Berthold Beitz (pronounced “Bites”) who passed away at the age of 99 on July 30th, 2013 was one of the most powerful German corporate leaders. German Chancellors, including current Chancellor Angela Merkel, sought his advice.
But during World War ll, Berthold did something few people would dare to do.
In 1939, the Nazis sent him to oversee the Boryslav oil fields they had seized in Poland, oil used to help fuel the Nazi war machine. But without the Nazis being aware, Berthold created hundreds of unnecessary jobs and assigned them to Jews and Poles, thus saving their lives.
He and his wife Else also hid many Jews in their home and alerted other Jews to pending danger so they could flee.
And in August 1942 Berthold boldly got the Nazis to remove 250 Jewish men and women from a train headed to a death camp because he insisted he needed these “professional workers.”*
Had someone reported him to the Nazis, he and his family would have been taken out and shot, which nearly happened. On one occasion, the Gestapo arrested him but an old friend got them to release him.
Why take such a risk? “My motives were not political; they were purely humane, moral motives,” he later explained. “We watched from morning to evening as close as you can get [to] what was happening to the Jews in Boryslav.
“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 completely different. It was our duty to our heart.”*
Ironically, Berthold’s rise to power came after World War ll from Alfred Krupp, the hugely powerful German industrialist who had put his industrial might in support of Adolf Hitler and who as a result, later served prison time for war crimes.
Knowing of Berthold’s sterling reputation, in 1953 Krupp made him head of the firm, to reestablish its corporate might and to uplift its many disillusioned German employees.
Berthold built what became ThyssenKrupp into the European giant it is today. But what he is best remembered for was having saved the lives of many Jewish and Polish people.
What Berthold did was similar to what Oskar Schindler did when as a German industrialist; he employed 1200 Jews in unnecessary jobs, to save their lives. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oskar_Schindler
Berthold is survived by Else, his wife of 74 years and by their three daughters. And he is survived by the many thousands of people he employed, who worked and helped to build a massive and prosperous economy.
Berthold is also survived by the descendants of the all the Jews and Poles he rescued.
A grandson, Robert Ziff told the New York Times in 2013 that Berthold did not enjoy speaking of his experiences during World War ll. Instead, as the many survivors and their families sent letters of gratitude to him, he had those letters bound in a book and quietly presented the book to his family.
He “let that do the talking,” said Mr. Ziff.