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Does German magnate have dirty past?

AMSTERDAM, June 23 (JTA) — A Dutch Jewish journalist who made his name by exposing the Nazi past of a Dutch art collector now is stalking new prey — high-profile German businessman Otto Beisheim. Beisheim is one of the owners of the Metro AG Group, the mother company of prominent retail and electronics stores across Europe. Allegations that Beisheim served in the Waffen-SS during World War II triggered the interest of Hans Knoop, who is renowned for revealing, back in 1976, the Nazi past of art collector Pieter Menten. Beisheim’s business activities brought a revolutionary change in the European consumer industry, and his Otto Beisheim Foundation helps fund schools, universities, cultural and social organizations. Knoop says he has seen formal statements from three SS members, recorded in the 1990s, who knew Beisheim, claiming the initial company Beisheim founded in the early 1960s was partly financed with Nazi money. All three SS members have since died, but Knoop says he is following up on information they provided. Knoop says the statements, which are not publicly available, were provided by a source whom he will not identify. Rumors about Beisheim’s Nazi past resurfaced in late 2005 when Beisheim offered financial support to a grammar school in Rottach, Bavaria. He wanted to establish a $12.6 million fund, whose yearly interest of some $380,000 would be allocated directly to the school. Students and teachers, however, remembered reports in the German media in the early 1990s about Beisheim’s possible Nazi past, and requested an investigation. Soon after, Bavaria’s Culture Ministry said Beisheim had been a stormtrooper and low-ranking SS-member, but that there was no indication he had participated in war crimes. Beisheim initially denied being an SS member, but has refrained from comment since the ministry confirmed his SS membership. He refused JTA requests for an interview. Knoop say his information indicates that Beisheim participated in a regiment responsible for death marches of concentration camp inmates as the end of the war approached. Beisheim’s regiment was based in Czechoslovakia, he said. “What I still need to uncover is Beisheim’s eventual own participation in the death marches. Apart from that, his personal story following World War II raises suspicion too,” Knoop told JTA. “Rumors persist about his involvement in Odessa, the Nazi organization helping SS members flee to South America, the same organization which also transferred Nazi money — often looted — to secret bank accounts in Switzerland.” The rumors come from statements of three SS members, recorded in the 1990s, said Knoop, a Dutch Jew who now lives in Belgium. While the sources have never been made public — and their information hasn’t been verified — Knoop says he wasn’t the only one to think Beisheim may have used Nazi money to finance his business ventures. “When the first stories appeared in the German media about Beisheim’s Nazi past, these stories also contained rumors about Metro AG being funded perhaps with Nazi money,” he told JTA. Beisheim began to work at a local store after World War II, and joined his boss on a business trip to the United States in the 1960s. That was where he encountered the concept of cash-and-carry stores. Back in Germany, Beisheim quit his job and started his own electronics store — allegedly with Nazi money that he got as a member of Odessa. Three years later, he brought in three partners, who financed the expansion of the store that later became Metro AG, one of the most successful retail conglomerates in Europe. “I do not necessarily need to see him prosecuted. However, I do think that he should face up to the truth,” Knoop said. “I also want this to be a sign to the German establishment. They need to know the past of this man they currently have dinner and cocktail parties with. If this man is truly a perpetrator of Nazi crimes, he simply cannot be acceptable in high society anymore. If it turns out that he has blood on his hands, German high society will definitely turn its back to him.” He concluded: “No one in modern Germany wants to be associated with someone who lied about his Nazi past for such a long time.”