At the Site of Mass Murder 

In July 1941, when he was barely 28 years old, Berthold Beitz moved to Borysław in German-occupied Eastern Galicia to assume responsibility for the most important oil wells of the Beskidian (later Carpathian) Oil Company. As an expert in the administration of the Eastern Galician crude oil fields, which was classified as vital to the war effort, Beitz was exempted from military service.

From 1918 to 1939, Borysław and its oil fields (Polish nafta) belonged to Poland; thereafter and up to June 22, 1941, it was occupied by the Soviets. Of the roughly 40,000 inhabitants of Borysław, most of whom worked in the oil industry, there were 18,000 Jews; the other inhabitants were Poles and Ukrainians.

As the company’s business manager, Beitz was stunned by the mass execution of Jews and, starting in the spring of 1942, the deportations that were carried out by the SS. He decided to save as many of the Jewish forced workers in his charge at the Carpathian Oil Company as possible from shootings and deportation to the Bełżec camp. It was not at first known that Bełżec was an extermination camp.

His wife Else Beitz, together with their one-year-old daughter Barbara, joined her husband in Borysław in Eastern Galicia. She too was shocked at the brutal persecution of Jews to which she was an eyewitness. She was her husband’s only ally there. Jews often sat on the steps to their home to ask for help. Else and Berthold Beitz repeatedly hid Jews, including children, in their home when raids were about to take place.

From March to December 1942, Beitz continually managed to take his workers and others off the death trains bound for the Bełżec extermination camp. His self-assured, firm manner helped him get his way with the SS. When in October 1942 the young Zygmunt Spiegler risked losing his job in the kitchen of the forced labor camp, it was tantamount to a death sentence, as Spiegler also would have lost his “R” badge, which identified him as an armaments worker and thus saved him temporarily from deportation. Beitz transferred the sixteen-year-old to the “house administration and construction department” on paper only. Spiegler could thus retain his status as an armaments worker but continue working in the kitchen. Beitz had already brought him back from a transport on two previous occasions. Spiegler survived.

Beitz was also able to save Josef Hirsch, his Jewish accounting clerk, as well as Hirsch’s wife Marie and their eight-year-old son. On the day before a major raid in Borysław in early August 1942, Hirsch asked Beitz to refrain from taking a planned trip. Beitz remained in Borysław and hid his Jewish workers in a locked room. In 1947, Hirsch wrote, “I regard Mr. Berthold Beitz as having saved my life and that of my wife and child.”

An upright man, Beitz was denounced several times and almost arrested once. Before leaving Borysław upon being drafted into the Wehrmacht in April 1944, he advised the Jews to escape by fleeing into the forests until the Red Army arrived. At least 100 people survived due to his rescue efforts.

The Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem honored Berthold Beitz in 1973 and Else Beitz in 2006 as Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography:
Sandkühler, Thomas. “Endlösung” in Galizien: Der Judenmord in Ostpolen und die Rettungsinitiative von Berthold Beitz 1941–1944. Bonn: Dietz, 1996.
Schmalhausen, Bernd. Berthold Beitz im Dritten Reich: Mensch in unmenschlicher Zeit. Essen: Pomp, 1991.