Forced Labor and German Industry – 8
Postscript, part 1
The famous steel baron Fritz Thyssen (born 1873) had been the German industrialist who supported Hitler most enthusiastically, financially and politically, even before 1933. Early in 1933, he joined the Party and became a deputy in the Reichstag for the NSDAP. Yet Fritz Thyssen also became the only major German industrialist to oppose Hitler openly. His disillusionment began with the so-called Röhm-Putsch in 1934 and its brutal “cleansing” by Hitler and the SS. The Nazis’ pressures on the Catholic Church and the pogroms against the Jews in November 1938 pushed him into opposition against the regime. He talked to friends and to generals about the possibility of bringing Hitler down.
When Fritz Thyssen was summoned to one of the symbolical sessions of the Reichstag on September 1, 1939, which could only mean signing on to the war by acclamation, he cabled to Göring that he could not join the meeting and that he was against the war. Hitler announced that German troops had marched into Poland and added that whoever was against him would be treated as a traitor. The Thyssens knew they had to leave Germany and went to Switzerland.
At the end of September, the Nazis signaled their former model industrialist that he would remain free of punishment if he returned. But Thyssen wrote long letters to Göring and Hitler, in which he called himself a political adversary of National Socialism and stated that he would not come back. He accused Hitler directly: “You are driving Germany into the abyss, and the German people into ruin. Change your course as long as it is still possible. Give the Reich a free parliament, give freedom of conscience, of thought and of speech back to the German people. Provide the required guarantees for a reintroduction of law and order.” (Thomas Rother, Die Thyssens, Frankfurt/New York 2003, p.98, my translation. Note the somewhat strange idea that Hitler had even taken the conscience and the freedom of thought from the Germans.) And Thyssen had his letters published. The Nazis confiscated his assets and renounced his and his wife’s German citizenship.
In 1941, on their way back from Brussels, where Fritz and Amélie Thyssen had visited his mother on her deathbed, they were caught by the Vichy-French police shortly before embarkation to Argentina, and handed over to Nazi-Germany. Göring offered Thyssen to renounce his break and to appeal to the Führer for clemency. When he refused, the Nazis put the Thyssens into a mental asylum and later sent them to Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Dachau. In April 1945, the SS had orders to kill the Thyssens and other prominent prisoners, who had been brought to the village of Villabassa in South Tyrol. A German Army major prevented the executions.
Later the Allies sued Thyssen for his early support of Hitler, and he also had to go through German “de-nazification” procedures. He was in jail for some time, but in the end was acquitted. The British ordered the dismantling of the August Thyssen Hütte in Duisburg, but stopped it in the light of mass protests. The plants were rebuilt. Meanwhile the Thyssens had joined their daughter and son-in-law in Argentina, where Fritz Thyssen died in 1951.
- Forced Labor and German Industry – 4
- Forced Labor and German Industry – 5
- Forced Labor and German Industry – 7
- Forced Labor and German Industry – 2
- Forced Labor and German Industry – 6