German industrialist Berthold Beitz, who saved Jews during WWII, dies

BERLIN (JTA) — German industrialist Berthold Beitz, who rescued Jewish workers in occupied Poland by employing them during World War II, has died.

Beitz’s death Tuesday at the age of 99 was announced by the foundation he headed, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Stiftung.

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In 1942, Beitz was working in Borislaw, Poland, as commercial director for a German oil company when he prevented the deportation of Jews to a death camp. The tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed German repeatedly insisted that Jewish men and women be sent to his offices and factories as “armaments workers,” according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He and his wife, Else, also hid Jewish children in their house and managed to get the local SS governor to allow Beitz to divert further Jews from deportation.

When asked if he had feared for the lives of his wife and their daughter, Beitz once said that he felt as if he were two people: the one who worried and the other who “didn’t think but just acted,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported. Not all the Jews he helped ultimately survived, but several hundred reportedly were saved.

Beitz and his wife were both honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles — he in 1973 and she in 2006. The Central Council of Jews in Germany gave the couple its highest award, the Leo Baeck Prize, in 1999.

When Beitz reflected upon his wartime experiences many years later, he said that his actions were not motivated by anti-fascism or resistance to the Nazi regime.

“We experienced firsthand what was happening to the Jews of Borislaw, from morning to night,” he said, according to the Yad Vashem website. “If you see how a woman with a child on her arm is shot, and you have a child yourself, you have a completely different reaction.”

Beitz was general manager of the Essen-based Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach company, and an influential industrialist in the steel industry of the Ruhr Valley. He was also honorary chairman of the ThyssenKrupp Supervisory Board.

His passing this week brought words of condolence from Jewish leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany “lost one of its most respected and successful entrepreneurs,” Merkel said in a statement Wednesday. She praised his ”courageous and exemplary intervention to rescue Jewish workers during World War II” and his postwar efforts to build connections with Eastern Europe.

“Berthold Beitz was a light and a role model in the darkness of the murderous Nazi period,” Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the Juedische Allgemeine, Germany’s Jewish weekly. Beitz proved “that you could certainly remain human in that time, if you really wanted to.”