Berthold Beitz, one of Germany's most prominent industrialists and a man who saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust, died in Germany on Tuesday. He was 99 years old.
Beitz arrived at the Boryslav region- now part of Ukraine- in 1941, to manage an oil production company. While there, he witnessed the ongoing systematic killing of Jews by the Nazis and decided to take action. Utilizing the means he had at his disposal he managed to free hundreds of Jews, some from trains which were en route to death camps.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called Beitz "one of the great Germans of the past century," for his actions during the holocaust which included demanding Jews be released because they were essential employees, secretly providing Jews with food, and issuing them fake work permits. He was awarded the honorary title of "Righteous among the Nations" in 1973.
"For many Jews he was a beacon of hope in a sea of despair," Lauder said. "He was a hero of the Holocaust at a time when it was a crime to be a humane person. He will never be forgotten for his tremendous acts of kindness."
Before World War II, Beitz was a banker with a subsidiary of energy giant Shell in Hamburg. When the war broke out, he was sent to Poland, where he filled a number of executive positions in the oil industry- where thousands, mostly Jews, were employed in forced labor. When Jews began to be sent to death camps, he intervened on their behalf and demanded many be released, on account of their being essential for his operations. He used information on anti-Jewish activity he obtained through his connections with Nazi officials to warn of dangers in advance, and also hid Jews in his home.
After the war, Beitz said that his actions were not motivated by anti-Nazi ideology. "It wasn't anti-Fascism, nor was it resistance. We saw from dawn to dusk, as close as could be, what was happening to Boryslav's Jews. When you see a mother holding her children being shot, while you yourself have children, your reaction has to be completely different," he said.
After the war, he rose to prominence when he was appointed CEO of ThyssenKrupp AG, a German multinational conglomerate corporation based in Duisburg and Essen, Germany.