucht verholfen zu haben. Warum wurde gegen sie nie Anklage erhoben? Derix erwähnt diesen Punkt nicht und liefert daher keine Erklärungen.

Laut Eva Holpfer wurde das Verfahren gegen Hans Joachim Oldenburg auf Anweisung des Staatsanwalts am 21.09.1965 wegen Mangels an Beweisen eingestellt.

Mit den 1960er Jahren war Margit Batthyany zurück an der Rennbahn und nahm z.B. beim österrechischen Derby in Wien die Trophäe für Settebello entgegen, den sie gezüchtet hatte. Sie kehrte auch regelmäßig nach Rechnitz zurück (wo sie 1989 starb), v.a. zur Jagdsaison, und machte sich durch die Übergabe von Land und anderen Geschenken an Ortsansässige beliebt, wie uns von Rechnitzer Bürgern berichtet und von Sacha Batthyany bestätigt wurde.

1970 wurde Margit Batthyany-Thyssen die Schweizer Staatsbürgerschaft zuerkannt, um die sie sich seit Ende des Krieges bemüht hatte. Im selben Jahr begann Horst Littmann vom Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge in Rechnitz zu graben, musste allerdings aufhören, da die Genehmigung seitens des österreichischen Innenministeriums ausblieb.

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In den 1980er Jahren initiierte der Antifaschist Hans Anthofer den ersten Rechnitzer Gedenkort für die jüdischen Opfer. Doch in den frühen 1990er Jahren wurde der jüdische Friedhof in Rechnitz immer noch vandalisiert und laut Eva Schwarzmayer gab es selbst bei der Gedenkveranstaltung 2005 noch Personen des öffentlichen Lebens, die sagten, es sei nicht sicher ob das Massaker am Kreuzstadl wirklich stattgefunden habe.

2012 dann wurde der Gedenkort zu einem Museum ausgebaut und vom österreichischen Präsident Heinz Fischer eröffnet. Dieser teilte den Anwesenden mit, dass „weiterhin alles unternommen werden wird, um die Leichen der Opfer zu finden“.

Die Refugius Gedenkinitiative hat davon gesprochen, dass sich die Einstellung in Rechnitz verändert habe. Gleichzeitig prangert sie auf einer der Informationstafeln des Museums an, dass „die aktive Erinnerungs- und Gedenkarbeit noch immer keinen gesellschaftlichen Konsens (findet)“.

Was auffällt ist, dass, im Widerspruch zu ihren zum Ausdruck gebrachten Absichten zur Aufarbeitung der Geschichte und Ehrung der Opfer (siehe Fußnote), offensichtlich keiner der Thyssens bisher jemals an einer der Gedenkveranstaltungen in Rechnitz teilgenommen hat.

Das Amt der Burgenländischen Landesregierung hat uns mitgeteilt, dass „Die Familien Thyssen bzw. Batthyany….im Burgenland (und Österreich-weit) im Bereich Erinnerungskultur und Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit überhaupt keine Rolle (spielen)“.

Warum tun sie dies nicht?

Sacha Batthyany hat berichtet, dass er von Familienmitgliedern Drohungen erhalten hat, als er versuchte, die Geschichte der Familie während der Nazi Ära zu durchleuchten.

Was die Einwohner von Rechnitz angeht, so sind sie verständlicherweise gespalten zum Thema. Es wäre seltsam wenn es anders wäre.

Aber bei den Thyssens existiert eine solche Fragmentierung nicht. Sie scheinen einheitlich ungerührt und unengagiert zu sein. Dies dürfte jetzt noch dadurch verstärkt werden, dass sie wohl annehmen, die Akademiker, die sie beauftragt haben, hätten Schlüsse gezogen, die sie schuldfrei erscheinen lassen.

Aber in Wahrheit sind sie nicht schuldfrei und es ist jetzt an der Zeit für die Thyssens, klare Aussagen zu machen, auf welcher Seite der Grenze zwischen Faschismus und Anti-Faschismus sie stehen.

Nur wenn die Thyssens (und die Batthyanys als ihre örtlichen Repräsentanten) ihre Leitbildfunktion wahrnehmen, kann die Erinnerungskultur um das Rechnitz Massaker darauf hoffen, in der breiten Öffentlichkeit einvernehmlicher zu werden.

Indem sie die nächste Gedenkveranstaltung Ende März 2018 in Rechnitz besuchen – und dies auch in den Medien berichtet wird – können Mitglieder der Thyssen Dynastie in dieser Hinsicht eine wirklich öffentliche Aussage tätigen und ihrer geschichtlichen Verantwortung transparent und effektiv nachkommen.

Nach all den Ausflüchten der Vergangenheit hält es die informierte Öffentlichkeit jetzt für dringend angebracht, dass diese Familien endlich ihren Beitrag zur Heilung des Falles Rechnitz leisten und WIRKLICHE Solidarität zeigen bei der Ehrung der Toten und Versehrten dieser katastrophalen Ereignisse.

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Fußnote: Die folgenden Statements wurden bisher abgegeben:

1) Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, in der Sendung „Titel, Thesen, Temperamente“ (Oktober 2007): „Ich unterstütze es, wenn die Familie selbst die damaligen Geschehnisse aufarbeitet. Die Ergebnisse dieser Recherchen sollen transparent und öffentlich zugänglich sein“.

2) Offizielle Webseite der Familie Batthyany: „Seit unserem Erfahren der Geschehnisse in den letzten Jahren sind wir zutiefst bestürzt und ergriffen……Viele Fragen stellen sich uns. Auf sie wissen wir keine Antworten…….Wir hoffen, dass das Gedenken an diese Opfer immer mehr gepflegt wird und das Grab der Ermordeten von Rechnitz, das bis heute unentdeckt geblieben ist, eines Tages gefunden wird“.

Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, Tochter von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, nimmt Preise für Gewinner aus den Rennställen der Thyssens aus der Hand von nationalsozialistischen Funktionsträgern beim Großen Preis von Wien 1942 in Empfang und legitimiert so das Nazi Regime im Namen sowohl der Thyssens als auch der Batthyanys (photo Menzendorf, Berlin; copyright Archiv von David R L Litchfield).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Auszug aus den Mitschriften der Vorstandssitzungen der Thyssen-Bornemisza Gruppe (1939-1944) in Lugano, Flims, Davos bzw. Zürich unter Mitwirkung von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Wilhelm Roelen (Generalbevollmächtigter) und Heinrich Lübke (Direktor der August Thyssen Bank Berlin).  Diese Seite zeigt, dass während des Zweiten Weltkriegs die Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, dem Vater von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, gehörende Firma Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke (Thyssengas) im Umland des Sitzes des Thyssen-Bornemisza Schlosses Rechnitz / Burgenland (Österreich) Bergbauinteressen ausschöpfte (photo copyright Archiv David R L Litchfield)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



Insgesamt scheinen mindestens 800 Juden in der Endphase des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Rechnitz (Österreich), dem Sitz des Thyssen-Bornemisza Schlosses und Wohnsitz von Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, umgebracht worden zu sein. Das sogenannte “Rechnitz Massaker” in der Nacht vom 24./25. März 1945 ist in Wirklichkeit nur eines von mehreren solcher mörderischen Geschehnisse an diesem Ort zu jener Zeit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     




“Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen” ist Band 4 der Serie “Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert”, gefördert von der  Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Köln und veröffentlicht im Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn. Sieben Seiten des 500-Seiten starken Buches befassen sich mit dem Leben der Batthyany-Thyssens in Rechnitz während des Zweiten Weltkriegs und im Besonderen mit ihrer Verstrickung in das sogenannte “Rechnitz Massaker” (photo copyright Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn).                          Dieses Buch ist eine Kurzfassung der Habilitationsschrift von Simone Derix und wird als solche von deutschen Akademikern als Fakt aufgenommen werden, eine Qualifizierung, gegen die wir eindringlich Einwand erheben.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         



Simone Derix, Autorin des Buches “Die Thyssens. Familie und Vermögen”, eine von zehn Akademikern, die von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung gefördert wurden, um die Geschichte der Thyssens umzuschreiben. Sie fährt fort mit einer Behandlung der Thematik, die kontroverse Punkte weiss zu waschen bzw. abzumildern scheint (photo copyright Historisches Kolleg, Munich). Das “Historische Kolleg”, wo Simone Derix ihr Buch präsentiert hat, wird übrigens selbst teilweise gefördert von ….. der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung (!)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Das Kreuzstadl Mahnmal in Rechnitz für die jüdischen Opfer des Zweiten Weltkriegs wurde 2012 erweitert und vom österreichischen Präsidenten eröffnet. Große Informationstafeln enthalten unter anderem die Information, dass Margit Batthyany nie vor Gericht Aussagen zum Rechnitz Massaker vom 24./25. März 1945 machen musste. Und dies obwohl deutsche Ermittler 1963 dem österreichischen Justizministerium mitteilten, dass sie unter Verdacht stand, den zwei Hauptbeschuldigten, Franz Podezin und Joachim Oldenburg, zur Flucht verholfen zu haben (photo copyright: übersmeer blog)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


Das österreichische Staatsoberhaupt Heinz Fischer, der das Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museum 2012 eröffnet hat, versicherte den Anwesenden, dass die Republik Österreich weiterhin alles daran gibt, die Gräber der 1945 in Rechnitz ermordeten Juden zu finden. Doch verschiedene österreichische Stellen haben auch angemerkt, dass der Erinnerungsprozess immer noch keinen breiten Konsens findet und dass insbesondere die Familien Thyssen und Batthyany von einer positiven, pro-aktiven Beteiligung am Prozess der Aufarbeitung und Heilung Abstand zu nehmen scheinen (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Jedes Jahr Ende März findet am Rechnitzer Kreuzstadl Museum eine Gedenkveranstaltung statt, die vom Gedenkverein Refugius organisiert wird. Während diese Gedenkveranstaltung vom früheren Bürgermeister, Engelbert Kenyeri, besonders positiv gefördert wurde und immer mehr Rechnitzer Bürger daran teilnehmen, hat bisher kein einziges Mitglied, weder der Familie Thyssen noch der Familie Batthyany öffentlich daran teilgenommen. Dies obwohl sie nach Erscheinen unserer Publikationen und der Aufführung des sich daraus ableitenden Theaterstücks “Rechnitz. Der Würgeengel” von Elfriede Jelinek glühende Absichtserklärungen abgegeben hatten (photo copyright Infotronik Austria)







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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.

                                                                  * * *

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.

                                                                  * * *

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.

                                                                  * * *

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.

* * *

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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Rechnitz Revisited I

Neben der Publikation unseres Buches „Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos“ gibt es ein besonderes Ereignis, das sowohl symbolisch als auch real die Thyssens, sowohl als Unternehmen wie auch privat, dazu gebracht hat, ihre Geschichte umzuschreiben. Und zwar das sogenannte Massaker von Rechnitz, wie es jetzt genannt wird, also der Mord an hundert achtzig ungarischen, jüdischen Zwangsarbeitern nach einem Fest, welches Margit Batthyany-Thyssen im März 1945 unter anderem für SS-Offiziere gab, welche im Thyssen-finanzierten Schloss Rechnitz im Burgenland untergebracht waren; nicht nur das Ereignis selbst, sondern ein Artikel, den wir im Oktober 2007 über die Rolle Margit Thyssens bei diesem Verbrechen für die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung schrieben.

Als die FAZ den Artikel veröffentlichte stritten manche Akademiker, wie Professor Wolfgang Benz von der Universität Berlin, das ganze Ereignis ab, während Manfred Rasch, der Archivleiter der ThyssenKrupp AG uns später als sensationsorientierte Journalisten abtat, die die Rolle der Thyssens mit Hilfe von „Sex and Crime“ Journalismus aufgebauscht hätten. Dies machte uns aber nur noch entschlossener, die Anschuldigungen zu widerlegen, wir hätten gelogen und die Verantwortlichen zur Rechenschaft zu ziehen, die nicht nur das Schloss besaßen, welches sie während des Krieges mit Geldern aus Thyssen Unternehmen finanzierten, sondern auch das umliegende Landgut und damit einen bedeutenden Teil des Städtchens.

Nun hatte der Bericht über die Beteiligung der Thyssens sich in der europäischen Presse verbreitet, dies natürlich auch online, und als die ThyssenKrupp AG (für die Unternehmen) und die Thyssen Bornemisza Gruppe (für die Familie) sich bewusst wurden, dass eine größere Kampagne der Schadensbegrenzung von Nöten sein würde, wurde ein Team von Akademikern beauftragt, nicht nur das Massaker von Rechnitz aufzuarbeiten, sondern die gesamte unternehmerische und Familiengeschichte (oder zumindest die bis zu einem passend flexiblen Zeitpunkt), und zu versuchen über die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung einen akademisch anerkannten historischen Präzedenzfall zu etablieren.

Doch obwohl es in den Büchern der Serie „Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert – Familie, Unternehmen, Öffentlichkeit“ bisher schon mehrere Gelegenheiten gab, eine entsprechend reingewaschene Version der Geschichte des Massakers von Rechnitz aufzunehmen, ist dies nicht geschehen.

Dann wurden wir vor nicht all zu langer Zeit darauf aufmerksam, dass im Mai 2014 eine nicht sehr publik gemachte Veranstaltung an der Universität von München stattgefunden hat, nämlich eine zweitätige Konferenz unter dem Titel „Rechnitz Revisited“, welche von der vielseitigen und omnipräsenten „Nachwuchsgruppenleiterin“ Dr Simone Derix veranstaltet wurde. Als uns bewusst wurde, dass das Thema der Konferenz das Massaker von Rechnitz war und sie von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung gefördert worden war, wurde alles klar.

Es war offensichtlich eine Entscheidung gefällt worden, dass, solange das Thema Rechnitz so kontrovers und die Beteiligung der Thyssens so offensichtlich waren, es viel zu gefährlich war, „wissenschaftlich“ belegte Aussagen zu treffen, die ihre Beteiligung oder die Genauigkeit der Fakten in unserem Buch (und in unserem FAZ Artikel) anfochten. Fakten wie zum Beispiel die Details, dass Heinrich Thyssen über seine August Thyssen Bank einen RM 400,000 Kredit als „Beihilfe Rechnitz“ gewährt hatte, zu einer Zeit, als das Schloss bereits von der SS requiriert war, oder die jährliche Grundzahlung an Margit von RM 30,000 und „wandelbaren“ RM 18,000 zur Schlossunterhaltung, während das Gut „von Thyssengas weiterhin betreut“ wurde (damals Thyssensche Gas- und Wasserwerke) (siehe auch hier).

Das hinderte die Personen, die für den Inhalt der Konferenz verantwortlich waren, jedoch nicht daran, es dennoch zu versuchen und während unser Buch und unser Artikel mit keinem Wort erwähnt wurden, so wurden doch einige, allzu offensichtliche Andeutungen gemacht, nämlich an „überzeichnete mediale Darstellung“; sexbesessene Schlossherrin; skandalisierende Medienberichte; überzeichnete Fokussierung auf einzelne Personen, insbesondere Margit Batthyany-Thyssen; die große Diskrepanz zwischen den phantasievollen Berichten und der historischen Rekonstruktion des Geschehens; Phantasien und spekulative Projektionsfläche“.

Die Teilnehmer nutzten die Gelegenheit, um das Konzept voran zu treiben, dass das Geschehene auf keinen Fall in die Verantwortlichkeit der ehrenwerten Thyssens und Batthyanys fallen kann, sondern dass jede Schuld an dem Verbrechen sicher bei den weniger privilegierten Teilen der Bevölkerung zu verorten ist. Es ist eine Strategie, die in der Reihe „Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“ ebenso praktiziert wird, und die mittlerweile den Lesern unserer Rezensionen dieser Bücher bekannt sein dürfte.

Im Grunde schien das bewusste Format dieser Konferenz nicht zu sein, spezifische Fragen zu beantworten oder irgendeine Form einer verbindlichen Aussage zu treffen. Vielmehr sollte ein akademisches „work in progress“ etabliert werden. Es ist eine Verfahrensweise, welche auch das österreichische Innenministerium seit Jahren angewandt hat, um einen Wall aufzubauen, hinter dem unangenehme Dinge versteckt werden können wie z.B. die Frage, wo die Toten des Massakers von Rechnitz begraben sind.

Zur Konferenz wurden eine Reihe von Akademikern eingeladen, die von der Fritz Thyssen Stiftung autorisiert wurden – allen voran Eleonore Lappin-Eppel und Claudia Kuretsidis-Haider – ausserdem Sacha Batthyany, ein Journalist, dessen Familie ursprünglich sowohl das Städtchen wie auch das Schloss besaßen und von ihrer Verbindung mit den Thyssens profitierten, und die auch ein gewisses Ausmaß an Macht und Einfluss in der Gegend behalten haben. Sacha Batthyany hatte einen ernsthaften Interessenkonflikt, gab jedoch der Veranstaltung einen gewissen noblen Status und half dabei, die Aufmerksamkeit von den Thyssens weg zu lenken und auch von seiner eigenen, anscheinend schuldfreien Familie; von der einige Mitglieder (so hatte er uns einmal gesagt) weiterhin an „jüdische Verschwörungen“ im Zusammenhang mit dem ungelösten Fall glauben.

Es ist anzunehmen, dass die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung diese Konferenz nun alle paar Jahre wiederholen wird bis ihre Version der Geschehnisse, welche jedwede Erwähnung der Beteiligung der Thyssen Familie am Rechnitzer Verbrechen ausschließt, akzeptiert worden ist.

Oder bis zum unwahrscheinlich Fall dass erkannt wird, dass ihre akademischen Verleugnungen nicht überzeugen und nur unsere Bestimmtheit vergrößern, dafür zu sorgen, dass die Thyssens, die persönlich übrigens nie die Genauigkeit unserer Fakten bestritten oder uns der Übertreibung bezichtigt haben, den ihnen gebührenden Grad an Verantwortung und Schuld übernehmen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ThyssenKrupp's historian and archivist Prof. Manfred Rasch

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

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

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

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