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Berthold Beitz, Humanitarian and Philanthropist
His was a name that did not jump into the mind when thinking about famous Germans, but Berthold Beitz was one of Israel's Righteous Among the Nations for his work rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, and was also a main contributor in the rebuilding of Germany's post war reputation as well as that of Krupp Industries.
Alfried Krupp was known as the 'Munitions King for the Fuhrer' and his family owned company was totally destroyed by the allies in 1947, as led by the father and then the son it had produced munitions for World War One and World War Two.
Like many others during both wars the company employed workers seized from across Europe, initially paying a basic rate but ultimately using them as slave labor.
Berthold Beitz was born into on September 26, 1913, in Pommerania, north east Germany, into a family who later became strong supporters of the Nazis. He studied banking and at the outbreak of World War Two was a junior executive at Royal Dutch Shell in Hamburg.
A person of Protestant principles and convictions he had neither taken an interest in Nazi propaganda nor joined the party, however in 1941 his grandfather, who was a devout Nazi, took him to a dinner at the home of Gustav Krupp, head of a major munitions company, where Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi Security Police and the architect of the Holocaust, was a guest.
When Heydrich mentioned oil refineries had been taken over in western Poland, and were to be subsidiaries of Royal Dutch Shell, an enthusiastic Berthold Beitz put himself forward, and was given a directorship of the oil company in Boryslaw, Poland.
Beitz soon witnessed first hand the pogroms on the large Jewish population, the brutality of the Nazis and the Ukrainians, death trains running to Auschwitz and Treblinka, the murder of a child in it's mothers arms, children dragged out of their beds in an orphanage, thrown out of windows and in the middle of the night taken with bare feet to the railway station.
'It was those children sitting in the station, with those enormous eyes, looking at you', he said later, and 'When you see a woman with a child in her arms being shot, and you have a child of your own, then there is only one way you can react'.
From that moment he opposed the regime and did whatever he could to help the victims and protect his employees.
Together with his wife Else, who has also been recognized by the State of Israel as 'Righteous Among the Nations' and had been by his side for over 70 years, he helped in whatever way he could, including concealing Jews who were on the run in the family home.
He rescued Jewish men and women from the transport trains to the Belzec extermination camp by claiming them to be 'professional workers', although they included tailors, hairdressers and Talmudic scholars and other unqualified workers who were often in poor physical condition.
The SS was tipped off about his activities however the Gestapo member who got his case had been a childhood friend and Beitz was released to continue with his work. By war's end 800 of his workers had survived.
He had only to spend a short time on the front, and 32 years old after the war ended, and 'politically untainted', he was building a successful career in insurance, when a meeting in 1952 with the heir to the Krupp dynasty, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, the son of the man Beitz had met in 1941, was to change his life.
Alfried Krupp had been convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment together with the loss of all property, but after three years New York banker John J. McCloy, who was serving as American High Commissioner for Germany, arranged for Krupp to be pardoned and his former assets returned.
Connected in everyone's mind with munitions, war and slave labor a new image and new direction was needed for the company, and Alfried Krupp took himself out of the picture and put Berthold Beitz in charge.
Under Beitz not only was Krupp turned into a modern company he began to use his influence and contacts in politics and diplomacy, which was not always looked upon favorably.
However shortly after meeting Nikita Khrushchev the Soviet leader he also met US President John F. Kennedy, who said of him "Finally a German who isn't uptight", and he was credited as being one of those influential in beginning the 1960's 'Ostpolitik' movement, which, using 'change through rapprochement', re-opened communication with the Eastern bloc.
Germany's Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971 for his work towards Ostpolitik, asked Beitz to become the country's ambassador to Moscow, but he refused the offer.
His contacts to leaders in the Eastern bloc, which included to Erich Honecker the East German leader with whom he went deer hunting, were not met with approval but were used to help many people leave the East.
The Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, a major German philanthropic foundation with its seat in the former Krupp family villa, a 269 room mansion in Essen, was created by and named in honor of Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Beitz's late employer and head of the Krupp company, and as its president Beitz authorized grants supporting everything from education and medical care to culture and art in all its forms.
In Germany Berthold Beitz is remembered not only as a man who behaved honorably during World War II but also as a symbol of 'Rhein Capitalism'. A method of doing business with the emphasis on the social partnership between employees and employers, and a company’s responsibility for its workers, which is how the Krupp company had initially been run in the 19th century.
Harvard University has a 'Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs', the first professorship named after a German, and at the age of 98 he was awarded the Lev Kopelev Prize for Peace and Justice in Cologne. An award given in the name of Lev Z. Kopelev, a Soviet author and dissident, to honor people, projects or organizations, who stand for and are working towards peace and justice.
As the award was handed over Beitz was described with the words:
"An impressive example of how people in extreme situations should behave.".
Berthold Beitz born September 26, 1913 in Western Pomerania died at his holiday home in Kampen, on the Nordfriesland island of Sylt, July 30, 2013.
In one of the obituaries was the sentence:
"Danke, dass Sie meine Vorbild waren - wie Willie Brandt, ein guter Deutscher. Wir Nazi-kinder hatten wenige Vorbilder. Sie waren eines."
'Thank you that you were my role model - like Willie Brandt, a good German. We Nazi children had few role models. You were one.'
Illustrations: Berthold Beitz, 2010 - Berthold and Else Beitz with their daughter Barbara Ingrid during WWII, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung
And you can follow German Culture on Facebook
To Be Preserved Forever by Lev Kopelev, smuggled out of Russia and printed in Michigan. The words jump out of the page, but it is an accurate story of the times and not an easy read
Probably Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's finest work, The First Circle, and Lev Z. Kopelev was the inspiration for one of the characters.
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