baron thyssen, breeding in wwii, german derby, german thoroughbreds, gestut erlenhof, kenneth alford, nazi plunder, nordlicht, recognition by us stud book, sid fernando, wartime events in racing and breeding
The story of German Derby winner Nordlicht and his ill fortunes at stud, partly as a result of being captured by the US Army, has generated an amazing volume of private and public commentary and hundreds of hits over the past couple of days. This is quite gratifying because why write unless one wants to be read?
The comments make good reading. And among them are some that deserve to be highlighted because they expand the story to catch the winds of history and help us better understand the horse and his times.
Nordlicht – I have found twenty-plus articles, mentions, etc, of this stallion. The ownership pertaining to Adolf Hitler is always mentioned as, believed to be owned, reported to be owned, reputed to be owned, etc. I have not found one definitive, fact-based proof of ownership.
Through the years when chancing upon this horse in research, (of the stallions North Light, Raffie’s Majesty, etc), I must have made the assumption without malice that Adolf Hitler was the owner. Well, I know to well when one assumes, one can not forget the risk of being just the first three letters of the word assume.
One point of reference, in his German Race Records, the breeder is always listed as Gestut Erlenhof, the owner is listed as Gestut Erlenhof. In references found to his Austrian Derby win, the breeder is listed as Gestut Erlenhof but I can find no reference to the listed owner. In addition, though not the particular sale of Nordlich, I found newspaper references to various sales conducted at that time by the United States that mention Hitler’s name in reference to the items at auction, not to mean they were actually owned by him.
Perhaps there lays the basis of the ownership question.
I now know a heck of a lot more about thoroughbreds, thoroughbred racing in war time Europe then I think I wanted to know, maybe then I need to know but, overall I have been enlightened.
In the book “Nazi Plunder” by Kenneth D. Alford, there is a vivid passage of how Nordlicht came to the US, and it very much follows Frank’s timeline except for one fact, which support’s one of Kevin’s contentions: That he was bred, in 1945, to mares at Altefeld, in Germany.This “national” stud farm was where, for example, Brantome had been brought; according to the book, Nordlicht was discovered there by Col. Fred Hamilton, head of the US Army Remount Branch. By all accounts, the chestnut was a specimen. You can read the account here http://bit.ly/aKJfoz
Obviously, he was not confiscated by the Germans — he was a “spoil” of war, confiscated by the US Army.
My guess is that IF he did run once under Hitler’s name, it was ceremonial– perhaps in the Austrian Derby. There is nothing to suggest that Hitler ever owned racehorses.
If the JC did not register his foals, it could have been for a number of reasons, including not having an original passport for the horse and proper papers—which may well have been lost in war time. Certainly, it would have been next to impossible to positively identify the horse.
… [Nordlicht] was bred and raced by Gestut Erlenhof, which was owned by the wealthy Baron Thyssen, an Austro-Hungarian sympathtic to the Nazis. By the beginning of 1945, with things bad in Germany and the Allies advancing, Baron Thyssen may have fled Germany—I read somewhere once that he did— and Nordlicht may have been placed with the “national” stud at Altefeld.
The Baron’s sister was Countess Margit Batthyany—the famous breeder, who, among others, bred Caro.
A French bred son of Nordlicht named Fils de Roi won the Grand Prix de Deauville. Fils de Roi’s son Soyeux took the same race. So the French-bred progeny of Nordlicht was obviously registered for breeding, too.
Some investigation revealed drf reported in May 1952 that Nordlicht will be flown back to France so he can be registered in the French Stud Book and later be returned to this country. As aforementioned Fils de Roi was bred in 1953; he was most probably sired by Nordlicht during his short stay in France.
In May the following year announcement was made that Nordlicht and two other German stallions covering in the US, Samurai and Athanasius, were accepted for the American Stud Book.
The Jockey Club reported:
“It now appears that, after an extensive investigation had been made in Germany and elsewhere, the French Stud Book Commission decided to accept the German Stud Book as property kept through 1943, and that Nordlicht (foaled in 1941), having been sent from this country to France, has now been registered in the French Stud Book. He is eligible for registration in the American Stud Book.”
It’s always amazing to me that foreigners, especially US citizens, do know very little about Germany and the Nazi times – even after some 60 years.
Yes, it’s rumoured that Hitler was the owner of Nordlicht. But this is definitely not true.
The origin of this tale is: Baron Heinrich v. Thyssen, who as many German industrial magnates was “close” to the Nazi party, once publicly proclaimed: “We should dedicate this horse to the Führer!” And so the legend was in the world and remained there till today.
As “deutsche Ordnung” and bureaucracy were striking traits of Nazi-regime it is most unlikely that Nordlicht became Hitler’s personal property: there must be papers to prove that – and there aren’t.
In 1944, the “Deutsches Derby”, then named “Großer Deutschland-Preis der Dreijährigen” and won by Nordlicht, was run at June, 25th (less than 3 weeks after D-Day in Normandy! 5 days after Graf Stauffenberg failed to kill Hitler in his headquarter Wolfsschanze). Do you really think that “Führer” had any thoughts on racing and such follies in these days after he hadn’t shown the slightest interest in racing and sport in general before?
The Derby 1944 was run at Berlin-Hoppegarten instead of its traditional place at Hamburg. Surprisingly there still was racing in Germany in Summer 1944 – although the meetings only took place at Hoppegarten, Dresden, Leipzig. In the official racing-calendar of that year the “Gestüt Erlenhof” (owner: Baron H. Thyssen) is mentioned as Nordlicht’s owner. Later that year Nordlicht won the “Großer Preis von Wien” = Austrian Derby at Vienna.
There was a „Großer Preis von Baden“ in 1944, run in Hoppegarten, too. The winner was Ticino (owner: Gestüt Erlenhof = Baron H. Thyssen).
Actually Hitler never visited a racetrack – although his “clansmen” and parvenus Goebbels and Goering enjoyed the glamour of racing and liked to use racetracks as a public stage to celebrate their own “popularity”, “grandezza” and to act as “grand seigneurs”. Ironically, in the 1930s the level of German TB-breeding and racing was very high (Nereide, Alchimist, Ticino, Schwarzgold) and racing was were popular.
After the German victory over France in 1940 tb-studs were founded by the State Department (v. Ribbentropp), “Wehrmachtshauptgestüt” (Army), “Ahnenerbe” (= Himmler’s SS), Isarland (founded by “tricky acquisitions” of the corrupt, ruthless, local Nazi-party-member, C. Weber) … these “Lords of own grace” already made plans for personal pastime after a victorious war. Most of the foundation horses of these studs were “acquired under wartime circumstances ” / requested in Normandy in 1941/1942 (Boussac, French owners of Jewish origin, Aga Khan, Lord Derby, …).
All of these horses and most of their progeny surviving the war were repatriated –the commission that was founded to organize the repatriation took as much as they could – even tried to get horses that were legally acquired by private German owners in 1941 (“the winner takes it all”). So horses like Bramouse, Kaiserwürde or Morning Breeze (acquired in 1938 at Newmarket December Sales!), were to the dismay of the Allies not part of these war-time spoils.
After the war 2 Americans tried to make some money out of the rumour concerning Nordlicht, acquired him and intended to exhibit him in road-shows in the US. But this venture failed as no one in the US wanted to see this horse.