By FRANK SHATZ
Lake Placid News | August 13, 2010
I never thought the day would come when I would be called upon to bear witness to the guilt or innocence of Fritz Thyssen.
Before the war, Thyssen was the head of Germany’s giant United Steelworks that controlled more than 75 percent of Germany’s iron ore reserves and employed 200,000 people. He gained notoriety as the major financial supporter of the fledging Nazi Party. Subsequently, together with financier Hjalmar Schacht, he was instrumental in persuading Germany’s President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in 1932.
Once the Nazi dictatorship took hold, Thyssen became openly critical of the regime. He resigned from the Council of State and left with his family for Switzerland. He was, however, captured by the Nazis while visiting his ailing mother in Belgium and spent the rest of the war in a Nazi concentration camp.
While he was imprisoned, a biography based on his dictated memoirs was published in 1941 in the United States. The author of the book, I Paid Hitler, was Emery Reves. The book intended to prove that Hitler’s ascendance to power was aided and abetted by German industrialists.
After the war, Thyssen was tried for having been a supporter of the Nazi Party for the mistreatment of Jewish employees and the use of slave labor at his companies. He agreed to pay 500,000 Deutschemarks as compensation and was acquitted on other charges.
This may be old history, but a recent phone call to The Virginia Gazette put a new spin on it. The call came from Georgina Hohenlohe, a representative of the German Public Television. She said that ARD is in the process of producing a historical TV documentary about the Thyssen industrial dynasty.
“The family of Thyssen has played a crucial role in German politics and history, and we hope that Frank Shatz could help us to get to know more about the background and the circumstances of the creation of the book I Paid Hitler, written by Emery Reves. This story will play an important role in the film and it would certainly add an immense value to it, if somebody who knew Emery Reves personally could tell us more about it.”
The recollection I was able to provide maybe is marginal, but could serve as a footnote to history.
I told Hohenlohe, “I was having coffee with Emery Reves at the Hotel de Paris, in Monte Carlo, and we were reminiscing about past journalistic exploits when Reves recalled his encounter with Herman Rausching, the former president of the senate of the Free City of Danzig.”
Rausching was appointed by Hitler, but found himself at the losing end of a power struggle in the Nazi Party. He was forced to flee Germany and took refugee in Paris.
In the late 1930s Reves, who ran the Cooperation Press Service, an international news agency that provided outlets to 120 of Europe’s leading democratic statesmen, including Winston Churchill, was offered an article written by Rausching, for exclusive distribution.
“It was pure bromide, boring, without much redeeming value,” I quoted Reves saying.
But as a staunch opponent of fascism, Reves was eager to make use of the defection of the first high-ranking Nazi. He visited Rausching in his Paris hotel room and asked him whether he ever talked to Hitler.
“Hundreds of times,” Rausching replied. “I was his aide and confidant for years.”
It turned out that Rausching, once a devoted follower of the Fuhrer, inscribed in his diary every word Hitler uttered in his presence. He kept the diary in a suitcase under his bed.
Reves took a glance at the entries and offered Rausching $20,000 for the publishing rights. The book titled “Conversations with Hitler,” sold 300,000 copies in France alone, two months after its publication.
Rausching, quoting Hitler verbatim, revealed his plans to invade Norway and Denmark, the methods he would use to conquer France. “But the year was 1939,” Reves told me, “and nobody in Europe was prepared to believe that Hitler really meant what he was saying.”
In my remarks for the documentary, I recalled that Reves said that Rausching also quoted Hitler about the role German industrialists, first among them Fritz Thyssen, had played in supporting and financing the Nazi Party. Thus, when he learned about the existence of Fritz Thyssen’s memoirs that confirmed Raushing’s statement about the German industrialist’s support of the Nazis, he jumped at the opportunity to publish the book I Paid Hitler.
I recalled Reves saying: “If I had still been in publishing, I would have been the one who would have brought out Khrushchev’s memoirs, just as I did Fritz Thyssen’s.”