Berthold Beitz, the German industrialist who rescued Jews from the Nazis during World War II and helped rebuild Fried Krupp GmbH, a predecessor of the country’s biggest steelmaker, has died. He was 99.
He died on July 30, a spokesman for Essen, Germany-based ThyssenKrupp AG said yesterday in a telephone interview. No further details were given in a company statement. ThyssenKrupp was formed in 1999 by the merger of Thyssen AG and Fried. Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp.
In 1942, as the manager of Karpaten-Oel AG in Boryslaw, Poland, a town now part of Ukraine, Beitz hid Jews in his home and saved 250 men and women from a train destined for the Belzec death camp by claiming them as workers, according to the website of Israel’s Yad Vashem, a Jerusalem-based Holocaust research and education center.
“We watched from morning to evening as close as you can get what was happening to the Jews in Boryslaw,” Yad Vashem quotes Beitz as saying after the war. “When you see a woman with her child in her arms being shot, and you yourself have a child, then your response is bound to be different.”
After the war, in 1953, Krupp owner Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach appointed Beitz chief executive officer of the engineering company and former arms maker. They revived its steel base and traveled outside Germany to enter foreign markets for building industrial plants, using Beitz’s reputation to win orders from the eastern bloc, according to ThyssenKrupp’s website.
Krupp became the first German company to pay reparations to Jewish concentration-camp slave laborers, Joachim Kaeppner, a Beitz biographer, said in a November 2011 publication for Krupp’s 200th anniversary.
In 1958, Krupp employed 105,200 workers and was Germany’s biggest company based on sales, according to ThyssenKrupp’s website, which doesn’t specify the sales figure. At the end of 2011, ThyssenKrupp had 171,312 employees in 80 countries, according to a quarterly report.
“We have lost an outstanding figure who played a major role in shaping the company,” Ulrich Lehner, chairman of ThyssenKrupp’s supervisory board, said in the statement. “Berthold Beitz experienced the highs and lows of Germany’s recent history. During World War II, together with his wife, he set an impressive example of courage and humanity.”
Berthold Beitz was born on Sept. 26, 1913, in the German town of Zemmin. He trained as a banker, following in his father’s footsteps, and started his career in 1937 as the deputy branch manager of a lender in the northern German town of Demmin, according to the website of Munzinger Archiv GmbH, a Ravensburg, Germany-based archive company.
In 1939, Beitz went to work for the German unit of Royal Dutch Shell in Hamburg and was excused from military service when World War II broke out.
After the war, he was awarded Poland’s highest civil order and was the first West German businessman to be invited to the country on an official visit, according to Munzinger.
In 1963, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer asked Beitz to become ambassador to Moscow, as he enjoyed a good relationship with communist leaders and invited East Germany’s Erich Honecker on annual hunting trips, according to a report on ARD television. Beitz declined to take the job, the German broadcaster said in a report on the history of Germans and Poles on its website.
Beitz was an honorary chairman of ThyssenKrupp’s supervisory board and chairman of the board of trustees for the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, which held 25.3 percent of the company as of September 2012. The foundation manages the Krupp family fortune and sponsors sports and culture as well as reconciliation projects with eastern Europe and Russia.
Beitz was a member of the International Olympic Committee from 1972 to 1988, according to the Olympic Movement’s website, which lists sailing, shooting and rowing as sports he practiced.
In 1973, Yad Vashem named him to its Righteous Among the Nations, honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am proud to have helped all these Jews escape the death trains,” Beitz told Marek Halter in an interview for “Stories of Deliverance,” Halter’s book. “But, truthfully, how could I have lived if I had not done it?”
Beitz and his wife, Else, had three daughters, Barbara, Susanne and Bettina.
In 2009, his grandsons Robert Ziff, Dirk Ziff and Daniel Ziff -- whose father, William Ziff, was an heir to and longtime CEO of the Ziff-Davis magazine publishing company who married Barbara Beitz before divorcing -- established the Berthold Beitz professor in human rights and international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The position was created to “honor the life and legacy” of Beitz.