Berthold Beitz was one of the few Germans who provided refuge and risked their lives to save Jews.
The son of a wealthy Nazi-sympathizing family, civil engineer Beitz was a 27-year-old junior executive at Royal Dutch Shell's Hamburg office when the war broke out. One evening in 1941, his grandfather, a Nazi notable, took him to dinner at the lavish home of German munitions magnate Alfried Krupp. Among the guests was Reinhard Heydrich, one of Hitler's senior henchmen. Germany had just attacked the Soviet Union, and the Wehrmacht, Heydrich noted, was taking over oil refineries in western Poland. Enthusiastically, the young Beitz offered his services and was named a director of the Karpaten Ol company in Boryslaw, Poland.
Beitz soon found that while there was relatively little oil in the mountain region, there were a lot of Jews - almost 50 percent of the population. Most were in ghetto work camps, a fact that Beitz admits didn't bother him at first. When death trains began running to Auschwitz and Treblinka, though, his conscience was stirred. It was "those children sitting in the station, with those enormous eyes, looking at you," he recalls.
Beitz was a person of deep Protestant principles and convictions, who had never succumbed to Nazi propaganda or joined the party. When he was sent to Eastern Poland he was shocked by the brutality of Germans and Ukrainians. He witnessed, for example, the murder of a child in its mother's arms. Beitz was able to employ Jews for several years because of the German need for oil. He was under constant pressure to surrender them, but Beitz found he could "control" the local SS officer, Friedrich Hildebrand. During tennis matches or hunting trip he would convince Hildebrand to leave his Jews alone.
Beitz began to save Jews by hiring them. "I should have employed qualified personnel. Instead, I chose tailors, hairdressers and Talmudic scholars and gave them all cards as vital `petroleum technicians.' "
Beitz and his young wife also hid a Jewish child in their own home. And like Oscar Schindler, Beitz often went to the train station to pull his Jewish workers off the death trains. "Once I found one of my secretaries and her aged mother," Beitz recalls. He got them out, but the SS would not be fooled. They judged the mother too old, and forced her back on the cattle car. "The daughter turned to me. `Herr Direktor, may I also return to the car?' " Beitz never saw her again.
When the Nazis finally fell, more than 800 of Beitz's Jews were still alive.
At the end of 1953 Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach appointed Berthold Beitz as his chief executive.
Beitz, over 80 and vice president of the Krupp Foundation, set up by the German industrial conglomerate to benefit the arts, said he did it "for humanity." And he added softly, "As I look back, I can now say that I did something in my life." He added:"I am proud of what I did out of a sense of humanity. ... I passed through that period, as you cross through a dark forest: with self-assurance and with incredible luck."