Friday, August 2, 2013

Remembering Berthold Beitz

German industrialist and philanthropist Berthold Beitz died on Tuesday at 99. For the New York Times story, see here. He is rightly most remembered for his heroic actions during World War II, when stationed as a Nazi supervisor overseeing oil fields in Poland, he was responsible for ensuring that hundreds of Jews and Poles were saved from deportation and death camps.

After the war, his unsullied past led to being asked to take over the German industrial conglomerate, Krupp. This allowed him to set up the Krupp Foundation with proceeds from the estate of Alfried Krupp, the steel magnate and industrial war criminal. The Foundation under Beitz overcame its history to become one of the most important philanthropic institutions in Germany and Europe.

While much of its focus is on the arts, it is worth remembering the importance the Foundation placed on transatlantic understanding. Under Beitz's leadership, it created, for example, the Krupp Foundation Fellowship, housed at Harvard's Center for European Studies (CES) that since 1975 has funded hundreds of graduate students and undergraduates to conduct research in Europe. Many of those fellows have gone on to become among the prominent academics and teachers of Europe across the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Krupp Fellowship has singularly advanced the cause of Europe for several generations of scholars.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Beitz five or six years ago when as CES's executive director, I visited him at the Foundation to thank him and update him on how the Center was preparing students with an interest in Europe.  Already in his mid-90s, he was still running the Foundation and was an incredibly elegant figure. He had a keen intellect, amazing stories and a profound desire to see Europe and the US remain strong allies.  In a splendid office filled with photos of him and virtually every important global leader of the 2nd part of the 20th Century, he brushed those aside to talk about the importance of giving young people opportunities to experience the world so that they would understand it and thereby lessen the misunderstandings and nationalism that give rise to conflict. An astounding life and an astounding man.

No comments:

Post a Comment