Steel Products

Berthold Beitz German Industrialist and Humanitarian, Dies at 99

Written by John Packard

Written by Sandy Williams

German industrialist, Berthold Beitz, the “grand old man of steel,” died on July 30 at 99 years of age. Beitz turned the privately run Krupp Steel company into a publically traded corporation that is now ThyssenKrupp Steel, but he is also credited for saving hundreds of Jews during World War II.

In 1941, while working at Royal Dutch Shell in Hamburg, Beitz accompanied his

grandfather to the home of steel magnate Alfred Krupp, a provider of arms to the German war effort.  While there he met Nazi SS chief Reinhard Heydrich who was instrumental in the extermination of Jews in Europe.  During discussion of a key German holding, Karpathian Oil in Boryslaw and Drochobycz, Poland, Beitz expressed his interest and was given a military appointment as manager.

At 27 years old, Beitz arrived in Borsyslaw with his wife and was appalled by the deportation of Jews to death camps.  In interviews with author Marek Halter, Stories of Deliverance, Beitz described seeing trainloads of Jewish men, women, and children going to their death and was compelled to do what he could to help. Using his military influence, he went to Gestapo headquarters and received authorization to supplement the refinery workforce with Jews scheduled for deportation. Every day he recruited from the train station “tailors, hairdressers, students from Talmudic colleges, etc.” as “petroleum technicians”, saving them from sure death. Beitz and his wife also hid Jews in their own home and passed on information about impending round-ups and deportations, all at great personal risk.

In a particular poignant anecdote, Beitz describes trying to save a young woman and her mother by claiming they were his employees. An SS official refused to believe that older woman was a worker and insisted she get back onto the train.  The distraught daughter refused to leave her mother and begged to be allowed to accompany her.

“Mother and daughter went to their death,” said Beitz. “That day there, because of an overzealous SS, I had slipped up.  I watched that train move away in the distance with rage in my heart, crying….”

Beitz was awarded Poland’s highest civilian honor after the war and was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel, its highest recognition for non-Jews who saved Jews from the Holocaust.

After the war, while serving as president of the German insurance company Iduna, Beitz was tapped by Alfred Krupp to become Chairman of Krupp Steel.  Krupp, having served prison time after a conviction for war crimes, needed an image boost for the company.  Following Krupp’s death in 1967, Beitz as executor of the will, convinced Krupp’s heir to use the inheritance to establish the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation and turned the company into a publically traded corporation.  The foundation continues to own a 25.3 percent stake in ThyssenKrupp. 

Beitz retired in 1990 before the merger that created ThyssenKrupp AG but remained associated with the company until his death.

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