Krupp, Berthold Beitz, and repentance

[In Judaism, the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is also called the Ten Days of Repentance. In honor thereof, this story.]

I just finished rereading William Manchester’s well-written and entertaining, if in places highly tendentious, The Arms of Krupp about the history of the (in)famous dynasty of Ruhr smokestack barons.

In brief, the dynasty started in the 16th century when a Dutch merchant (probably originally named Arndt Krop[*]) settled in the town of Essen on the Ruhr. During a plague epidemic, he bought up houses and plots of land by the bushel load — Manchester claims many sold their land for what it would bear, then spent the money on reveling before the plague would take them. Epidemic over, he found himself holding the family’s initial fortune.

His descendant Friedrich Krupp (1787-1826), in search of the “secret formula” for cast steel, started a small steel mill that took advantage of the plentiful coal in the area. That enterprise only took off under his son, an eccentric genius named Alfred Krupp, a.k.a., “the cannon king”. He in fact made at least as much money making rails, wheels, and locomotives for the emerging railway network (the wheels gave rise to the Krupp logo of three interlocking circles), but after conquering the objections of hidebound Prussian staff officers (who swore by bronze for cannon) did become the armorer of Wilhelm I and his chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Alfred, a visionary, also started the firm’s tradition of paternalistic benevolence towards Krupp employees, with old age pensions, company housing, a company hospital,… that were decades ahead of their time. Essen effectively became a Krupp company town and never entirely ceased being one.

His son Friedrich Alfred Krupp, a close intimate of the new Kaiser Wilhelm II, continued in his ways, until a lurid scandal [**] led to his “death by apoplexy” (sealed coffin, buried without an autopsy — you get the idea). This left his daughter “big Bertha” [**] the sole owner, until Wilhelm II found a suitable husband in the guise of an older diplomat named Gustav Freiherr [=baron, literally “free lord”] von Bohlen und Halbach. Gustav took his wife’s family name in front of his, and became the head of the dynasty while Bertha remained the owner. Gustav was Germany’s armorer during WW I (ironically, British gunner shot Vickers shells at the German with a Krupp-patented time fuse — for which Vickers paid royalties to Krupp!), nursed the firm through the lean years of the Weimar Republic, then like other Ruhr Schlotbaronen (smokestack barons) rallied behind the upstart National Socialist leader Hitler [y”sh]. (Bertha despised the latter and kept her distance from him.) Others like Fritz Thyssen had a change of heart later (Thyssen spent most of WW II in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps). Not Gustav — although following his first stroke in 1941 he became increasingly non compos mentis. Son Alfried became the “regent”, so to speak, and in 1943 was appointed the sole heir and owner by Führer decree (the so-called “Lex Krupp”).

At the first Nuremberg trial, the prosecution made the fatal mistake of indicting Gustav (by now completely senile), not being aware Alfried had stepped in his shoes. It is quite likely Alfried would have been sentenced to death or at least life in prison otherwise — not just because of his role in enabling Counts I and II (“conspiracy to war” and “war of aggression”) of the indictment, but because of the rampant exploitation of POWs and concentration camp prisoners (the Jews among the latter were worked to death).

A move by the prosecution for a swap was blocked by the non-US judges, and so Alfried instead found himself on the dock at the 10th subsequent Nuremberg trial. He was very ably defended there by one Otto Kranzbühler, who followed a strategy of presenting his client as a dissolute playboy who hadn’t really been involved in company affairs. He got off with just 12 years in prison, which he served under very comfortable conditions at Landsberg Fortress[****] — after five years, at the height of the Cold War, US High Commissioner John McCloy released him from prison. Alfried wasted no time in getting his firm back in the saddle (for peacetime production) — in doing so, he made an inspired choice for a right-hand man, a former insurance executive named Berthold Beitz (1913-2013). [Here I am stepping away from the Manchester book.]

It was hard to think of two more different people. Alfried was a misanthrope and remained an unrepentant National Socialist to his dying day. Berthold was a very extroverted man of deep humanity (“atzil nefesh”, noble of soul, one of the people he saved would describe him in Hebrew), who had saved hundreds of Jews from the execution pits or the gas chambers.

Born in 1913 in Zemmin, Vorpommern (Hither Pomerania), he at first grew up in the house of his maternal grandfather, the estate manager for a local nobleman. (His father was a sergeant-major in WW I.) The family fell on lean times during the Great Depression; in addition, young Berthold had been too focused on sports (particularly sailing and canoeing) and had just passing grades, so he had to drop his plan to attend medical school. Instead, his father (a bank employee) through old connections secured him an two-year apprenticeship at a bank in Stralsund. Upon completion, he tried to get away as far as he could and ended up a manager at the Hamburg office of a daughter company of Royal Shell Dutch Oil. He also volunteered for the Wehrmacht despite being too old for the conscription laws at the time — eventually he became a sergeant-major in the reserves as well as applied as an officer candidate. (The German Wikipedia article speculates he may have tried to procure himself an alibi for not joining any NSDAP-affiliated organizations.) Following the invasion of Poland, he was transfered to a small oil field in the Carpathian mountains, where his wife Else (a fellow employee in Hamburg) followed him after the birth of their daughter.

Following Operation Barbarossa, he was transfered again, now to the newly seized oil field at Boryslaw. About 30% of the inhabitants of the town (really more a shtetl) were Jews, as were about 20% of the oil well’s staff (who had stayed on site).

After witnessing the brutal “evacuation” of a children’s hospital or orphanage — and understanding that these children were not credibly usable as forced labor, hence probably being sent to their deaths — he and his wife placed his Jewish workers, then increasingly other Jews, under their protection. Unlike Oskar Schindler, he did not have to resort to bribery (much) — there was literally no more Kriegswichtige (war-essential) enterprise than petrol, and he was able to issue protective “R” badges (for Rüstungsarbeiter, armament worker) by the hundreds. On at least one occasion, he ran up to a deportation train headed for the nearby Belzec extermination camp and succeeded in extricating 250 people from it. (His administrative assistant, Hilde Berger, later became Oskar Schindler’s secretary at Plaszow.)

“This had nothing to do with politics,” he would later say about his motives. ” “It wasn’t anti-Fascism, nor was it resistance. We saw from dawn to dusk, as close as could be, what was happening to Boryslav’s Jews. When you see a mother holding her children being shot, while you yourself have children, your reaction has to be completely different.”

Youtube screen capture from short documentary in English and Hebrew. “R” Certificate Nr. 748/K declares that the bearer, Rita Brauner, born… with ID number 295, armband number [left blank] is employed by the firm as a bookkeeper and typist and resided at the worker’s barracks at Carpathian Street 24.

When in March 1944, Borysow now being close to the front, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht, his protected Jews fled into the surrounding forests to await the approaching Red Army. In all, Yad Vashem credits him with saving about 800 lives, and in 1973 he was honored as a Righteous Among The Nations. (His wife Elsa was added in 2006.)

On one occasion he narrowly escaped the SS himself. Two women with his “blue passes” had been arrested as couriers for a resistance organization. By a phenomenal stroke of luck, the Gestapo agent who came to interrogate him was a former high school classmate, who agreed to destroy the evidence.

After the war, he became an insurance executive. Despite no prior knowledge of the business, he quickly rose to prominence because of his innovative, “American” management practices — which is why he appears to have been brought to Alfried Krupp’s attention.

Beitz’s management style couldn’t be more different from Krupp’s: informal (“call me Beitz, and if I like your work I’ll call you by your first name”) where Alfried was arch-formal, instinctive where Alfried’s was methodical. (“I make 80% of business decisions from the gut”, Beitz has been quoted.)

It was Beitz who twisted Alfried Krupp’s arm into paying an indemnity to the surviving former Jewish slave laborers of the firm — overriding the firm’s legal counsel who insisted they await a court decision on the matter. (With characteristic cynicism, Alfried later declined to pay similar indemnities to non-Jewish former slave laborers, as “he had had to pay so much to the Jews”. The money amounted to less than one percent of the firm’s net worth.)

At any rate, when Alfried Krupp was moribund from cancer, it was obvious that his son Arndt, a “gay” fashion designer and playboy, had no interest at all in the family business. So instead Alfried rolled his fortune into a foundation chaired by Beitz — who held the position until his 2013 death at the very old age of 99. Along the way, he had overseen the merger of Krupp with onetime archrival Thyssen (originally based in Duisburg) in 1999.

In 2013, the year of his death at the ripe old age of 99, he had an emotional reunion with Jurek Rothenberg, one of his former rescuees, who flew in from Israel for the occasion.

Alfried Krupp remained unrepentant to his dying day — yet transfered his family’s life work for generations into the hands of a man whose basic humanity had led him down a much brighter path. G-d, or history, truly moves in mysterious ways.

Ktiva ve-chatima tova. — may you be inscribed and sealed for good [i.e., in the Book of Life].

[*] In Dutch, a “krop” is a head of lettuce or cabbage. Arndt is a middle Dutch and low German form of Arnold.

[**] He appears to have had a perversion or two in common with the Roman emperor Tiberius, who likewise had a palace of debauchery built on the island of Capri. F. A. Krupp’s hideaway where here

[***] She actually should have been nicknamed “tall Bertha” since she was very tall and slender like her grandfather. The actual “dicke Bertha” (fat/big Bertha) was a 420mm (!) WW I siege mortar named after her.

[****] This fortress was also where Hitler [y”sh] had served his sentence following the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and had written/dictated the first draft of Mein Kampf. (Rudolf Hess and a Catholic priest named Bernhard Stämpfle edited it into something approximating coherence. Stämpfle was later killed in the Night of the Long Knives — possibly because he knew too much.)

In fact, even during his imprisonment, Alfried Krupp held business meetings with his subordinates. It already being the Cold War era, and the Allies (the Americans especially, Landsberg being in the US occupation zone) wanting to see West Germany back on its economic feet ASAP, the prison authorities allowed these meetings to happen.

ADDENDUM: an Alfried Krupp rival in the firm’s management had been the administrative jurist and banker (Dresdner Bank) Ewald Löser or Ewald Loeser (1888-1970). He had been the city treasurer of Leipzig under then-Oberbürgermeister (freely: Lord Mayor) Carl Goerdeler, a kingpin of the anti-Nazi resistance who would have become Chancellor of Germany had one of the wartime assassination plots on Hitler [y”sh] succeeded. (In my alternate history series “Operation Flash”, Goerdeler does become the leader of a Germany trying to denazify itself while fighting on two fronts.)

In 1943, Alfried Krupp got rid of Löser, who was appointed the trustee of the Philips radio and vacuum tube manufacturer in Eindhoven, occupied Dutch Limburg.

After the failed July 20 “Valkyrie Plot”, Löser was arrested on account of his name appearing as a Finance Minister-designate on a minister list for the Goerdeler cabinet. He however escaped the gallows by pretending to be insane and amnesiac, and survived until liberation in an asylum. This did not spare him from being in the dock at the 10th Subsequent Nuremberg Trial together with Alfried Krupp and (in a 2:1 split among the judges, dixit Manchester) being sentenced to 7 years there.

Ironically, as William Manchester points out, Löser — the only anti-Nazi or at least non-Nazi among the lot — was the only defendant not granted early release together with Alfried Krupp. Manchester quotes McCloy as calling this “a dreadful mistake”. Ultimately Loeser was released five months later into hospital convalescent care. I was unable to find any information about his later life, in German or in English.

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