Berthold Beitz: Industrialist who saved hundreds of Jews from the Nazis


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The Independent Online

Berthold Beitz, who died on 30 July at the age of 99, was honoured for saving hundreds of Jews in Poland during the Second World War and became one of post-war West Germany's leading industrialists.

Beitz and his wife, Else, were honoured by Germany's main Jewish group, the Jewish Council, its highest honour, the Leo-Baeck Award in 2000 for saving hundreds of Jewish workers at an oil field he managed in occupied Poland from deportation to Nazi death camps. In 1973, Beitz had been given the Righteous Among the Nations honorific by the Israeli Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the highest honour given to a Gentile for saving Jews.

He also played a role in world sports as a member of the International Olympic Committee from 1972 to 1988, the last four years as a vice president. He was also a member of the board of the organising committee for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, which were overshadowed by the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli delegation in an attack by Palestinian gunmen.

Beitz was born in 1913 in Zemmin, eastern Germany. He studied to become a banker and took a position at an oil field in occupied Poland in 1939. He saved many of the Jewish workers there from the death camps, sometimes by hiding them in his home. In August 1942 he saved 250 Jews from being deported to the Belzec death camp by claiming they were indispensible to keep up production.

Asked later about his motivation, he said, "There was no anti-Fascism, no resistance. We watched from morning to evening, as close as you can get, what was happening to the Jews ... 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."

In the 1950s Beitz agreed to administer the Krupp steel company, which had been heavily involved in armaments production during the war. He headed the company in various positions for around 60 years. In 1967, he launched a foundation with the late Alfried Krupp's fortune supporting projects in Israel, among others. Until recently he went to work at his office in Essen almost every day.

Via the Krupp Foundation he also invested heavily in the arts and the revitalisation of the Ruhr Valley Region, West Germany's industrial heartland.