Quiet hero

Saving a Life is Like Saving the World

else Beitz dpa
Else Beitz, beside her late husband Berthold, received an honorary award several years ago in North Rhine-Westphalia. Ms. Beitz passed away at 94.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Else Beitz, typical of her generation was often in the shadows of her husband, Krupp steel boss Berthold Beitz. But she made some rare choices, including to pursue higher education in her late 50s.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Else Beitz helped save hundreds of Jews in eastern occupied Europe, in part by hiding them in her home.
    • She has received numerous awards, including the “Righteous Among Nations” award from the Israeli Holocaust Center, Yad Vashem.
    • She returned to school in 1978 at the age of 58 to get her high school diploma and continued her education, eventually earning a doctorate.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Else Beitz, the widow of German industrialist Berthold Beitz, passed away on September 14 at the age of 94, leaving behind a legacy that included saving hundreds of Jews in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe.

Many of her activities were overshadowed by her husband, who was dubbed “the last Krupp.” Mr. Beitz, as head of the Krupp steel conglomerate in the 1950s, was considered one of post-war Germany’s leading industrialists.

The two met at a tennis club in Hamburg in 1938 when she was 18 years old. They married the next year and were together for nearly 75 years until Mr. Beitz’s passing last year just three months short of his 100th birthday.

She is credited with numerous post-war volunteer efforts and received the highest state level award in 2011 for her civic support in North Rhine-Westphalia, where she lived. She also received the Bundesverdienstkreuz or the Federal Cross of Merit in 2012.

“How many more persecuted people could have been saved had there been more people like Else and Berthold Beitz?”

Jurek Rotenburg, Survivor

But one of her most courageous engagements was in 1941 in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. The couple had relocated to Boryslav in eastern Galicia because Mr. Beitz received a wartime commission as the business manager of the Beskidian Oil Company, which was renamed the Carpathian Oil Company.

Both Boryslav and the nearby town of Drohobych were important oil industry centers with relatively large Jewish populations, according to information provided by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims.

The couple is credited with saving hundreds of Jews, in part by housing them at their home.

“Both he and his wife concealed Jews ‘on the run’ in their own home, thus exposing themselves to denunciations,” information on Yad Vashem’s website reveals.  The couple each received the “Righteous Among Nations” award, he in 1973 and she in 2006. It is given to non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

krupp deportation en.wikipedia
German soldiers deporting Jews from eastern Europe to concentration camps. Else Beitz is credited with saving hundreds of Jews in 1941-2, in part by housing them in her home at great personal risk. Source: en.wikipedia.org

 

In a move similar to that of Oskar Schindler, made known to millions via Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, Mr. Beitz extricated hundreds of Jewish men and women from transport trains heading to concentration camps by claiming they were “professional workers.”

“How many more persecuted people could have been saved had there been more people like Else and Berthold Beitz?” Jurek Rotenburg, a Boryslav survivor, told Mr. Beitz’s biographer, Joachim Käppner.

As a 13-year-old in hiding Mr. Rotenburg said he personally saw Mr. Beitz get the German soldiers to okay the removal of dozens of Jews from the transport trains.

Estimates of the number of Jews the couple saved range from 300 to 800. Mr. Beitz later told his wife: “Without your love I could not have survived this time.”

Following the war, Ms. Beitz was active in Germany’s reconciliation with Israel. In 1999 the couple received the Leo Baeck prize from the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The prize is awarded to “those who have played an outstanding role in defending the Jewish community and who have derived lessons for the future from Germany’s terrible Nazi history,” information on the council’s website states.

Apart from her civil engagements, Ms. Beitz made the exceptionally unusual move for a woman of her generation in Germany and returned for further education when she was 58, earning her Abitur, or university-qualifying diploma. She had received a lower-level diploma before World War II.

She then continued her education and received a degree in education from the University of Bochum in 1984 and a doctorate from the University of Essen. Her thesis topic was: Industrial education in large companies from the 19th century until World War I as seen in the company Fried. Krupp.

Ms. Beitz suffered for many years from dementia. Her death announcement was made more than a week after her passing based on the wishes of her family, said a spokesperson for the Krupp Foundation, which was led by Mr. Beitz from 1968 until his death last year.

Miriam Widman is an editor at Handelblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: widman@handelsblatt.com 

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