Fritz Thyssen

Fritz Thyssen : Nazi Germany

Fritz Thyssen, the son of the successful industrialist, August Thyssen (1842-1926), was born on the 9th November, 1873. He joined the German Army in 1896 and reached the rank of second lieutenant.

In 1898 Thyssen joined Thyssen & Co a company owned by his father in the Ruhr. By the outbreak of the First World War the company employed 50,000 workers and produced 1,000,000 tons of steel and iron a year.

In 1923 took part in the resistance against the Ruhr Occupation by Belgian and French troops. He was arrested and received a large fine for his activities.

At a meeting with General Eric Ludendorff in October 1923, Thyssen was advised to go and hear Adolf Hitler speak. He did this and was so impressed he began to finance the Nazi Party.

Thyssen inherited his father's fortune in 1926. He continued to expand and in 1928 formed United Steelworks, a company that controlled more that 75 per cent of Germany's ore reserves and employed 200,000 people.

By 1930 Thyssen was one of the leading backers of the Nazi Party. The following year he recruited Hjalmar Schacht to the cause and in November, 1932, the two men joined with other industrialists in signing the letter that urged Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as chancellor. This was successful and on 20th February, 1933, they arranged a meeting of the Association of German Industrialists that raised 3 million marks for the Nazi Party in the forthcoming election.

Thyssen supported the measures that Hitler took against the left-wing political groups and trade unions. He also put pressure on Hitler to suppress the left of the Nazi Party that resulted in the Night of the Long Knives. However, as a Catholic, Thyssen objected when Hitler began persecuting people for their religious beliefs.

Thyssen resigned as state councillor in protest against Crystal Night. The following year he fled to Switzerland and Hitler promptly confiscated his property. Thyssen moved to France but was arrested by the Vichy government and was returned to Germany where he was sent to a concentration camp.

Thyssen was freed by Allied forces in 1945. Arrested he was convicted by a German court for being a former leader of the Nazi Party and was ordered to hand over 15 per cent of his property to provide a victims of Nazi persecution. Fritz Thyssen died in Buenos Aires on 8th February, 1951.

Primary Sources

(1) Fritz Thyssen was an officer in the German Army during the First World War. In his autobiography he explained how after the war Germany came close to revolution.

The Bolsheviks, who had seized power at Moscow during the October revolution, sent their most dangerous agents across the frontier. Incidents occurred everywhere; women and children demonstrated against food shortage or in favour of peace. At the front, Ludendorff made a last attempt at forcing a military decision. The success of the offensive of 1918 at first raised the morale of the German people. Final defeat made it fall all the lower.

In October, 1918, the revolution began to take shape. The Socialists of the extreme left had formed a group named Spartacus, after the Roman gladiator who started the Third Servile War in 73 B.C. The Spartacus group later on became the German Communist Party (K.P.D.). Radical elements, inspired by the Russian example, were preparing the formation of workers' and soldiers' councils, i.e. "Soviets".

(2) Fritz Thyssen went to see General Erich Ludendorff in October 1923. He wrote about what happened in his book, I Paid Hitler (1941)

I went to see Ludendorff chiefly to pay him a call of courtesy, but also in order to discuss with him the great national questions which then preoccupied his mind as much as mine. I deplored the fact that there were not at that time men in Germany whom an energetic national spirit would inspire to improve the situation.

"There is but one hope," Ludendorff said to me, "and this hope is embodied in the national groups which desire our recovery." He recommended to me in particular the Overland League and, above all, the National Socialist party of Adolf Hitler. Ludendorff greatly admired Hitler. "He is the only man," he said, "who has any political sense. Go and listen to him one day."

I followed his advice. I attended several public meetings organized by Hitler. It was then that I realized his oratorical gifts and his ability to lead the masses. What impressed me most, however, was the order that reigned in his meetings, the almost military discipline of his followers.

(3) Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (1941)

I have personally given altogether one million marks to the National Socialist Party. Not more. My contributions have been very much overestimated, because I have always been one of the richest men in Germany. But after all, what does it mean to own factories? It does not follow that a man has a lot of cash to spare. In any case, Hitler had other sources of money besides me. In Munich, for instance, there was Herr Bruckmann, the well-known printer; and in Berlin there was Carl Bechstein, the world-renowned piano manufacturer, who also contributed large sums. Aside from this, Hitler did not receive many subsidies from individual industrialists.

(4) Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (1941)

In order to allay discontent, Hitler conceived of a new idea. Every German shall own his car. He asked industry to devise a popular car model to be built at such a low price that millions could buy it. The Volkswagen (People's Car) has been talked of for the past five years and has never been seen on the market. "These cars will be built for the new highways," said the party propagandists; "an entire family will be able to ride in one of them at 100 kilometers (60 miles) an hour." The party leaders say that the highways were built for the People's Car. But the People's Car is one of the most bizarre ideas the Nazis ever had. Germany is not the United states. Wages are low. Gasoline is expensive. German workers never dreamed of buying a car. They cannot afford the upkeep; to them it is a luxury.

Dr. Ley, the stammering drunkard who is the chief of the German Labor Front. He controls the four to five hundred million marks paid in every year by the German workers as dues to the Labor Front. I do not say that he puts all this money into his own pocket. But the figure has certainly turned his head.

He had an automobile factory built for the production of the People's Car. On this occasion he invented a brand new form of knavery. The future buyers of the People's Car were invited to buy it in advance, by making predelivery installments. This is the reverse of the credit installment system. The system shows genius. Ley pocketed about a hundred million marks when the war came because the People's Car factory now had to produce tanks and motorcycles for the army.

(5) Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (1941)

Next to Gearing, Hitler is a model of virtue. When he became chancellor of the Reich he renounced the usual salary with a noble gesture. I do not know whether this gesture has been followed through. Nevertheless, Hitler is the richest man in Germany. It is true that he has not grown rich on public revenues. His whole fortune is due to his pen. Indeed, Hitler is a man of letters. He is, if not the most read, at least the most purchased, of all men of letters in the world. Mein Kampf has reached a sale of seven or eight million copies. By a decision of the Reich ministry of the interior this book is distributed at the cost of the municipalities to all newlywed couples.

(6) Fritz Thyssen described what happened on Crystal Night in his autobiography, I Paid Hitler (1941)

It was in November, 1938, that the Nazis, on the pretext of the murder of Vom Rath, a secretary of the embassy in Paris, by a young Polish Jew, organized the systematic persecution of the German Jews. The exact circumstances of the murder have never been established.

In Berlin, Nuremburg, Dusseldorf, Munich, and Augsburg, in almost all German towns, swastika-flagged columns of militia plundered the Jewish dwellings, smashing the furniture, slashing the pictures, and stealing everything they could carry away. At night and even in broad daylight, they drenched the synagogues with gasoline and set them ablaze. The fireman received instructions not to extinguish the fires but to confine themselves to save neighbouring buildings.

(7) Fritz Thyssen wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler explaining why he had left Nazi Germany (28th December, 1939)

My conscience is clear. I know that I have committed no crime. My sole mistake is to have believed in you, our leader, Adolf Hitler, and in the movement initiated by you - to have believed with the enthusiasm of a passionate lover of my native Germany.

Since 1923 I have made the greatest sacrifices for the National Socialist cause, have fought with word and deed, without asking any reward for myself, merely inspired by the hope that our unfortunate German people would finally recover. The initial events after the National Socialists come to power seemed to justify this hope, at least as long as Herr von Papen was vice-chancellor.

A sinister development followed these events. The persecution of the Christian religion, taking the form of cruel measures against the priests and insults to the Churches, led me to protest in the early days, for instance when the police president of Dusseldorf issued a protest to Marshal Goering, It was in vain.

When, on November 9th, 1938, the Jews were despoiled and martyrized in the most cowardly and brutal manner, and their temples razed to the ground throughout Germany, I also protested. To reinforce this protest, I resigned my office as state councillor. This, too, as in vain.

(8) Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (1941)

My disappointment with Hitler dates almost from the very beginning of the Nazi regime. Hitler's eviction of the conservative elements from the government, of which he was the head, gave me some cause for anxiety. But I was inhibited by the impression produced by the burning of the Reichstag. Today I know that the crime was staged by the National Socialists themselves, in order to gain more power. Throughout Germany, they spread the fear of armed Communist rebellion. They induced the belief that this arson, organized by themselves, was the signal for a second Red revolution which would have precipitated the country into the bloody convulsions of civil war.

I then believed that by their energy Hitler and Goering had saved the country. Today I know that I, like millions of others, was deceived. But almost all Germans are still in the same state of deception, if so be they inhabit the Reich. In order to learn the truth I had to go abroad. The burning of the Reichstag, organized by Hitler and Goering, was the first step in a colossal political swindle.

(9) Fritz Thyssen wrote a letter to Hermann Goering explaining why he had left Nazi Germany (1st October, 1939)

Germany is once more plunged into war, without any kind of reference to the parliament or the state council, I inform you quite definitely I am opposed to this policy, and shall maintain this opinion even though I am accused of being a traitor.

Even from the standpoint of practical politics this policy amounts to suicide, for the sole person to benefit from it is the Nazis' mortal enemy of yesterday, transformed into the friend of today - Russia.