Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Thyssen was a leading German industrialist. In 1923 General Ludendorff advised Thyssen to attend a speech to be given by Hitler, and Thyssen was very impressed, and primarily due to his strident opposition to the Treaty of Versailles he began to make large donations to the party. His principal motive appears to have been his fear of communism, but he was not initially politically aligned to the Nazis, and remained a member of the German National People’s Party until 1932.
The following year he overcame his inhibitions and formally joined Hitler’s National Socialists. In November, 1932 Fritz Thyssen and Hjalmar Schacht were the main organizers of a letter to President von Hindenburg urging him to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Thyssen also persuaded the Association of German Industrialists to donate three million Reichsmarks to the Party for the March, 1933 Reichstag election. As a reward, he was elected a Nazi member of the Reichstag. He welcomed the suppression of the Communist Party, the Social Democrats and the trade unions and gained enormously by the strict control over workers’ rights. His financing of the Nazis initially proved to be a sound investment. Thyssen accepted the exclusion of Jews from German business and professional life by the Nazis, and dismissed his own Jewish employees. But as a Catholic, he objected to the increasing repression of the Roman Catholic Church, which gathered pace after 1935.
Thereafter he experienced his ‘awakening’ to what was happening and drifted away from Hitler. He was against the violent pogrom against the Jews in November 1938, known as Kristallnacht, which caused him to resign from the Council of State. By 1939 he was also bitterly criticizing the regime’s economic policies, which were subordinating everything to rearmament in preparation for war. At the beginning of September 1939, following his son-in-law’s death in Dachau—and knowing that his opposition to Hitler made him a ‘marked man’—he escaped to Switzerland.
In 1940 Thyssen took refuge in France, but was caught up in the German invasion of France and the Low Countries while he was visiting his sick mother in Belgium. He was arrested and sent back to Germany, where he was confined, first in a sanatorium near Berlin, then from 1943 in Sachsenhausen. In February 1945 he was sent to Dachau but survived the war. Prior to his arrest he had dictated his memoirs which he entrusted to an American journalist, Emery Reves, and these memoirs—the subject of this book—was first published in the USA at the end of 1941.