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Berthold Beitz, ThyssenKrupp patriarch who saved wartime Jews, dies aged 99

Berthold Beitz, the patriarch of German heavy industry giant ThyssenKrupp has died at the age of 99. The industrialist was also credited with saving Jewish workers from death camps during World War II.

Berthold Beitz, one of post-war West Germany's leading industrialists, has died at the age of 99 on Tuesday, steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG announced Wednesday.

Apart from his work with ThyssenKrupp, Beitz was well known for saving hundreds of Jewish workers in occupied Poland during World War II.

In 1973, Beitz was given the Righteous Among the Nations honorific by the Israeli Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which is the highest honor given to a non-Jew, for saving Jews.

According to Yad Vashem's biography of Beitz, in August 1942, he saved 250 Jews from being deported to the Belzec death camp by claiming they were crucial to production.

Beitz and his wife, Else were also honored by Germany's main Jewish group in 2000 for this act.

In the 1950s, Beitz was brought on to manage the Krupp steel company, which was heavily involved in weapons production during the war.

In 1970 Beitz became supervisory board chairman of Krupp. In 1999, the company merged with Thyssen to form ThyssenKrupp, one of the symbols of Germany's technological expertise.

Beitz was also an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee. Via the Krupp Foundation, he invested heavily in the revitalization of the Ruhr Valley Region - West Germany's former industrial heartland after the war and the base of steelmaker ThyssenKrupp.

'One of the greatest Germans'

Following the news of his death, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, called Beitz "one of the great Germans of the past century."

"He was a hero of the Holocaust at a time when it was a crime to be a humane person," he said in a statement.

Chancellor Angela Merkel praised his "brave and exemplary support for Jewish workers during World War II." She added that Germany had lost "one of its most esteemed and successful" company figures.

German President Joachim Gauck described Beitz as a German symbol for "socially responsible company management and strength of character."

Beitz was born on September 26, 1913, in Zemmin in what was then Germany and now Poland.

hc/ccp (AFP, AP, dpa)