Posts Tagged ‘United Steelworks’

Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 6: ‘Two Burghers’ Lives in the Public Eye: The Brothers Fritz Thyssen and Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’, by Felix de Taillez, published by Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn, 2017


The official Second World War history put out by the Thyssen complex has always been that Fritz Thyssen supported the Nazis for a while but, being against war, fled Germany only to be recaptured and locked up in a concentration camp. Of his brother Heinrich it was said he was a Hungarian living in Switzerland with no connection to either Germany or the Nazis. When we revealed in our book ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’ (2007) that this was far from the truth, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation launched an academic response, which this book forms part of. It is mostly concerned with the press coverage of the Thyssens and, at 546 pages, is the longest in the series, which is why this review runs to 20 pages. The book continues the general theme that, while the various authors are revealing information contradicting the old Thyssen myths, overall these myths are nonetheless kept very much alive.


As we will see, Felix de Taillez would qualify this as being ‘entirely understandable’, since the Thyssens and the Thyssen company had ‘a reputation to defend’. (In 1997 Thyssen AG merged with Krupp AG to become thyssenkrupp, which is currently in major economic turmoil). De Taillez’s favourite tool in avoiding the making of justified criticism is to say that something is „remarkable“. He uses the term exceedingly frequently throughout the book, which comes across as highly staged. It is a vague term not expected with such high frequency in an academic work. De Taillez seems to use it to create an atmosphere of ‘spin’ which can beguile people without previous knowledge of the subject matter. It harbours the danger of turning his otherwise excellent work of history into one of public relations.


To the general public, De Taillez pulls off these two faces particularly well and it comes as no surprise that he has landed a prestigious job as an advisor – presumably on German history – at the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, which oversees the training of the officers corps. But there are inconsistencies in his book presentation and the fact his theories now seem to feed into the country’s state-sponsored history make these particularly concerning. His official online presence at the Ludwig Maximillian University promises:




This statement appears to promise a new honesty and yet leaves one puzzled, as it does not appear in the book itself and is not, in fact, representative of the elaborations in the book. There, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s absence in the media is still principally explained by his involvement in a court case in London as a young man, in which he is said to have made such bad experiences with the press, that he subsequently – with his marriage in 1906 – retreated completely from public (especially German!) life, to be an apolitical, Hungarian nobleman.


This is also the version which family members have propagated ever since. Again recently Francesca Habsburg née Thyssen-Bornemisza, let herself be fêted in the pages of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine as pretender to the Austrian throne and ‘grand-daughter of a Hungarian Baron’. Which is certainly more pleasant than having to expose Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza correctly as a German commoner, weapons manufacturer and Nazi banker; especially when one suns oneself, as Habsburg-Thyssen does, in the beautiful appearance of the expensive art the family bought, at least in part, with the profits of these reprehensible activities.


Even the title chosen by Felix de Taillez is noticeably misleading, as it suggests that both brothers were anchored equally and intentionally, and as bourgeois members of society, within the public sphere. Yet these Thyssen brothers in particular, really did not see themselves as part of the middle class at all. Also less than one quarter of the book deals with Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and then only with his explicitly authorised visibility in the exclusive, only partially public spheres of art collecting (which was already monitored comprehensibly by Johannes Gramlich) and horse racing (which we will deal with in a separate article following this review).


We expected de Taillez to show how, apart from his presence in these two domains, Heinrich Thyssen managed to stay consistently out of the media, and what he aimed to withhold from general view. After all, the newly created archive of the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation in Duisburg has an astonishing 840 continuous meters of hitherto unaccessed material (except by us) on the Thyssen-Bornemisza complex. But instead of letting the wind of Aufarbeitung blow through the holdings of the ThyssenKrupp AG archives and these newly acquired files, the public is once again fobbed off with crumbs.


In this volume, as so far in the series, the politico-economical actions especially of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, remain mostly camouflaged, this time, as befits the subject matter, behind the statement that the brothers were ‘victims of biased reporting’ and ‘helplessly exposed to media mechanisms’. Felix de Taillez does not mention Heinrich’s involvement in private banking, which is by its very nature, highly secretive. He leaves his close friendship with Hermann Göring (a client of the August Thyssen Bank) untackled and keeps silent about the use of the bank by the ‘Abwehr’, the German counter-intelligence service. In so doing, he avoids giving any information about the mechanisms used in turn by the Thyssens, and particularly Heinrich, in order to manipulate the media and keep their activities out of its spotlight.


* * *


One of the insightful descriptions in this book is the statement that during the Ruhrkampf battle in 1923, Heinrich ‘cast his political lot in with Fritz’, that ‘in certain respects (…) he was even more radical than his brother (Fritz), as he rejected negotiations with the occupation force outright’. ‘Behind the scenes’, says de Taillez, Heinrich, ‘together with his associates, who had all linked together in a “patriotic movement of the Ruhr“, met leading members of the army and politicians in Berlin (…)’. – For unknown reasons, de Taillez does not mention who these “associates“ were -. As ‘finance administrator’ of the ‘Ruhr Protection Association’, Taillez continues, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza ‘helped organise propaganda in favour of Germany in all occupied territories’, (as well as in) ‘Holland, Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine and Italy’.


One would like to ask Frau Habsburg why a man, who was allegedly a Hungarian Baron, would do such a thing. And why has it taken a century for these attitudes and actions of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza to see the light of day? Because over the years, a conscious strategy was at play, whereby the Thyssen complex portrayed the Thyssen brothers as if Fritz had been the German national hero and Heinrich free of all ‘German evil’. It is the ideal way in which to confuse the public concerning questions of power and guilt.


But as advantageous as such kinds of ‘legends of convenience’ might be, it is very time-consuming to uphold them. Because, if you believe Felix de Taillez, the world is full of ‘merciless’ left-wing writers who, for some unfathomable reason, insist on questioning things. This, according to him, is also the reason why, of all papers, ‘the social democrat paper “Vorwärts“’ in 1932 was leaked by a Dutch insider (and printed the information) that the Thyssen company ‘Vulcaan (was) favoured for the ore freight traffic of (the United Steelworks), by being the only shipping company enjoying very long-term contracts with the Düsseldorf steel giant. Furthermore the (United Steelworks) paid rates for this service, which were far above going market prices’.


One would assume that the fact part of the Thyssen fortune, which has been described so pointedly by Christopher Neumaier as ‘exorbitant’, seems to have been based on some dishonest business practices, should be condemned. But de Taillez allows himself instead the following comment: ‘Thus business connections were uncovered which the Thyssens had tried to camouflage under considerable efforts.’ As if acts of economic crime were an achievement and the real scandal their disclosure by those seeking the truth.


And de Taillez adds yet another layer to this twisted approach. Fritz Thyssen declared the lack of capital to be the Weimar Republic’s biggest economic problem. But when asked about his own capital flight from Germany, for instance in a 1924 interview with Ferdinand de Brinon, he circumvented the question. Absolutely understandable, in the eyes of de Taillez, as he had to maintain his reputation as a ‘dutyful German entrepreneur’. Whereby the artificiality of the Thyssens’ reputation, in the twinkling of an eye, receives an academic and, because of the author’s current position, a quasi stately seal of approval.


* * *


The lives of the Thyssen brothers Heinrich and Fritz teem with artificiality. There is their militarism, which de Taillez explains as their internalised connection to ‘army, tradition, faith and military practices’. Both trained in Hohenzollern elite regiments, however Heinrich declined war service and Fritz escaped it early by ‘having himself charged, on his own suggestion, with an official order by the Foreign Office to clarify the raw material situation for the Reich in the orient (Ottoman Empire)’. Stephan Wegener’s assertion that the Thyssens suffered high material losses through World War One is nothing but family folklore designed to shield unpalatable truths. Wegener, a member of the Josef Thyssen side of the family, conveniently leaves out that they were not only compensated by the German state, but made huge, fully audited profits supplying steel, armaments and submarines, with the assistance of forced labour. It is unforgivable that an academic such as Felix de Taillez and others in the series repeat the family legends of overall material war loss, as if they were fact.


The issue of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s adopted nationality shows most clearly what kinds of self-staging the family used. As he had to position himself as a ‘Hungarian’ to contrast Fritz, Heinrich insisted unforgivingly on his castle in Burgenland being called by its Hungarian name ‘Rohoncz’. He said he found the German version too ‘socialist’ (implying falsely that the German term had only come about in 1919 with the proclamation of the republic, see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, page 123). According to de Taillez, Heinrich even got into fights with the Burgenland County Government, the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture and the Foreign Office in Berlin IIronically tth ccastl aadministration sa ssomewhere completely different, namely with Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor in Rotterdam. ‘The Baron’ camouflaged himself twice and threefold; sedentary officials had no tools to counteract such extravagant strategies.


Fritz too opposed the abolishment of the German and Austrian monarchies and the rise of social democracy. According to de Taillez he saw Germany as a hard-pressed center surrounded by a tight circle formed by England, France, Italy and Russia and was of the opinion that ‘the big pressure from outside did not allow for the German national unification to proceed by democratic means’. Fritz thought social democrats as ‘moderate revolutionaries’ were ‘just as dangerous’ as more radical subversives. According to de Taillez, Thyssen wanted the ‘spirit of the worker’ to be ‘German’ and no more. While the unions were requesting increased rationalisations, shortening of working hours and increased wages, he wanted a ’Volk’ (people) strengthened by the increase of the working day from 8 to 10 (!) hours and an end to participative management. But how could this be made palatable for the men returning from the horrors of the First World War, who were turning in droves to pacifist and democratic organisations?


According to Niels Löffelbein, George Mosse explains the rise of fascism with a ‘brutalisation’ of post-war political culture through the mass of soldiers, which led to a ‘dissolution of boundaries and a radicalisation of political might’. Angel Alcalde counters that the world war participants were increasingly ‘instrumentalised’ as anti-bolshevik fighters by the extreme right and the veterans organisations. This, says Alcalde, happened during the ‘mytho-motoric incubation period’ of the 1920s. Thus the connection between radical nationalism and war was celebrated within the cult for the fallen heroes (and those still willing to fight on). According to de Taillez, as early as October 1917, Fritz Thyssen submitted an enrollment declaration to the right-wing, nationalist Deutsche Vaterlandspartei (DVLP, German Patriotic Party). In 1927 he gave a speech during an event of the ‘Stahlhelm Bund der Frontsoldaten’ (Steel Helmet Association of Front-Line Soldiers), the ‘fighting force ready for violence’ of the Deutschnationale Volkspartei (DNVP) in his hometown of Mülheim. He is also said to have been ‘very close’ to the ‘Association of the anti-democratic, extreme right-wing Harzburger Front’.


Felix de Taillez writes that Thyssen supported the Austro-fascist home guard militias: ‘Via Anton Apold, the general manager of the Austrian-Alpine Mining Company (Österreichisch-Alpine Montangesellschaft) (…), which in its majority belonged to the United Steelworks, (…) there was a connection of Thyssen with the radical right-wing home guards of Austria’. ‘The Düsseldorf Peoples Paper (Düsseldorfer Volkszeitung) insinuated that the big German industrialist wished to test out, “on the limited battle field of Austria“, how the unions’ influence could be broken’.


Without the shadow of a doubt, these associations would have been backed by Heinrich as well, but as a purported Hungarian privatier, he managed to keep out of all media reports about the topic and thus was not publicly perceived as a supporter of the extreme right in the German-speaking world. By not clarifying this circumstance, de Taillez adds to the picture of Heinrich drawn by the series as not being in any way a sympathiser of the far right. It is an allegation based purely on the absence of public sources, which was deliberately engineered by Heinrich and his associates. Absence of proof is not proof of absence and this should have been exposed by de Taillez. It is not, as exposing Heinrich’s far right-wing sympathies would destroy the Thyssen family mythological reputation.


* * *


For the Thyssens, there were always conflicts of interests between their national affiliation and their economic ambitions. After they had transposed the ownership structures of their works to the neutral Netherlands before the First World War, Fritz and his father August participated shortly after the war in talks about the formation of a Rhenanian Republic. According to de Taillez, the accusation by the Workers and Soldiers Council was that they ‘had requested the separation of Rhenania-Westphalia and the occupation of the Ruhr by the Allies’. A waiter had reported the meeting and the Thyssens were soon accused of being ‘greedy hypocrites’ and ‘money bag patriots’; others said this was a slur on the loyally German industrialists. The case against them was dismissed (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 56) and Felix de Taillez writes that the waiter admitted to having lied. It does not cross his mind that this man might have needed to do so in order to keep his, or indeed any, job. Afterwards, Fritz Thyssen, who, according to de Taillez, ‘had a much higher status for German politics than a normal citizen’, was commissioned by the Foreign Office in Berlin to participate in the confidential follow-up negotiations for individual articles of the Versailles Peace Treaty.


Soon after the war, Fritz Thyssen also began to establish for himself an alternative domicile in Argentina by buying, first of all, the Estancia Don Roberto Lavaisse in the province of San Luis. The family’s connections with South America went back to pre-war times, when August Thyssen had founded in Buenos Aires a branch of the German-Overseas Trading Company of the Thyssen Works (Hamborn) (Deutsch-Überseeische Handelsgesellschaft der Thyssen’schen Werke). Since 1921 the company was called Compania Industrial & Mercantil Thyssen Limitada. In 1927 it took over the Lametal company and from them on ‘went under the name of Thyssen-Lametal S.A.’. According to de Taillez, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sold it in 1927 for 4.8 million guilders to the United Steelworks. In Brazil too the family had owned property for years and advertised commercial trade there.


During the Ruhrkampf (battle against the Ruhr occupation) of 1923, which Fritz Thyssen allegedly saw as a ‘legitimate defence measure against foreign begrudgers’, he let himself be represented in the allied court by Friedrich Grimm, an avowed anti-semite and subsequent Nazi lawyer who, according to de Taillez, defended Nazi perpetrators after 1945 and downplayed Nazi crimes. In the eyes of the author, Thyssen was merely ‘talked up’ artificially as a ‘projectory surface’ for a ‘new German national identity’, respectively for a ‘free Germanness’, particularly by the New York Times and the Times of London. But the Ruhrkampf was the first occasion for Fritz to move out very publicly from the shadow of his almighty father, whose health had started to deteriorate, In our opinion, this motive of self-liberation is a factor in Fritz Thyssen’s publicly celebrated swing to the right that should not be underestimated.


If you listen to de Taillez, it must ‘remain open’, ‘whether Fritz Thyssen was captured by the world of a sometimes extreme nationalism, which had formed in Germany during the First World War’. What a pity that his wife Amelie Thyssen gets so little attention in this series, apart from her role as co-founder of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. According to a statement made by Heini Thyssen to us, there was certainly nothing ‘talked up’ about Amelie Thyssen’s politics and she indeed seems to have been national socialist in her strong German nationalism during this ‘1920s incubation period’ and beyond. Although time and again de Taillez describes how much Fritz depended on his wife’s opinions, he leaves the possibility of political influencing within this couple’s relationship completely unmentioned. Since Amelie was the driving force in successfully reclaiming the Thyssen organisation after the Second World War, any bad light on her would, once again, harm the Thyssen family mythological reputation.


Grimm’s argument before the court was characterised by his statement that ‘private assets such as Ruhr coal (…) legally could not simply be confiscated, in order to settle state debts, without compensating the owners’. Taillez alleges that the Ruhrkampf set in motion in Fritz Thyssen a ‘sense of political mission’, which ‘surpassed by far the activities in the interests of the business’. He concedes that Thyssen, by saying that the German economy could only recover ‘through even greater working output’, had incurred guilt: ‘through such public statements (…) he also contributed to the failing of the social partnership in the 1920s, which gravely endangered the democratic form of government in Germany’.


Eventually, Fritz would be indulged by Adolf Hitler with a promise to establish a Research and Development Department for Fritz’s concept of a corporate state. This unrequited activity encouraged Fritz in considerable political activity. Fritz was disappointed by his project’s lack of action, but, when he pointed this out to Hitler, was told: ‘I never made you any promises. I’ve nothing to thank you for. What you did for my movement you did for your own benefit and wrote it off as an insurance premium’ (quoted by Henry Ashby Turner Jr., see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 108).


According to de Taillez, Fritz Thyssen followed his own business interests above all else, apart from situations when it was not completely clear to him ‘which path would served (these) most’. Within European rapprochement politics, he describes him as ‘ambiguous’. Thyssen critised the Weimar Republic in the French press as well as the North-American public sphere, described the German government as ‘weak and not trustworthy’ and thus ‘stuck the knife into German foreign politics in a difficult situation’. On the other hand, he criticised the ‘short-sighted and mean-spirited, selfish economic politics of the North Americans’. Thyssen ‘wanted bilateral exchange contracts for the traffic of raw materials, which were to put a stop to international financial speculations and achieve independence from exchange rates’. But when Fritz ‘(ranted) against finance techniques which (he said) were getting in the way of the real economy’, he failed to mention that the Thyssen family controlled 100% of three international banks and thereby was itself a global financial player (which, strangely, Felix de Taillez does not).


* * *


Although his group leader, Simone Derix, refuted this comprehensively, de Taillez continues to allege that Heinrich managed his inherited share of the family concern independently from Fritz’s. He says the relationship between the two brothers was bad. Now they might not have loved each other wholeheartedly; it is normal for there to be certain jealousies between siblings. Heini Thyssen told us how his father walked down Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich one day and changed to the other side of the street when he saw his brother Fritz. But this had indeed more to do with image than realities. Heini too wished to give the impression of discord, because his own, the Thyssen-Bornemisza side of the family, had managed to keep disassociated from discussions about the Third Reich. A photograph of the three brothers in 1938 (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 128) and here shows that there were no problems in their relationship. Instead of being objective, de Taillez repeats parrot-like old Thyssen-internal myths, which have become dogma. This is particularly ‘remarkable’ as he tells us, on the other hand, that he wants to ‘interpret’ both men as ‘a unit of almost complementary opposite numbers’, whose ‘visibility respectively invisibility’ appears (from this perspective) as a ‘coordinated strategy of political action’.


After Heinrich received his ‘exorbitant’ inheritance in 1926, for a few short years he invested massively into paintings and works of art, thereby following the example of his friend Eduard von der Heydt, who had moved to Switzerland that same year. Despite it never being housed there, he called his collection ‘Rohoncz Castle Collection’, to give the impression of it havin ggrown organically over a long period of time, and being of an aristocratic cachet. As such he had it exhibited in 1930 in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. But Friedrich Winkler of the State Museums in Berlin compared ‘Thyssen-Bornemisza’s methods (…) to Napoleon’s art theft’ and described him as ‘clueless, uninformed, limited and dependent on the opinions of dealers and experts’. Rudolf Buttmann, delegate of the Nazi party in the Bavarian County Parliament, called the collection ‘an entity gathered by dealers’. Many false attributions and fakes were decried and the whole thing descended into a veritable ‘media scandal’. According to de Taillez, the Munich Pinakothek was willing only in the case of 60 out of 428 paintings to take them temporarily into their own stock after the end of the exhibition.


But these were highly speculative times with an ‘increasing commercialisation of the art market’. Despite all the hoo-ha, Heinrich’s ‘calculation to have the value of his collection determined publicly’ came good (at 50 million RM – without de Taillez explaining how he would know of such a ‘calculation’). His enterprise was described as a ‘national deed’ in which ‘the whole of Germany was said to be interested’. He was described as a ‘saviour of German cultural goods’, who was endowed with a ‘bourgeois educational mandate’ over the public. Meanwhile, it was striking that Heinrich was not presented anywhere as the son of the famous Ruhr industrialist and creator of the family fortune, August Thyssen. Instead, he was made out to be ‘the great stranger’, a person of ominous flair who nobody seemed to know exactly where he came from. There needed to be just enough ‘Germanness’ tagged onto him to keep conservative Munich audiences happy, while still maintaining the illusion of Heinrich’s adopted Hungarianness. What is troubling is that de Taillez does not openly decry this as the obvious Thyssen manipulation of public perception that it was.


The town of Düsseldorf and its art museum, which were ‘leading amongst big German cities’ during the Weimar years in view of a ‘highly developed apparatus of communal public relations’, was used by Heinrich Thyssen over many years, according to de Taillez. He took himself for ‘such an important personality (…), that he could make demands on the local political sphere’. It appears nonsensical that de Taillez equally alleges that the national positioning of Heinrich in Germany was only down to the materials handed out to the press by his art advisor Rudolf Heinemann and the Düsseldorf mayor Robert Lehr and that it was not in Heinrich’s own sense. Heinrich had organised propaganda in favour of Germany, he also kept his German passport (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 55 – confirmed by Simone Derix) and accepted German compensation payments for war damages to his enterprises (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p.201 – confirmed by Harald Wixforth). It is incomprehensible why de Taillez makes such contradictory statements; unless the accusations levelled at the series’ output of having been influenced by the source of their sponsorship – the Fritz Thyssen Foundation – might be justified.


Felix de Taillez goes way further than he should by not just obfuscating existing Thyssen manipulations but even generating new ones. He writes: ‘Heinrich (reacted) to the debacle of the exhibition, namely by restructuring big parts of his collection afterwards, selling THE controversial paintings and only thereby creating the actual breakthrough to the collection which is today world renowned’. His underpinning reference is to Johannes Gramlich’s volume ‘The Thyssens As Art Collectors’, pages 263-273. There, however, only 32 paintings are mentioned as having been sold between 1930 and 1937. Thyssen-internal lists available to us show that 405 paintings bought by Heinrich up to 1930 were inherited by his children in 1948. This would mean that only 23 paintings had theoretically been sold between 1930 and 1948.


So there can be no talk of Heinrich ‘restructuring big parts of his collection (after the exhibition debacle)…….selling THE controversial paintings’, which makes it sound like ALL the controversial pictures exhibited by Thyssen in 1930 were subsequently sold by him.


Even today, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid contains at least 120 paintings from the 1930 Munich Exhibition. If there was any ‘restructuring’ of the 1930 collection, it was not done actively by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, but happened passively following his death, mainly through inheritance share-outs (1948, as well as 1993 after Hans Heinrich (‘Heini’) Thyssen sold only half the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection to Spain – the other half went to his wife and four children).


There was also a sale specifically of German paintings in the 1950s by Heini Thyssen who, after the Nazi period, wanted to be seen as being even more disconnected from Germany (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 269). And of course, Heini Thyssen became an art collector on a completely different scale to his father and did indeed buy some very good, mostly modern, paintings.


Many of the questionable paintings exhibited in 1930, however, remained in Thyssen ownership and de Taillez’s assertion that they did not is misleading.


It must be remembered in this context that Heini Thyssen bought back most of the paintings that went to his siblings in the 1948 inheritance share out, so that most of the questionable 1930 paintings would have ended up in his possession. The Thyssens’ attitude has always been that once a painting had entered their inventory it was to be seen as beyond reproach. In this, they sought to emulate the prestige which the Rothschilds possessed. Most members of the general public, influenced by the media – who are possibly submitted to a VIP equivalent of the royal rota (whereby journalists are excluded from access to members of the royal family if they publish negative stories) -, have always seemed to accept this version of reality.


* * *


What is noticeable throughout the book and the series as a whole is that it comprises not a single personal quote from a living member of the Thyssen family. So much new history is being written about them and one wonders what they feel now that some of the plates that had, for so long and at great expense, been kept spinning in the air are starting to come tumbling down.


But Felix de Taillez would not be Felix de Taillez if he did not release us from the world of Thyssen art with yet another piece of white wash. Various art advisors, museum directors and the Baron himself had made contradictory statements about when exactly the paintings had been bought. Had they ever been at Rechnitz Castle, as the name of the collection suggested? Sometimes they said yes, sometimes no. The Thyssen-internal lists available to us show that he bought his first painting in 1928 and all works remained in safe deposits until the 1930 exhibition (the foreword to the exhibition catalogue makes this very clear – see here). Which did not, however, stop the Baron from saying sometimes that he had made his first art purchase in 1906, the year he married into Hungary.


In the 1930s, his lawyer did something similar with the Swiss authorities: ‘In connection with Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s move to Switzerland it is furthermore remarkable that the first exhibition of his collection in Munich was of financial use to him. For the import of his paintings and other works of art into Switzerland he was able to use, vis-a-vis the Swiss authorities, the reference to the exhibition with said catalogue as proof that around 250 valuable paintings had been in his possession already for a longer period of time. Through this gambit he was able to have the works of art moved to Lugano “for his personal enjoyment“ and exempt from customs duties’.


(The name of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Ticino lawyer was Roberto van Aken, and it was not the only time he bent the truth on behalf of his client),


To recapitulate: Felix de Taillez applauds the outwitting of the Swiss customs authorities by Heinrich Thyssen’s malleable lawyer, seems to give as a reason why allegedly 250, not 428 paintings were moved to Switzerland, that the Baron had sold the questionable paintings and, at the same time, like Johannes Gramlich, leaves us completely in the dark as to when and how exactly this transfer of goods out of Germany is supposed to have taken place. As the collection at the time of the 1948 inheritance share-out contained a total of 542 paintings, he also leaves unexplained where the other almost 300 paintings are supposed to have come from and when they got into Switzerland.


The fact the Thyssens themselves were intransparent concerning this matter is understandable. But it is unacceptable that academics, having been commissioned almost a century later to work through the events in a claimed ‘independent’ manner, are behaving in the same way. Particularly as no family members have been quoted.


* * *


On the whole, while Felix de Taillez is remarkably obstinate in prolonging the myths surrounding Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, he seems somewhat more direct in his presentation of Fritz. We dont suggest the Fritz Thyssen Foundation or the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation have steered the results of these academic investigations. But the fact access to source materials and financial sponsorship were granted by these entities (on whose boards sits only ONE Thyssen family member, namely Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza, a descendant of Heinrich, not Fritz) must have led the authors to tread with a degree of ‘caution’ in their ultimate assessments.


Continuing on the theme of Fritz, following the putsch by General Jose Felix Uriburu, an ‘undemocratic decade’ began in Argentina in 1930, during which a ‘strong economic integration with Germany’ came about. According to de Taillez, ‘strongly extreme right-wing movements’ existed there from the 1890s onwards, and ‘already before the seizure of power in Germany’ the foreign organisation of the Nazi party ‘took hold (in Argentina) particularly well’ (see also ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 195). Lateron the La Plata newspaper reported that Fritz Thyssen in 1930 (!) proclaimed the ‘dawn of the coming, new Germany’ under Hitler in the Argentinian public. In 1934 he demanded in the Argentinian Journal (Argentinisches Tageblatt) the ‘unlimited power of the new (German) government in order to boost the economy’, which de Taillez describes as ‘remarkable’, after all he had ‘normally always insisted on big freedoms for the private economy’. De Taillez continues: ‘According to Thyssen, the concentration of power in the Nazi state offered the important advantage, of making decisions, without having to take “half-measures“ and “make compromises“ like in the “party state contaminated by Marxism“’. By which Fritz used the extremist language of the National Socialists against political opponents.


During the Gelsenberg affair in 1932 there were press reports, encouraged by the former Reich Finance Minister Hermann Dietrich, that Fritz Thyssen had negotiated a deal for the United Steelworks with French and Dutch investors, but that the Reich government wanted to prevent this, because it did not wish for foreign influence on the enterprise. By writing a letter to the German public, that he had ‘only explored the possibility of obtaining loans’, Thyssen ‘consciously exposed the Reich government’, writes de Taillez. The author argues that Thyssen’s statements were dismantled when a letter by Friedrich Flick to him was leaked to the Frankfurter Zeitung, which showed that Flick ‘had (rejected) Thyssen’s suggestion precisely because of the source of the money connected with it’. The Düsseldorf Volkszeitung newspaper reacted by calling Thyssen ‘unpatriotic’.


At the beginning of 1932, while his brother Heinrich bought Villa Favorita in Lugano, Fritz ‘veered demonstratively towards National Socialism’. His wife had already joined the party on 01.03.1931. He would do so officially on 07.07.1933. Looking back at the Ruhrkampf, Fritz concluded, according to de Taillez, that this was ‘a preliminary for the national socialist body of thought of the new Germany’: ‘In contrast to 1932 now it is not just the Ruhr area standing firm, but the whole of Germany will go the path that the “Führer“ is prescribing. The shattering of Marxism in the country was only down to Hitler, the SA and the SS’ (from an article in the Kölnische Zeitung newspaper ‘Fritz Thyssen about the class struggle’, on 02.05.1933).


Thus Thyssen became a ‘media player’, who under Hitler ‘profited considerably from the abolition of the freedom of the press’, as soon nobody was allowed any longer to set anything against his verbal crudeness. Meanwhile, he led negotiations in Buenos Aires ‘with high state organs’ such as ‘General Agustin Pedro Justo, the President in power since 1932 after rigged elections’. Subsequently an Argentinian-German trade agreement, including offsetting and compensation procedures, was signed in November 1934, whereby trade between the two countries increased drastically. It seems Thyssen was trying to help form an antipole to Anglo-American economic might. But Felix de Taillez believes Fritz, utterly selfishly, was just helping construct his own ‘image’ as an ‘influential economic leader’, to bring great publicity to himself.


Not all of the South-American press was positive about Thyssen. The Argentinian Tagesblatt paper in 1934 talked about a ‘coming together of joint bankruptcies’ having taken place in 1933, when the United Steelworks were bankrupt and the Nazi party was ‘hopelessly in debt’. ‘The newspaper accused the United Steelworks under Thyssen’s leadership as chairman of the supervisory board to have carried out extensive accounting fraud.’ (from their article ‘Business deals of a State Councillor’, dated 08.11.1934). The Cologne cultural magazine ‘Westdeutscher Scheinwerfer’ described Fritz Thyssen as an ‘autocrat’ and ‘said the main reason for the crisis at the United Steelworks was the contentious personal politics of Fritz Thyssen’. His critics in the media ‘declared Fritz Thyssen to be incapable in economic and political affairs’ and ‘made him responsible for the high losses at United Steelworks’.


It was the very thing his father August, who had no social ambition but lived entirely for his works, had warned about many years earlier. He had ensured Fritz was only head of the supervisory board, not the management board, in order to minimise the damage August was convinced Fritz would do to the company. August believed Heinrich was only marginally more adequate than Fritz to be head of the Thyssen empire (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 70).


Meanwhile, after the war, the Allies would accuse the United Steelworks of ‘consistently giving their full financial support to the militarily-minded National Socialist Party’. Loping the ball back into the allied court, Fritz Thyssen would write in 1950 ‘In my opinion, the Nuremberg trials were conducted mainly to find someone to blame for Hitler’s WAR policy. It would have been very embarrassing for the Americans to have to admit that they had supported the German rearmament from the very first, because they wished for a WAR against Russia’ (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, pages 80 and 230).


‘Remarkably’ for a man whose credibility depends on the assertion that his anti-war stance led him eventually to breaking with the Nazis, when the national socialists Wilhelm von Keppler and Kurt von Schröder collected signatures to ask Paul von Hindenburg to make Adolf Hitler Reich Chancellor, Fritz Thyssen was the ONLY member of the Ruhrlade (association of the 12 most important Ruhr industrialists that existed from 1928 to 1939) to sign. In his dealings with other industrialists he could be gruff and rude. He warned colleagues to be ‘disciplined’, especially those who he thought were being ‘liberalistic’. People such as Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, who strove against Hitler as long as he could and who, like Richard Freudenberg and many others, only surrendered to national socialism once it had been installed, as a dictatorship, with the help of the Thyssens and their associates. According to de Taillez ‘(Thyssen) threatened possible interferers citing his new influence on the state organs in charge’, i.e. he told them he would report them to Hermann Göring.


This is an admission of extremely overbearing Thyssen behaviour issued by the Thyssen complex as official historiography, which, as such, really is remarkable.


* * *


And it does not stop there. Fritz Thyssen also threatened catholic priests, who were normally his allies. In March 1933, for instance, he let it be known to Cardinal Schulte that his family would not take part in any more church services ‘as long as the unjust treatment of the Führer & members of the Nazi party endured’. He took part in sociological special meetings in Maria Laach under the Abbott Ildefons Herwegen and the circle of ‘anti-democratic rightwing catholics’, who, according to de Taillez, were ‘annexable by the national socialists’. These were ‘against the enlightenment, universal human rights, democracy, liberalism, socialism, communism, decidedly anti-semitic’ and in favour of an ‘authoritarian corporatism’. They were trying to develop a ‘Reich Theology’, ‘supported by the association of catholic academics’.


Reminding us once again that it was the professions, such as the legal community, who took particularly early and enthusiastically to the Nazi ideology.


Despite all this threatening behaviour, Felix de Taillez alleges – not very convincingly – that Fritz Thyssen interpreted national socialism ‘in a conservative manner’. Apparently, he saw it as the ‘renaissance of a lost State and of the Volksgemeinschaft (Peoples Community)’. He writes that for Thyssen, national socialism was not so much an ideology as a ‘HEROIC FORCE’, whereby a ‘class of people underpinning the state’ had been resurrected, who had taken up the ‘battle against the gravediggers of the state’. – This is reminiscent of the intrumentalising slogans, used by proto-fascist veterans’ associations as mentioned by Angel Alcalde -. But in the same paragraph, Fritz Thyssen then divulged his elitist understanding of his role within national socialism, when he said that one would, however, take away ‘the dignity and primacy of this class of people if one were to try and lift up 64 million people into the same dignity through ideological propaganda’.


For the Rheinische Zeitung newspaper, this meant that Thyssen was a fascist, but no ‘roister Nazi’. In reality it meant that he saw himself and his family as part of the State, but not as part of the Volksgemeinschaft (Peoples’ Community), which he thought should be kept subservient to himself and his associates.

It sounds less like a conservative and more like a FEUDAL understanding of national socialism.


As the dictatorship gathered momentum, the Gauleiter of Essen, Josef Terboven, asked Rudolf Hess in a letter ‘to have the “Führer“ name Thyssen as politico-economic plenipotentiary for the Ruhr area and to have his position endowed with unconditional authority’. There seems to have been a power triangle of Hermann Göring, Gauleiter Terboven and Fritz Thyssen, whose media voice piece was the National-Zeitung newspaper. According to de Taillez, Thyssen took part in the Nuremberg party rallies. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Reichsbank, of the Academy of German Law and of the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy (see also here). By 1938, Fritz had assembled so many supervisory board mandates for himself, ‘that he was positioned as an individual in the centre of a network of the Reich economic elite, on third place after the chairman of the United Steelworks, Albert Vögler, and the bank director of Berliner Handelsgesellschaft, Wilhelm Koeppel’.


* * *


The groundbreaking thesis of Felix de Taillez is that it took a long time for Thyssen to break with the Nazis: ‘The assertions uttered by him and by his associates during the 1948 denazification proceedings that he had already turned away demonstratively during the 1930s (thus appear) as no more than pretextual, easy to see through, defensive attempts.’ Even in 1936, de Taillez writes, Thyssen still defended Hitler at the Industry Club in Düsseldorf ‘almost manically’, using quotations from “Mein Kampf“. In the same year, he showed himself to be ‘unteachable’, as he accused those who saw the Nazis’ armaments policies as harbingers of war, of being wrong. According to Thyssen, ‘it was only owing to Hitler that Germany was once again seen internationally as an equal partner’. Gottfried Niedhart and the Perlentaucher (elitist culture blog) have taken up joyfully the interpretation that Fritz Thyssen ‘was not at all the powerful man behind Hitler’, but only ‘blinded’ by him, and that ‘he really seems to have thought that the rearmament did not serve the preparation of war, but the goal of “becoming capable of forming alliances“’.


But why should one believe that a man, whose views were otherwise so changeable and untrustworthy, should have seen clearly and been truthful in his anti-war stance, which just so happens to hit at the central agony of the German nation (namely the question of their responsibility for the Nazis’ war and its horrors)? Does it not, rather, seem like yet another attempt at obscuring the Thyssens’ long-lasting support of the National Socialist regime? Particularly as his alleged anti-war stance was central also to the Thyssens’ ability of regaining their assets from the allies after the war.


And why, if Fritz knew, as he wrote in 1950, that the Americans wanted to rearm Germany to go to war with Russia, did he not break away from this evil alliance earlier on?! Because he too was for a war against the Soviet Union after all? Or because it was more important for him to reap the economic benefits than to take a moral stance? And if so, why are these official Thyssen biographers overall still alleging his flight from Germany, when it finally came, to have been a moral stance, rather than one of convenience, when according to de Taillez, he had missed out so many earlier opportunities at opposing Hitler’s plans?


In the words of de Taillez, when Hermann Göring declared the mobilisation of the wartime economy in the summer of 1938, Thyssen propagated ‘this propaganda in the media through his clear avowal of allegiance to the Four-Year-Plan’. In February 1939 he was named by Walther Funk (who was a client of the August Thyssen Bank, see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 87) as a Leader of the Wartime Economy. The assertions presented at the denazification trial that Thyssen had harboured ‘serious thoughts of subversion’ and had been in contact with resistance circles is described by de Taillez as ‘idle’, because ‘reliable sources do not exist’. Rather, de Taillez testifies to Thyssen remaining absolutely ‘inactive’ until November 1939, i.e. until two months after the start of the war. An assertion that ‘Thyssen proposed a close cooperation between industry and the army to General von Kluge after the November pogrom of 1938, in order to put an end to Nazi politics’ is clarified by him thus: ‘based on the situation with the sources, it is more than questionable, whether such a plan existed at all’.


Felix de Taillez thus dismantles the so far, in his own words, ‘successful reframing’ of Fritz Thyssen in an ‘image of an extraordinarily early “fanatical opponent“ of National Socialism, who was already active in the resistance in 1936’. (This being an image issued to the public from 1948 onwards by Thyssen’s solicitor and PR-advisor, Robert Ellscheid (see also here)).

And that is truly ‘remarkable’!

* * *


According to de Taillez, following Fritz Thyssen’s flight to Switzerland in September 1939, the English press reported that an international arrest warrant had been issued against him for ‘theft, embezzlement, tax evasion and contraventions against German currency restrictions’. Thyssen, however, threatened Hitler with precisely this international public opinion, while simultaneously presenting himself as a ‘proud’ German ‘with every fibre of his being’. He said he wanted to show ‘the innocence of the “German nation“ concerning recent developments’, while at the same time saying that ‘the German people had shown in the inter-war years that it was „incapable of adjusting itself to democratic institutions“’. (Even during his denazification proceeding in 1948 ‘Thyssen continued to ascertain his view that democracy was not a form of government suitable to Germany’!).


De Taillez qualifies his attitude as being ‘naive’…. ‘Schizophrenic’ and ‘impudent’ would be more adequate adjectives from our point of view. It is typical for Thyssen’s belief in his own omnipotence, that he seemed to think that the course of a war, that had been planned by such a long hand, could be changed by a few of his statements. The fact that his brother Heinrich had managed so elegantly, through his Hungarian nationality, and his secure, comfortable domicile in Switzerland, to keep out of public politics, while still enjoying all the financial rewards the Thyssen enterprises were reaping from the war, must have made Fritz very angry. This vexation might even have been one trigger for his flight. And so he showed no consideration for Heinrich’s standstill agreement with the Swiss authorities (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 103) which he endangered by his noisy flight to Switzerland.


De Taillez then explains that Fritz Thyssen, via ‘secret channels’, ‘got in touch with former Chancellor Joseph Wirth and western agents’ and thus ‘became, in a certain way, a part of Wirth’s attempts at sounding out France and England’. But then, he says, General Halder, who had been ‘until that time, head of the secret military opposition to the Third Reich’, ‘buckled at the beginning of 1940’. According to de Taillez, the French secret service, however, assumed ‘that Fritz Thyssen was the head of a far-reaching secret organisation being built up in Switzerland by Germany, in order to undermine the influence of the French and the British in Europe’. At the same time, de Taillez believes that ‘under normal circumstances, the entry of Thyssen into France during the war would have been refused. It was his luck that he had been able to convince the French secret service in Switzerland that he held important information and assessments, which would be useful to the allies in their fight against the Third Reich’.


It was always typical for the ultra-rich Thyssens to make themselves look important with everyone that mattered. Only this time, it was about war. Any kind of allegiance was never at the forefront of their mind. The Thyssens were transnational and committed to no single nation – only to themselves alone.


This fact can be gaged from the book ‘I Paid Hitler’, which Fritz Thyssen elaborated together with Emery Reves in 1940 and which was published by the latter in 1941 in London and New York (see also here). According to de Taillez, since 1937 Reves also worked with Winston Churchill. He writes that in 1940 Churchill ‘commissioned (Reves) with building up the british propaganda apparatus in North and South America’ (!). De Taillez continues: ‘Reves told Churchill about the central theory of Fritz Thyssen for the reimplementation of peace in Europe, which would soon be proclaimed publicly: the partition of Germany’ – namely into ‘a protestant Eastern Germany and a catholic Western German under a Wittelsbach’. Churchill is said to have passed on these views to his secret service advisor Major Desmond Morton – although one could have one’s doubts about how much of this was actually a direct quote from Thyssen and how much might be ascribed to British propaganda (!)…


The fact that Fritz Thyssen might also sometimes have ‘consciously spoken the untruth’ (i.e. that he sometimes lied) is a suggestion that Felix de Taillez floats in connection with Thyssen’s statements after the war concerning the creation of ‘I Paid Hitler’. It is a tinge of honesty, of openness that has also to do with „honour“ after all, and which has been missing from so many of the statements made by Thyssens and their self-proclaimed official biographers in the past. While Thyssen and his lawyers distanced themselves from the book, Reves confirmed to the denazification court that all of the book had been dictated by Thyssen and that two thirds of it had been proof-read by him. Reves rejected the idea of being a ghostwriter and described himself as publisher and press agent. He also argued that Anita Zichy-Thyssen had repeatedly thanked him for his publishing the book. To this day Anita’s descendants in South America praise the book and slander anyone critical of Fritz Thyssen (see here).


* * *


De Taillez records that following his being taken into custody by the Allies in 1945, Fritz Thyssen ‘was presented in the British and US-American weekly newsreels as an alleged war criminal’. Then, presumably in order to explain this, in his view, mistaken stance, he alledges: ‘apparently the Americans were still having difficulties in assessing the Thyssen case in a consistent way, as well as in their coordination with the German authorities’. This blocks out the fact that the Thyssen case was fraught because the allies could not access and question Heinrich in his Swiss safehaven, and because there were discrepancies between the British and the American views of how the Thyssens should be dealt with (in general, the British were much more in favour of their punishment). Wilhelmus Groenendijk, who was part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group finance division from 1957 to 1986 told us: ‘BOTH Heinrich and Fritz were listed as war criminals. But from the Netherlands, we managed to get their names brought further down and down on that list, until we were able to claim that the assets were in fact allied property’ – and therefore could not possibly be seen as having abetted the German war effort (see ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, p. 188).


De Taillez summarises for Fritz Thyssen that ‘despite considerable differences (…) he arranged himself with the Third Reich for a long time, because there was a basis of common ground’, namely the ideal of the authoritarian state, the disempowerment of the socialist workers movement and the revisionist policies. To this was added the prospect of profit increases in the steel industry. He describes that ‘the former Reich Chancellor (Heinrich) Brüning declared in writing (during the post-war denazification proceedings against Fritz Thyssen) that financing by foreign powers was decisive for Hitler’s ascent to power’. And yet various authors of this series, including de Taillez alledge that this is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Notwithstanding, de Taillez makes the remarkable assertion that ‘the often polarising statements made by Fritz Thyssen were judged more positively in the anglo-american media, which is the most powerful media in the world, until 1933, than by the german public’ – which would of course indicate that, contrary to what is said today, there was indeed support for the German move to the extreme right in Great Britain and the United States after all.


De Taillez describes Fritz much more intimately than he does Heinrich, namely as absurd, agitating, ambivalent, influential, almost manic, polarising, divorced from reality, controversial, sophomoric, unteachable, unreasonable, unclear, a troublemaker, NONSENSICAL, incoherent, cynical, and, in a description by thirds, of having a ‘more than peculiar manner’. Many of these characteristics certainly applied to Heinrich also, because they went back not least to the greedy luxury of the family and its resulting, hubristic mannerisms. Only, Heinrich was more intelligent than Fritz and he knew in particular that one can camouflage oneself much better within a certain seclusion, especially when one is in truth even more unscrupulous than his vociferous brother.


Felix de Taillez’s colleague Jan Schleusener (‘The Expropriation of Fritz Thyssen’), rates Fritz Thyssen as a hero: he was, says Schleusener, ‘the only delegate of the Reichstag who raised objections to the launching of the war’, which reminds one of Thomas Rother’s equally unsuitable statement whereby Thyssen was ‘the only industrialist in Germany not to profit from Hitler’s war. According to de Taillez, it appears that Fritz Thyssen admitted one single time, towards Norman Cousins, ‘that he felt co-responsible for national socialism, because of his financial support of Hitler IN THE LATE 1920s’. But at the same time, Cousin noticed that Thyssen ‘did not mention the many crimes committed since 1933, the political murders, the destruction of the bourgeois freedoms and the persecution of the Jews as decisive motives for his break with national socialism’. As far as Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is concerned, not a single statement at all concerning these topics has been handed down.


This is to be weighed up when assessing whether the alleged heroical, anti-national socialist, anti-war stance of the Thyssens was real, or whether these were exonerations issued on behalf of ruthless war opportunists (/criminals – as they must have known Hitler’s war was to be one of annihiliation) by their sycophantic underlings to ensure their bosses would not suffer any retribution.


The outstanding contribution of this book, meanwhile, is in its explanation of the utterly elitist perspective from which the Thyssens saw their role within National Socialism. So far, it is the only volume to have been reviewed, not only in academic circles, but also by a major German newspaper.


An honest German view (photo copyright: Lizas Welt –



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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






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Is there really a new Thyssen humility on the horizon?

Nearly a decade has passed since the publication of our controversial, 500-page book on Thyssen („The Thyssen Art Macabre“), following which a large official response was set in motion, the logic for which is sometimes difficult to understand, except perhaps to reaffirm the academic credibility of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and assuage the Thyssen family’s guilt.

Two years ago, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, with the consent of its board member Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza and the support of the ThyssenKrupp company archives, finally started releasing a series of ten books (anything around 5000 pages in total!) entitled „Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century“. So far, three books have appeared (two of which were doctoral thesis) and were reviewed by us: Donges on the United Steelworks, Urban on Forced Labour and Gramlich on Art.

Then, in November 2015, somewhat at odds with the chronology, volume five, „Thyssen in the Adenauer Period. Concern Formation and Family Capitalism“ by Professor Johannes Bähr was issued. The author’s status, track record and purported commitment to transparency in company-commissioned research gave rise to hopes for a genuine, critical analysis of the regaining of power, after World War Two, in Germany, of a family who had been major war profiteers and Hitler supporters.

Unfortunately, the book’s almost Disney-style, yet haughty superficiality once again displayed all too obviously the hallmarks of a Thyssen-authorised work. We will thus be postponing our review until the end of the series, not least because another tome, out sometime around 2017 (?), is set to deal with the „confiscation“ of Fritz Thyssen’s assets during, and their restitution after World War Two, a topic without which volume 5 cannot really be fully appreciated, assuming that anybody out there will have the stamina to actually get that far.

The remaining books of the series to be published are on the one hand: Simone Derix, „The Thyssens. Family and Fortune“ and Felix de Taillez, „Fritz and Heinrich Thyssen. Two Bourgeois Lives for the Public“ (both due out in June 2016), whereby the latter title represents an unbelievable turn-around for an organisation which in the past has denied any serious representation of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the darkest character of the family, who had the closest bonds – not least through banking – with the evil Nazi regime.

And finally, four books, whose publication dates remain so far undisclosed: Jan Schleusener on the „confiscation“ and restitution of Fritz Thyssen’s fortune; Harald Wixforth on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group 1919-1932; Boris Gehlen on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group 1932-1947; and Hans Günter Hockerts on the history of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Almost in parallel, ThyssenKrupp (or thyssenkrupp as it is now known, with its new, filigree logo) has seen a major image change campaign taking hold under Heinrich Hiesinger who, since taking over as chief executive in 2011, has been fighting on several fronts against huge deficits from past mismanagement and corruption scandals, as well as the rapid decline of the European steel-making sector.

Hiesinger’s programme of streamlining and transparency has been described by Martin Wocher in Handelsblatt as „the end of the era of the self-aggrandising Ruhr barons“ (of which, of course, there have not really been any left for quite some time) and by Bernd Ziesemer in Capital as a „change in culture and mentality“ that is allowing thyssenkrupp to distance itself from the „tradition of corruption“ within the steel industry.

But how believable and successful can this fight for the polishing of thyssenkrupp’s tarnished image really be against a background of persistent opacity in the company’s historiography?

As if to illustrate the contradictions involved in the situation, Francesca Habsburg, nee Thyssen-Bornemisza, grand-daughter of Heinrich, this month on German TV’s „ZDF Hallo Deutschland Mondän: Wien“ feature, having let herself be described as a „super-rich Thyssen heiress“, who „has no need to mince her words“, used the programme to attack the Austrian state as „hypocritical“ for using the Habsburg name to help tourism while refusing to fund her art exhibition activities with tax payers’ money. She then denigrated her husband’s name by stating (in English rather than German throughout!):

„The name Habsburg did not dazzle me. I was not overwhelmed by it. I was overwhelmed by my father-in-law, and how he kept the family together. I think the family has come to understand that I have accepted the history of the family and that it has a comfortable [clearly meaning financially comfortable] future through me“. (all quotes approximate from memory).

Of course, it is not the Habsburg family history that is difficult to accept. It is the history of her own, the Thyssen family and their industrial and banking endeavours from which her fortune came, that Francesca Thyssen should, in fact, start being sufficiently humble to concern herself with.

Thyssen without steel. A symbol of their fast disappearing corporate identity.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Forced Labour at Thyssen: Is the “Baron Concern” the Baron’s Concern? – Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen: Belangt der “Baron Konzern” den Baron etwas an?

The second book in the series “Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century”, written by Dr Thomas Urban and published by Schöningh Verlag in 2014, looks at the use of forced labour at the United Steelworks (Fritz Thyssen) and at the “Baron Concern” (Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza).

In it, we are described as “sensationalist journalists”.

It is reassuring to see that Professor Rasch and his academic colleagues continue to refer to the contents of our book, while confirming the accuracy of our work. Unfortunately, neither Manfred Rasch nor the other academics are showing any moral concern or regret, either personally or on behalf of the owner families, for the crime of working thousands of people to death (accurate records apparently no longer exist) in order to increase productivity and profitability, the responsibility for this being laid squarely at the feet of the war-time management.

I was recently reminded how the Thyssen family continue to reject their answerabilities when, in order to persuade me to stop writing about whether his family’s money smells, Lorne Thyssen (Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza) took me out to lunch, over which he said that his rejection of my accusation was based on the fact that he and his family had “not even been alive” at the time that their fortune was being forged.

He refused to accept my explanations or even show any regret that much of his father’s art collection, which had formed a major part of his inheritance, was funded with the profits made from such appalling activity. In my eyes, certainly morally and possibly legally, he and his relatives should acknowledge at least an appropriate degree of guilt.

I also told Lorne Thyssen that I considered his silence, like that of the rest of the family and now Professor Rasch and his team of academics, to be reflecting the same lack of concern that enabled the perpetration of the crime against humanity in the first place.

We remain proud of our book, its sources, accuracy and achievements, regardless of the label Manfred Rasch may see fit to give us and proud of the fact that the Thyssen family are now one step nearer to a full admission of their historic responsibility.

Das zweite Buch in der Reihe „Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert“, von Dr Thomas Urban, erschienen im Schöningh Verlag 2014, dreht sich um das Thema Zwangsarbeit beim „Stahlverein“ (Fritz Thyssen) und beim „Baron Konzern“ (Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza).

In dem Werk werden wir als „sensationsorientierte Journalisten“ bezeichnet.

Es ist ermutigend, dass Professor Rasch und seine akademischen Kollegen sich weiterhin auf den Inhalt unseres Buches beziehen und die Richtigkeit unserer Arbeit bestätigen. Aber weder Manfred Rasch noch die anderen Akademiker zeigen Betroffenheit oder Bedauern, entweder persönlich oder im Namen der Eigentümer-Familie, ob des Verbrechens, tausende von Menschen zu Tode zu arbeiten (genaue Aufzeichnungen existieren anscheinend nicht mehr), um Produktivität und Gewinn zu steigern. Diese Verantwortung wird entschieden den Managern zugeschoben.

Ich wurde vor Kurzem daran erinnert, dass die Thyssen Familie weiterhin ihre Verantwortlichkeit ablehnt, als mich Lorne Thyssen (Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza) zum Essen lud, um mich zu überreden, meine Schriften zur Frage, ob dem Geld seiner Familie ein übler Geruch anhaftet, einzustellen. Dabei meinte er, dass er meine Anschuldigungen zurückweisen müsse, da seine Familie „noch nicht einmal geboren war“ als ihr Vermögen geschmiedet wurde.

Er weigerte sich, meine Erläuterungen zu akzeptieren oder Bedenken zu zeigen, dass vieles am Wert der Kunstsammlung seines Vaters, welcher zum großen Teil in sein Erbe einfloß, mit den Profiten aus solch einer entsetzlichen Unternehmung finanziert wurde. In meinen Augen sollten er und seine Verwandten sicherlich moralisch, wenn nicht gar rechtlich ein angemessenes Ausmaß an Schuld anerkennen.

Ich sagte Lorne Thyssen auch, dass sein Schweigen, wie der des Rests der Familie und nun auch von Professor Rasch und seines akademischen Teams denselben Mangel an Anteilnahme widerspiegeln, welcher das ursprüngliche Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit ermöglichte.

Wir bleiben stolz auf unser Buch, seine Quellen, seine Exaktheit und seinen Erfolg, ungeachtet des Aufklebers, den Professor Rasch versucht uns anzuhängen. Und wir sind stolz auf die Tatsache, dass die Thyssen Familie jetzt einen Schritt näher daran ist, ihre historische Verantwortung vollumpfänglich einzugestehen.

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Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th century – Volume 1: „The United Steelworks under National Socialism, Concern Politics between Market Economy and State Economy“, by Alexander Donges, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2014.

This book begins with the author expressing his „astonishment“ at the fact that the entrepreneurial, Nazi period history of the United Steelworks (Vereinigte Stahlwerke, VSt) – a conglomerate which included Thyssen works – has not so far been properly researched by academia. Obviously, the independent scholarly information contained in our book has not been considered worthy of acknowledgment, regardless of the fact that it was as a direct result of its publication that Dr Donges and his fellow academic authors have been commissioned and funded to rewrite the Thyssens’ history.

Not until half way through the 400-page tome does he finally acknowledge that VSt was massively involved in armaments manufacture, but that, instead of perceiving this adequately, academia until now has rather viewed VSt as a mere raw iron and raw steel producer – in stark contrast to the Krupp-concern.

While it is difficult to know how to react to such obviously manipulated claims, this reviewer wonders whether it might ever occur to Dr Donges that the dimensions of previous mis-representations are such that it takes minimal intelligence to conclude that they must have been the result of intent rather than accident.

Considering that by the onset of Hitler’s dictatorship, the Thyssens, together with the German state, controlled 72,5% of VSt, and VSt’s output was three times the size of that of its biggest competitor, it was always illogical that Alfried Krupp was sentenced to prison at the Nuremberg Trials while the Thyssens got off scot-free. But for many and various reasons, explained at length in our book, they did, and there the myth of their quasi-heroic immaculacy began to be established.

It is apparent that German academia and the German media were prepared to follow this myth instead of, as we did, questioning it. In their defense they might argue that they were not able to view certain archives and that this has hampered their research. But while the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ files have indeed been unavailable to academia until recently, for the past 53 years of their existence the ThyssenKrupp archives – officially at least (the truth is another matter) – have not been subject to such restrictions.

When at some point around 2006/7 Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza created the Thyssen Industrial History Foundation and placed in it his father’s archives (which we had previously viewed in private, first in Madrid and later in Monte Carlo), he effectively placed them under the questionable curatorship of Prof. Manfred Rasch, head archivist of ThyssenKrupp AG, and even, it seems, in the same building as the ThyssenKrupp archives in Duisburg.

This move did the extraordinary thing of symbolically uniting the files of Fritz Thyssen’s side with those of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s side of the family; a momentous act, since it was a crucial element of the Thyssen historical myth that the two sides always pretended to have nothing to do with one another, a myth that the first three books in this series are nonetheless still trying to propagate.

Upon closer inspection of the contents lists, however, curious internal restructurings of files appear to be going on in these two archives. There are important files, which we know used to be in the archives of ThyssenKrupp, such as, surprisingly, the estate of Wilhelm Roelen (main war-time manager of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza) or, unsurprisingly, the estate of Robert Ellscheid (main lawyer of Fritz and Amélie Thyssen), and which are now said to be in the new Thyssen Industrial History Foundation archives.

But what is most noticeable from the footnotes is that time and time again, when reference is made to armaments in particular, the files in question tend to allegedly have been sourced in the archives of the newly created Thyssen Industrial History Foundation, rather than the archives of ThyssenKrupp AG, giving the impression of a possible damage limitation aspect in respect of this already ailing giant of German heavy industry.

In any case, one of the few major admissions made in this book is that Fritz Thyssen’s flight from Germany to Switzerland at the onset of World War Two might have had less to do with heroic opposition to Adolf Hitler and more with the fact that he had contravened foreign exchange regulations and committed tax evasion on a massive scale, as we first revealed (though they say nothing of the other reasons for his flight, including Hitler’s humiliating accusations of self-interest).

While presenting the actual figures of Fritz Thyssen’s misdemeanours, namely 31 million Reichsmark in evaded tax plus 17 million Reichsmark Reich Flight Tax, equalling a total of 48 million RM payable to the German State, Dr Donges quickly attenuates the claim by explaining that the denazification board of 1948 did not come to the conclusion that this had played a role in Fritz Thyssen’s flight. But what he fails to mention – although another author in the same series of books does – is how any genuine Aufarbeitung by these courts stalled once the Cold War began.

It is also noticeable that the author alleges the critical tax investigation into Fritz Thyssen’s affairs to have begun in the late 1920s, when in actual fact it had started almost immediately after the end of World War One.

The book manages to reveal that the retiring Joseph Thyssen branch of the dynasty (deriving from the brother of old August Thyssen) indirectly profited from the persecution of the Jews, as the Reich paid out their 54 million RM shares in VSt after Fritz Thyssen’s flight and the confiscation of his assets, by handing them shares previously owned by Jews and taken from them as part of the Jewish Assets Levy (Judenvermögensabgabe).

But it was Fritz Thyssen, whose anti-semitism was most overt, as he was prominently involved in forcing the Jewish members Paul Silverberg, Jakob Goldschmidt, Kurt Martin Hirschland, Henry Nathan, Georg Solmssen and Ottmar E Strauss to vacate their seats on the supervisory board of VSt in 1933/4. And no matter how often in this series they will try to tell us that Fritz Thyssen “gradually denazified himself” starting in 1934 and that his anti-Semitism was not of the vicious, murderous kind, we need to remember that forcing Jews out of their jobs was the first step in their disenfranchisement and on the road to the Holocaust.

When the Simon Hirschland Bank in Essen was „aryanised“ in 1938 by a banking consortium including Deutsche Bank and Essener National-Bank AG, Fritz Thyssen bought a share of 0.5 million RM, yet his role is said to be „unclear“ and „explained unsatisfactorily by reseachers“, which is the academics’ way of sowing doubt over established facts, especially when these are detrimental to the Thyssens’ image, and especially when they have been funded by Thyssen institutions to rewrite their history.

Of course generally the all important finance and banking side of things remains as much in the dark as it was at the time in question. Dr Donges mentions anonymous holdings in Holland, Switzerland and the USA; the Reich’s camouflaging of armaments financing through Metallurgische Forschungsanstalt; and Faminta AG of Glarus, Switzerland, which he alleges to have been a foreign vessel for Thyssen & Co. rather than for Fritz Thyssen personally. He leaves US bond creditors unnamed and states that „the role of the Finance Ministry within the Third Reich has not been sufficiently studied yet“.

And while on page 28 Dr Donges admits, albeit in the most superficial of ways, that after the death of the patriarch August Thyssen in 1926, Fritz Thyssen had to relinquish “part of the VSt shares” to his brother Heinrich, he does not tell us how long this stock [not just a few shares, but an initial 55 million RM, no less, and for which Fritz received shares in the family’s Dutch bank Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam in return, which was controlled by Heinrich] might have remained under Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s ownership and whether any of it was still in his possession at the time of the confiscation of Fritz’s fortune in 1939/40 (and if so, what happened to it after this date).

Instead the author concentrates on looking at the „use of political, legal and social options to further economic success….during the Nazi period“. He concludes that „entrepreneurial advantages were to be gained from the development of the armaments enterprises“ and that „although the freedom of action was hampered through many restrictions compared to the time of the Weimar Republic, the leadership of VSt could still pursue a long-term investment strategy.“

Thus this work ends with the earth-shattering conclusion that „if one looks at the development lines of the German steel industry in the 20th century, the long-term trend was that the steel manufacturers moved towards further processing. So VSt in the 1930s would probably have chosen that way even under another political regime“.

So presumably that was the main purpose of this book; to save the image of ThyssenKrupp AG and the conscience of surviving members of the Thyssen family, who have profited, and continue to do so, from the part Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG played in the death of 80 million people as a result of World War Two.

It is very difficult to see how Dr Donges’s doctoral thesis could possibly “close the gap” in research on the subject of the history of the United Steelworks during the Nazi period, as has been the claim made at the outset of this series “Family – Enterprise – Public. Thyssen in the 20th century”.

But whether anyone outside his immediate circle of overtly Thyssen-financed researchers will now wake up from their “great unquestioning slumber” and decide to pursue a more forthcoming research on the subject remains to be seen. Academic book reviews so far (by Tobias Birken at Sehepunkte and by Tim Schanetzky at H-Soz-Kult) suggest that they will not. In any case, how dissident academics would be received when knocking on the doors of “Professor Rasch’s archives”, remains an altogether different question.

Political economist (Dr.) Alexander Donges, gaining his title by being a Thyssen academic mercenary at Mannheim University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freiburg im Breisgau following a British bombing raid, November 1944

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