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Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (29 March 1886 – 21 September 1957) was a member of the Krupp family, Germany's leading industrial dynasty of the 19th and 20th centuries. As the elder child and heir of Friedrich Alfred Krupp she was the sole proprietor of the Krupp industrial empire from 1902 to 1943, although her husband, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, ran the company in her name. In 1943 ownership of the company was transferred to her son Alfried.
Bertha Krupp was born in Essen, home of the Krupp family and their company since the 16th century. Her mother was Baroness Margrethe von Enden. At the time of Bertha's birth the company was owned and managed by her grandfather Alfred. Upon his death the following year, her father Friedrich inherited ownership and control. Her sister Barbara was born in 1887 (d. 1972), but the absence of a male heir put the future of the company in doubt.
Friedrich Krupp died in 1902, leaving Bertha as the heiress to the Krupp interests. However, it was considered unthinkable for a woman to exercise control over the vast Krupp coal, steel and armaments empire. In 1907, therefore, Kaiser Wilhelm II personally led a search for a suitable husband for Bertha. The Kaiser found him in Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, a professional diplomat of good family and a familiar figure at the Kaiser's court. They were married on May 7. On that date, Gustav added the name Krupp to his surname and assumed executive control of the company. Barbara received a large cash settlement and Bertha became sole owner of the company.
Gustav and Bertha had eight children: Alfried (1907–67), Arnold (1908-1909), Claus (1910–1940), Irmgard (1912–1998), Berthold (1913–87), Harald (1916–85), Waldtraut (1920–2005) and Eckbert (1922–1945). Of these only Alfried as the eldest son took the surname Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. The others used the surname von Bohlen und Halbach. Claus and Eckbert were killed on active service in World War II, and Harald spent ten years in captivity in the Soviet Union.
During World War I, the Krupp company manufactured large mortars that the German army used to bombard forts in Belgium and France. German troops nicknamed these Dicke Bertha ("fat Bertha") after Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. Allied troops used the translated name, "Big Bertha," to refer to all German long-range artillery, particularly those that shelled Paris in 1918. However, "Big Bertha" entered the lexicon due to a piece of German artillery which was constructed of three artillery barrels welded together. It had a range of 75 miles and its appearance was a major surprise to Parisians in 1917 who had previously only come under attack from German aircraft, since previous artillery reached a maximum of thirty miles.
After Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach suffered a stroke in 1941, his health declined sharply. In 1943 Adolf Hitler issued a decree known as the Lex Krupp, which passed full ownership of the Krupp empire—which was vital to Germany's war effort—from Bertha to her son Alfried, who then assumed control of the company. Bertha took Gustav to a family estate in Tyrol, where they remained until the end of the war.
In 1945 Gustav was indicted as a war criminal, but was declared medically unfit to stand trial. He died in 1950. Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was indicted on charges of crimes against humanity in relation to the Krupp company's use and mistreatment of concentration camp inmates as slave labour in Krupp factories—particularly at the Berthawerk, a factory near the Markstadt forced labour camp, which was named after Bertha. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison and the confiscation of all his property. He served five years in prison before being freed in 1951 when the US High Commissioner in Germany, John J. McCloy, unilaterally overturned his conviction.
In 1951 Bertha Krupp returned with Alfried to Essen, where Alfried resumed control of the company and rapidly restored it to a dominant position in the German economy, although it no longer made armaments. She had become a much-loved figure in the city, known for her charitable work and her frequent visits to injured or ill Krupp workers and their families.
Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach died in Essen on 21 September 1957. She was buried in the family crypt outside the city.
Alfried's only child, Arndt (1938–1986), died just one year short of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Krupp in Essen in 1587. Arndt married but had no children; thus the Krupp line ended.
- "Frau Krupp Dies In Germany At 71. Ex-Head of Munition Works Was Bertha for Whom Big Gun of '18 Was Named". New York Times. September 22, 1957. Retrieved 2013-12-24.
- William Manchester. The Arms of Krupp: The Rise and Fall of the Industrial Dynasty that Armed Germany at War (March 4, 2003 ed.). Back Bay Books. p. 992. ISBN 0-316-52940-0.