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The indispensability of “impertinence” or An explanation to a Berlin book blogger concerning Sacha Batthyany and the Thyssen-Bornemiszas (by Caroline D Schmitz)

The aggressiveness of the reaction of many German-speaking commentators following our article in the Feuilleton of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2007, „The Hostess from Hell“ (previously published in Britain in The Independent under the title „The Killer Countess“), has always shocked me deeply. Here was the powerful Thyssen dynasty, who not just kept quiet about their overwhelming participation in the National Socialist regime, but who had their role pro-actively denied through the propagation of misleading reports. And there were we, an English author and a German researcher, who chance had brought together in England in 1995 and who, through a very small number of outstanding personalities, namely Steven Bentinck, Heini Thyssen, Naim Attallah, George Weidenfeld, Frank Schirrmacher and Ernst Gerlach, were put into the lucky position of being able to pierce the narrative of the corporate-academic-media establishment on the subject of Thyssen and save the truth from being entombed.

From the beginning, we were „impertinent“ in the original sense of the word which is „not being part of (the establishment)“, and our research always took place at the original locations. We did not learn of the Rechnitz massacre on the Internet, but in Rechnitz itself and from Rechnitz people. At the time our article was published in FAZ, we knew nothing of Eduard Erne, who had made a documentary film on the event entitled “Totschweigen” (i.e. “Silencing to Death”) as far back as 1994 (and who currently works for Swiss television), or of Paul Gulda, who in 1991 founded the Rechnitz Refugee and Commemoration Initiative (Refugius). When we met them both at the Rechnitz-symposium at the Burgenland County Museum in Eisenstadt (Austria) in 2008, they too treated us in an unfriendly manner, which we thought could only be because they felt we had ignored their work on purpose. This was not the case and moreover, because of us, their work was now much more prominent than before. So why were they attacking us and protecting the Thyssens and the Batthyanys who had obviously rejected or ignored their work in the past?

Now, a decade later, a sizeable statement by a member of the dynasty, Sacha Batthyany, has been published in Germany in the form of the book „What’s that to do with me?“, and is due to be released in Great Britain by Quercus in March 2017 (translator: Anthea Bell) under the title „A Crime in the Family“, (a line remarkably similar to the cover headline „Shame and scandal in the family“ we used on our book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“, and which was a statement originally made to us by Heini Thyssen himself). Great efforts of promotion are being lavished on Mr Batthyany’s book, which is to be distributed as widely as Israel and the USA.

In his press work, Sacha Batthyany tirelessly pretends that it was „chance“ that he came across the negative sides of his family history and in particular the Rechnitz massacre. He says it was all „unknown“ until one day he started investigating things of which he knew absolutely nothing before, which he says is because he grew up in the „padded“ country of Switzerland, where one knows nothing, for instance, about the Second World War… This from a journalist, whose family was financially supported by the Thyssens’ wartime profiteering organised from Switzerland, who is a member of one of the most influential European (originally Austro-Hungarian) dynasties, has studied in Madrid, has worked for various big international newspapers (e.g. Neue Zürcher Zeitung) and spent a big part of his youth not in Zurich, but in Salzburg (although he admits the latter very exclusively only when he happens to be speaking in the major Austrian towns of Salzburg or Vienna – his press work does not seem to have led him to the Burgenland provinces of Eisenstadt or Rechnitz so far, whose mayor Engelbert Kenyeri, poignantly, does not seem to be too impressed by Batthyany’s book).

Even FAZ (Sandra Kegel), which during its original coverage of our story had to fend off huge ill will from Neue Zürcher Zeitung and others and without whom the German-speaking version of our book would not be available, now withheld mention of our impulse and, as so many others showered by the promotion of the Kiepenheuer & Witsch publishing house, praised Batthyany’s work as a heroic act of self-motivated honesty. And this despite the fact that his book would not exist if FAZ, ten years ago, had not had the courage to allow our „impertinence“, thereby exposing itself to the risk of serious reputational attack at the hands of their rivals in the media.

At the end of May, the Berlin book blogger „Devona“ (, having reviewed 75 works of fiction, decided to review a non-fiction audio book for the first time in her life and chose „What’s that to do with me?“ to do so. In her review, she made statements about the role of Margit Batthyany nee Thyssen-Bornemisza in the Rechnitz massacre, which, according to the rudimentary state of her knowledge about the case, were not hers to make. For instance, she described the fact that Margit covered up for two main perpetrators of the crime after the war as mere „conjecture“. So we wrote a comment to her, pointing out the inaccuracy and coarse fatality of her statement. Even the statement concerning the Rechnitz massacre on the official website of the Batthyany family, which is still far from extensive enough, has been admitting for a few years now that this cover-up did happen. So why should an anonymous person, who is obviously not part of the family, disseminate contradictory information?

Devona reacted at great speed and very angrily to the content of our critical analysis. Then she revised her reaction. Now, it was no longer so much the content of our criticism that angered her, as our manner of expressing it, which she alleged to be „impertinent“. And then the author of „Buchimpressionen“ did something truly astonishing. She first took off the name of the German version of our Thyssen book („Die Thyssen-Dynastie. Die Wahrheit hinter dem Mythos“) from her platform, which had been part of our statement. She then accused us of not having provided the German public with a German-speaking version of our work. When she subsequently found out that a German version of our book has existed since 2008, she refused to recognise this fact, because, as she said, „to this day Wikipedia does not refer to a German version“.

The blogger now added that she would „not research to the ends of the Internet after every commentator“. But in truth she had not researched anywhere near the ends of the Internet, she had come to rest at its very first stop. Our book on the Thyssens exists in German, but for Devona it did not exist in German, because on Wikipedia it did not say that it exists in German. This was so indicative of German-speakers’ refusal to engage with the factual content of our book. Was this information handler just too lazy or did she not want to know about the correction? Devona’s statements, in their unfiltered emotionality, were highly revelatory. She had now also stopped addressing me and directed herself exclusively to „Mr Litchfield“, as if the book were the product of an Englishman only and not an English-German co-production.

Wikipedia as a reference point is problematic to us, particularly because FAZ in 2007, during the translation of our article from English to German, carried out several changes to our text, after, amongst other things, conversations with the presumptious head of the ThyssenKrupp archives, Professor Manfred Rasch, and after checking various Wikipedia-pages. The most important one of these changes is this: Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza did not settle permanently in Switzerland in 1932, i.e. one year before Adolf Hitler came to power, but only in 1938, as we found out during our research. The Independent article said 1938, but the FAZ article says 1932. People with adequate historical knowledge know what that means and the roles of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and of Switzerland during the Second World War have been explained at length in our book. To the less experienced we say simply this: it is a swap that might appear tiny, and which yet has a meaning that is both fundamental and monumental.

Devona thought of our comments to her as being „impertinent“, although they were merely strict. And she refused emphatically to look into the matter in a way that was befitting its gravity. The „impertinence“ of the matter, however, does not lie with us. The outrageousness and the aberration lies with the crimes that were committed in the name of the German people during the Second World War. The impertinence lies with the fact that the Thyssens (who had married into and financed parts of the Batthyany family) gave aid to the anti-democratic, grievously inhumane Nazi-regime, that they set the parameters in which the monstrous crimes against above all the Jews, but also against other people, including the crimes against the German people and their honour, could be carried out. It is impertinent that they have remained silent about it for 70 years, have denied their role and glorified their deeds. It is impertinent that they, in short, have misled the general public and that in large parts they continue to do so. It is only because of their behaviour that this book blogger at this time was still able to express her assumption of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen’s guiltlessness.

The families in question enjoy a comfortable supremacy in society, within the public discourse and in the „regard“ of people, based on their membership of both the world of the financially privileged and of the aristocracy. (NB: the latter is strictly long since defunct both in Germany and in Austria and can be accepted in a democracy only if it does behave in an impeccably democratic manner). Furthermore their status is due to the fact that ThyssenKrupp is still one of the major German employers and that the coal and steel industries, which the Thyssens were unfortunately allowed to continue to control after 1945, helped prevent a total collapse of the country following the Second World War (as Herbert Grönemeyer sings in his song „Bochum“: „your pit gold lifted us up again“).

In arch-conservative Austria, the Batthyanys (who Sacha Batthyany obviously considers himself part of and vice-a-versa, as he lets himself be and is pictured in their midst on their homepage – last row, second from right in the big group picture of the younger generation) continue to have a special status which derives from their long feudal history (the current head of the clan, Count Ladislaus Pascal Batthyany-Strattmann, is a Gentleman of the Papal Household!…).

In view of this, the general public continues „pertinently“ to content itself with its submissive role of being recipients of Thyssen and Batthyany misinformation. One member of the dynasty, Sacha Batthyany, has now written a book, which purports to be an honest examination of the past. But not everyone remains convinced (see in particular Thomas Hummitzsch in “Der Freitag”, but also Michael André on Getidan, and even Luzia Braun, Blue Sofa, Leipzig Book Fair).

Most of the commentators of the Rechnitz massacre say they agree that the graves of the victims have to be found. But while local people have claimed they know where the graves are and the original Russian investigations certainly located them, not everyone amongst the more powerful members of the community, both past and present, seem to be equally willing to contribute to such transparency.

While it appears to be utopic to hope that this might change, times have moved on rapidly since 2007, when our book first appeared. Thyssenkrupp is now an ailing colossus, whose name quite possibly might not exist in its present form in the foreseeable future, following a sale or take-over of all or parts. And German legislation concerning the prosecution of Nazi crimes no longer assumes automatic guiltlessness if a direct participation in acts of killing cannot be proven. A presence and role in the overall crime suffices, and an administrative office some distance away from a gas chamber is close enough for its essential contribution to the effectiveness of the killing machine to be proven. The same goes in the case of Rechnitz for the castle (which was requisitioned by the SS but continued to be financed by the Thyssens) and the Rechnitz murder pit of the night of 24/25 March 1945.

Today it is still mainly the small fish that get dragged before the courts, people such as John Demjanjuk, Oskar Gröning and Reinhold Hanning. But the clock of historical honesty is ticking relentlessly for the big fish too, who still are not working through their past voluntarily and comprehensively. Those Thyssens and Batthyanys, who played unsavoury roles during the Second World War, are dead. It is the democratic duty of their descendants finally to cut through the web of misinformation and stick by not only the positive sides of their history but the negative sides too. Only through their confession can the general public learn the last serious lessons from this history. Only then can permanent healing and reconciliation happen.

But the Thyssen-Bornemiszas and Batthyanys, it seems, do not wish this to happen, possibly because a free, enlightened, democratic public can be better controlled through unsettling, divisive manipulation. The history of the Holocaust could be comprehensively settled by now, if these families had not shirked their responsibilities. The German people could finally be released from a continuation of the drip-drip-drip of Aufarbeitung which is so bone-grinding and thereby effectively counter-productive, if these families did now come clean and accepted the fact that our book is an accurate, independent, historical record.

Deep in the souls of the German and Austrian people, the names Thyssen and Batthyany are inextricably linked to the feelings of honour and pride. However, these families (the Thyssen-Bornemiszas through their head Georg Thyssen, board member of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and backer of the series „Family – Enterprises – Public. Thyssen in the 20th Century“ (which so far does not mention the Rechnitz massacre at all) and the Batthyanys through their head Count Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattmann, backer of the tomes „The Batthyany Family. An Austro-Hungarian Dynasty of Magnates from the End of the Middle Ages until Today“, which rejects outright any involvement of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in the Rechnitz massacre!) fail to act honourably by avoiding independent scrutiny and controlling their cooperation in authorised historical publications.

Their shielding leads to a situation where even Germans and Austrians who are anti-Nazi, or purport to be so, cannot recognise the full extent of the Holocaust and thus unwittingly help cover up the true nature of some Nazi crimes, such as the Rechnitz massacre, a process that can all too easily appear to be that of a silent approval.

In the case of Germans and Austrians this is of course particularly devastating. But this kind of dodging is also especially contraindicated for citizens of supposedly „neutral“ countries such as Switzerland, and particularly for Sacha Batthyany. The number of statements he makes in his book and in his press work that are offensive, such as „Marga and Mirta had the Holocaust that they could hold on to. What did I have?“, is also inacceptable.

As long as Sacha Batthyany will continue to claim sympathy rather than guilt for the questionable honesty of his revelations, we will be persistent in this matter. And that is not an „impertinence“. It is our holy duty.

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

Buchrezension: Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert – Band 1: “Die Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus, Konzernpolitik zwischen Marktwirtschaft und Staatswirtschaft”, von Alexander Donges, erschienen im Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn, 2014.

Dieses Buch über das “Gemeinschaftsunternehmen zu dem Unternehmen der Thyssen-Gruppe zählten” beginnt mit der Aussage des Autors, es sei “erstaunlich, dass sich die moderne unternehmenshistorische Forschung noch nicht intensiver mit der Entwicklung des Konzerns in den Jahren 1933 bis 1945 auseinandergesetzt hat”. Offensichtlich wurde die in unserem Buch enthaltene, unabhängige wissenschaftliche Information nicht anerkannt, obwohl sie Auslöser dafür war, dass Dr. Donges und seine akademischen Kollegen mit dem Umschreiben der Thyssen Geschichte beauftragt und dafür gefördert wurden.

Erst in der Mitte des 400-Seiten schweren Traktats rückt er schließlich damit heraus, dass die Vereinigten Stahlwerke (VSt, Vestag) massiv im Rüstungsgeschäft tätig waren, aber dass “in der Forschung (dies) bislang nicht hinreichend beachtet (wurde), sodass die Vestag im Gegensatz zu Unternehmen wie dem Krupp-Konzern eher als Roheisen- und Rohstahlproduzent wahrgenommen wird”.

Die Entscheidung, wie man auf solche ganz offensichtlich manipulierten Behauptungen reagieren soll fällt schwer und wir fragen uns, ob es Dr Donges jemals in den Sinn gekommen ist, dass die Dimensionen der bisherigen fälschlichen Darstellung so bedeutsam sind, dass der Schluss auf der Hand liegt, dass sie nicht zufällig sondern absichtlich zustande kam.

Da die Thyssens zusammen mit dem Deutschen Staat zu Beginn von Hitler’s Diktatur 72,5% der Vereinigten Stahlwerke kontrollierten, und deren Ausstoß drei Mal so groß war wie der ihres größten Konkurrenten, war es stets unlogisch, dass Alfried Krupp im Nürnberger Prozeß zu einer Haftstrafe verurteilt wurde, während die Thyssens ungeschoren davon kamen. Sie konnten dies aus vielen verschiedenen Gründen, die in unserem Buch ausführlich beschrieben werden, und so wurde der Mythos ihrer heldenmütigen Unbeflecktheit erschaffen.

Es ist offensichtlich, dass die akademische und die Medienwelt in Deutschland willens waren, diesem Mythos zu folgen statt ihn zu hinterfragen, wie wir es getan haben. Zu ihrer Verteidigung mögen sie anführen, dass sie gewisse Dokumente nicht einsehen konnten und ihre Forschungen dadurch behindert waren. Doch während die Archive der Thyssen-Bornemiszas tatsächlich bis vor kurzem für die akademische Welt unzugänglich waren, bestand für die Akten des 53-Jahre alten ThyssenKrupp Archivs keinerlei Zugangsbeschränkung (offiziell jedenfalls nicht; die Wahrheit steht auf einem anderen Blatt).

Als Georg Thyssen-Bornemisza ca. 2006/7 die Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen ins Leben rief und ihr die Archive seines Vaters übergab (welche wir zuvor privat in Madrid und später in Monte Carlo eingesehen hatten), unterstellte er diese der fragwürdigen Pflegschaft von Prof. Manfred Rasch, Leiter des Archivs der ThyssenKrupp AG und sogar, so scheint es, zur Aufbewahrung im selben Gebäude in Duisburg, welches das ThyssenKrupp Archiv enthält.

Dieser erstaunliche Transfer hatte zur Folge, dass die Akten der Familie Fritz Thyssen mit den Akten der Familie Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza symbolisch vereinigt wurden; ein unglaublicher Akt, wenn man bedenkt, wie wichtig es für die Aufrechterhaltung des geschichtlichen Thyssen-Mythos war, stets zu betonen, dass die eine Seite der Familie mit der anderen Seite nichts zu tun hatte – ein Mythos, den die drei ersten Bücher dieser Reihe nichtsdestotrotz weiter fortsetzen.

Bei näherer Einsicht der Bestände, jedoch, scheinen kuriose interne Restrukturierungen der Akten in den beiden Archiven vorzugehen. Da sind zum einen wichtige Akten, von denen wir wissen, dass sie vormals im ThyssenKrupp Archiv waren, wie z.B. (erstaunlicherweise) der Nachlass von Wilhelm Roelen (Hauptmanager von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza) oder der Nachlass von Robert Ellscheid (Hauptanwalt von Fritz und Amélie Thyssen) und von denen jetzt behauptet wird, sie befänden sich im Archiv der neuen Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen.

Was aber besonders aus den Fußnoten hervorsticht ist, dass immer und immer wieder wenn es speziell um militärische Rüstung geht, die Akten meist aus dem Archiv der neuen Stiftung zur Industriegeschichte Thyssen stammen sollen, und nicht aus dem der ThyssenKrupp AG, sodass man das Gefühl bekommt, hier könnte eventuell eine Schadensbegrenzung zugunsten des kränkelnden Riesen der deutschen Schwerindustrie im Gange sein.

Auf alle Fälle ist eines der wenigen, bedeutenden Eingeständnisse dieses Buches, dass die Flucht Fritz Thyssens von Deutschland in die Schweiz bei Ausbruch des Zweiten Weltkriegs weniger mit heroischer Auflehnung gegen Hitler, und mehr mit der Tatsache zu tun gehabt haben könnte, dass er massiv gegen Devisenbestimmungen verstoßen und Steuern hinterzogen hatte, von der wir zuerst berichteten (obschon es nichts über weitere Gründe für seine Flucht aussagt, wie zum Beispiel Hitlers erniedrigende Anschuldigung des Eigennutzes).

Während Dr Donges die Verfehlungen Fritz Thyssens in Zahlen festhält, nämlich 31 Millionen Reichsmark in hinterzogenen Steuern plus 17 Millionen RM Reichsfluchtsteuer, also ein Gesamtbetrag von 48 Million RM, der an den deutschen Staat zu zahlen gewesen wären, mildert er die Aussage ab, indem er behauptet, das Entnazifizierungsverfahren von 1948 sei nicht zu dem Schluss gekommen, dass dieser Aspekt eine wichtige Rolle bei Fritz Thyssens Flucht gespielt habe. Dr Donges unterlässt es jedoch, diesen Beweis zu qualifizieren – wie es andere Autoren in dieser Reihe tun – und darauf hinzuweisen, dass die ehrliche Aufarbeitung durch diese Gerichte zum Erliegen kam sobald der Kalte Krieg begann.

Es ist auch bemerkenswert, dass der Autor behauptet die kritische Steuerfahndung in Sachen Fritz Thyssen habe Ende der Zwanziger Jahre begonnen, obwohl diese in Wirklichkeit bereits bald nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg ihren Anfang nahm.

Das Buch bringt es fertig, zu veröffentlichen, dass die zurückgezogen lebende Joseph Thyssen Seite der Familie (vom Bruder des alten August Thyssens abstammend) indirekt von der Verfolgung von Juden profitierte, da das Reich ihnen nach Fritz Thyssens Flucht und der Beschlagnahmung seines Vermögens, den Wert ihrer VSt-Aktien, nämlich 54 Million RM, mit Aktien aus jüdischem Besitz erstattete, die durch die Judenvermögensabgabe an das Reich gekommen waren.

Aber es war Fritz Thyssen, dessen Anti-Semitismus offensichtlich war, während er in prominenter Position 1933/4 daran beteiligt war, die jüdischen Mitglieder Paul Silverberg, Jakob Goldschmidt, Kurt Martin Hirschland, Henry Nathan, Georg Solmssen und Ottmar E Strauss aus dem Aufsichtsrat der VSt zu drängen. Und ganz gleich wie oft man in dieser Serie versuchen wird, uns weiszumachen, dass Fritz Thyssen sich nach 1934 “selbst stufenweise ent-nazifierte” und dass seine Judenfeindlichkeit nicht von der bösartigen, mörderischen Art war, so müssen wir uns daran erinnern, dass die wirtschaftliche Entrechtung der Juden den ersten Schritt auf dem Weg zum Holocaust darstellt.

Als die Simon Hirschland Bank in Essen 1938 “arisiert” und von einem Konsortium übernommen wurde, an dem die Deutsche Bank und die Essener National-Bank AG beteiligt waren, kaufte Fritz Thyssen einen Anteil von 0.5 Millionen RM, aber seine Rolle wird als “fraglich” bezeichnet und gesagt, dass “in der Forschung nur ungenau beantwortet (wird) welche Rolle Thyssen bei der Gründung dieses ‘Arisierungs-Konsortiums’ spielte”. Dies ist eine Methode, mit der Akademiker Zweifel an etablierten Einschätzungen aussähen, vor allem wenn diese für die Thyssens rufschädigend sind und sie von ihnen beim Umschreiben ihrer Geschichte gefördert werden.

Natürlich bleibt die sehr wichtige Finanz- und Bankenseite der Fragestellung genauso unterbelichtet, wie sie es zur Zeit des Geschehens war. Dr Donges erwähnt anonyme Holdings in den Niederlanden, der Schweiz und in den USA; dass das Reich die Rüstungsfinanzierung über die Metallurgische Forschungsanstalt verschleierte; und Faminta AG im schweizerischen Glarus, von dem er behauptet, es sei ein ausländisches Instrument der Thyssen & Co., nicht von Fritz Thyssen persönlich, gewesen. Er nennt nicht die Namen der amerikanischen Anleihegläubiger und sagt aus, dass die Rolle des Finanzministeriums im Dritten Reich noch nicht ausreichend erforscht worden ist.

Und während Dr Donges auf Seite 28 in oberflächlichster Weise informiert, dass nach dem Tod des Patriarchen August Thyssen 1926, Fritz Thyssen seinem Bruder Heinrich “einen Teil” der VSt Aktien abtreten musste (es waren anfänglich nicht weniger als 55 Millionen RM, für die er im Gegenzug Anteile an der Familien-eigenen Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam erhielt, die von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza kontrolliert wurde), beschreibt er nirgends, wie lange dieser Anteil wohl im Besitz von Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza verblieb und ob er sich noch in seinem Besitz befand, als das Vermögen von Fritz Thyssen 1939/40 konfisziert wurde (und falls ja, was dann damit geschah).

Statt dessen konzentriert sich der Autor auf die “Nutzung von politischen, rechtlichen und gesellschaftlichen Optionen für den wirtschaftlichen Erfolg” in der NS-Zeit. Er veranschaulicht “die unternehmerischen Vorteile des Ausbaus der Rüstungsbetriebe” und stellt fest: “Auch wenn die Handlungsspielräume im Vergleich mit der Weimarer Republik aufgrund zahlreicher Restriktionen eingeschränkt waren, konnte die Konzernleitung (der VSt) weiterhin eine langfristig ausgerichtete Investitionsstrategie verfolgen.”

Und so endet das Buch mit der weltbewegenden Schlussfolgerung: “Betrachtet man die Entwicklungslinien der deutschen Stahlindustrie im 20. Jahrhundert, so bewegten sich die Stahlerzeuger im langfristigen Trend hin zur Weiterverarbeitung. Daher wäre die Vestag (Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG) in den 1930er Jahren wohl auch unter einem anderen politischen Regime diesen Weg gegangen”.

So muss man annehmen, dass dies der Hauptgrund für dieses Werk war: das Image der ThyssenKrupp AG und das Gewissen überlebender Mitglieder der Thyssen-Familie, die von der Rolle der Vereinigten Stahlwerke AG beim Tod von 80 Millionen Menschen als Auswirkung des Zweiten Weltkriegs profitiert haben – und dies noch tun – sauber zu halten.

Es ist nicht ersichtlich, wie Dr Donges mit seiner Doktorarbeit tatsächlich die Forschungslücke zum Thema Vereinigte Stahlwerke in der Nazi-Periode auch nur annähernd “schließen” könnte, wie in der Missionsaussage zur Projektreihe “Familie – Unternehmen – Öffentlichkeit. Thyssen im 20. Jahrhundert” zu lesen steht.

Ob jemand ausserhalb des Zirkels der offensichtlich Thyssen-finanzierten Forscher in Folge dessen aus dem “großen, bedingungslosen Schlummer” erwachen und beschließen wird, eine etwas kritischere Forschung zu betreiben, wird sich zeigen. Akademische Buchrezensionen (z. B. von Tobias Birken bei Sehepunkte, oder Tim Schanetzky bei H-Soz-Kult) lassen bisher nicht viel Hoffnung auf eine wirklich kritische Auseinandersetzung aufkommen. In jedem Falle ist es eine ganz andere Frage, wie abweichende Akademiker empfangen würden, wenn sie an die Tür der “Archive des Professors Rasch” anklopften.

Der Volkswirt (Dr.) Alexander Donges, wie er seinen Titel an der Universität Mannheim als akademischer Thyssen-Söldner verdient

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

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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