Berthold Beitz, a German industrialist who rescued scores of Jews during World War II, died on July 30 at the age of 99. He passed away on the island of Sylt, off Germany’s northern coast. This mostly unacknowledged hero's actions were on par with the well-known deeds of Oskar Schindler. Here are 5 fast facts you need to know about Berthold Beitz.
1. Beitz Actions Are Said To Parallel Those Of Oskar Schindler
Berthold Beitz saved hundreds of Jews during World War II through his actions. After being sent to Poland by the Nazi's to supervise the oil operations, he used his power there to employ them at the oil fields.
According to a Washington Post report, Beitz accompanied his grandfather to a dinner in 1941, which also hosted Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi SS special police and the architect for the Nazi's "final solution" to exterminate the Jews of Europe. He overheard Heydrich discussing the strategical importance of the Polish oil fields, and after expressing interest, he was sent to serve his military commission as business manager of the Caprpathian Oil company in the Ukraine. Many of the company’s workers were Jews.
Because of his connection within the Nazi hierarchy, he was able to gain access to list of Jews being transported to death camps. He was able to claim many of those names as his employees and pulled them off those transports to work in the oil fields. According to Yad Vashem, in one instance, he saved 250 Jews in 1942 from a transport to the Belzec camp.
Beitz's motivation to save those people was motivated from an event in 1942 that left him deeply scarred, where he witnessed Jewish babies being thrown from windows during the liquidation of a Jewish orphanage.
He and his wife also hid "dozens of Jews" in his home, according to a Telegraph report.
We watched from morning to evening as close as you can get 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.” He would not have been able to live with himself, he said, if he had not tried to help: “It was a duty to our heart. It might sound pathetic, but these were our feelings as we were confronted daily with the misfortune.
Beitz was reassigned or conscripted to fight with Nazi infantry in March 1944 and forced to leave his post at the oil company in 1944. Many of his Jewish workers fled into the nearby forests. Many were sent to Auschwitz. Many found work in the factories owned by Oskar Schindler, another famous German industrialist who saved hundreds of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
According to Yad Vashem, a complete list of his survivors could not be confirmed, with some estimates counting the number saved as high as 800 people saved.
2. Beitz Become One Of The Most Influential & Important Businessmen In Europe
At the peak of his career, Mr. Beitz was among the most influential businessmen in Europe. After the war, Bietz became president of the German insurance company Iduna, where he established new and unusual business practices for the time, including bonuses and competitions, according to the NY Times.
He was soon hired by Alfried Krupp, the sole owner of Krupp steel company, an industrial institution in Germany at the time. Under Beitz, the company re-established its reputation as an empire in the industry. He moved the company away from arms manufacturing and diversified its portfolio of products, according to the Washington Post.
Beitz was also known for his diplomatic efforts during after the war and into the Cold War, where he renewed business and diplomatic ties to countries in Eastern Europe, especially Poland. He also made headlines by having meeting with business leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
He was also the unofficial West German ambassador in 1960, according to the Washington Post.
3. The Nazis Sent Him To Supervise The Polish Borislav Oil Fields
After Beitz was given a military commission, he was sent to manage the Borislav Oil Fields, which came under German control after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Oil was a very important part to Hitler's war effort. That combined with Beitz's high-level contacts in the Nazi hierarchy, he was able to avoid prosecution in at least one instance where he was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo, according to the Telegraph.
4. Beitz Originally Wanted To Be A Banker
Beitz originally trained to become a banker, but got into the oil business after getting a job at the Shell Oil Company after he was commissioned by the Nazis in 1938. Many people in Germany were getting into banking in the 1930s due to a rise in demand for corporate audits.
5. Beitz Is Survived By His Three Daughters And Wife of More Than 70 Years
Beitz is being survived by his wife Else, whom he had been with for more than 70 years. They have three daughters Barbara Ziff, Susanne Henle and Bettina Poullain, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to the NY Times.