The Last of the Infamous Krupp Line Rejects His Bloody Legacy for the Idle Life of a Playboy

updated 04/05/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/05/1982 01:00AM

The Krupp dynasty is "at the very core of evil."
H.G. Wells

His name evokes images of war and devastation. But Arndt Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, 44-year-old heir to the once-dread munitions empire, is the first Krupp in 171 years to voluntarily lay down his arms. In 1966 Krupp, who has the dubious distinction of being Adolf Hitler's honorary godson, renounced his $500 million inheritance along with the right to take over the Krupp cannon works turned global conglomerate. "I wanted nothing to do with this company," sniffs Arndt. "My father sacrificed his life for work and died a twice-divorced, depressed billionaire. I'm not like him, and I was not interested in his business."

The Krupp fortune was built in the Franco-Prussian War and two world wars. Forced by the Allies to get out of the weapons business after World War II, the firm, which became a public corporation by 1968, now sells trucks, tools, toys, ships, steel and cement mixers. So why wouldn't the last heir (he has no siblings or offspring) want to rule over the kingdom? "For all my family's money," says the delicate, soft-spoken Arndt, "it didn't always bring them happiness."

Arndt is hardly suffering for his decision. At 28, he began to receive an allowance of $250,000 a year. That figure doubled when his father, Alfried, died a year later. After Arndt spurned a career with the firm, the senior Krupp willed his personal $3.5 billion fortune to a German philanthropic foundation and created a private income for his high-living son, who Alfried knew would never work. In addition to his allowance, Arndt receives a 2.5 percent royalty on each ton of coal produced by a former Krupp mine, plus a percentage of the profits from family-owned supermarkets and hotels in Munich and worldwide real estate holdings. Arndt's worth: "Maybe $80 million, maybe more. I'm not sure."

Two years ago Krupp plunked down a reported $1.5 million for the 26-room Palm Beach villa he now shares with his mother, Annelise. "I hate Germany," he huffs. "I must hide my wealth there. People threw rotten eggs at my Rolls-Royce and made fun of me when I wore expensive jewels." He claims things like that don't happen in Palm Beach—one reason he is applying for U.S. citizenship. "America is the last bastion of freedom," declares the man whose father armed Hitler's war machine. "Society here seems to accept me."

In that belief, he just spent $2.5 million renovating his mansion, including the cheeky task of moving the swimming pool from one side of the house to the other. "He has a wonderful sense of humor," says his Palm Beach chum Ann Light, fourth wife of J. Paul Getty. Chimes in millionaire neighbor Robert D.L. Gardiner: "He's fascinating, well-read and a brilliant conversationalist."

Krupp has a lot to talk about. The family began dealing in weapons 11 generations ago in 1587 with a gun-selling store in the Ruhr Valley. Arndt's great-great-grandfather, Alfred ("the Cannon King"), supplied Kaiser Wilhelm armies during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Fearing that his workers might organize, Alfred hired an agent to inspect used toilet paper for seditious notes. His son, Fritz, a pudgy sybarite, pyramided Krupp into a world industrial power. When he wasn't building steelworks, Fritz staged Black Masses and homosexual orgies in which skyrockets were fired to celebrate orgasms. When his wife protested, he had her locked up in an asylum. When the scandal broke in the German press, Kaiser Wilhelm II rushed to his support. But it was too late—Fritz committed suicide.

His daughter, Bertha, inherited the cannonry in 1902 but needed a consort. Hand-picked by the Kaiser, a Prussian diplomat, Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, was granted the right to use the Krupp name and pass it on to his eldest son. In 1945, not long after Gustav suffered a stroke, that son, Alfried, was arrested and later stood trial at Nuremberg. The Krupp empire was confiscated, and Alfried was sentenced to serve 12 years for the exploitation of some 100,000 people as slave laborers—most of them Jews, many of them women and children. "As a small boy, I went to boarding school near Landsberg Prison so I could see my father," Arndt recalls. "He was unhappy and suffered for crimes committed by Gustav. But my father had no choice. His country was at war, and Hitler told him to make munitions. He had to do it."

Arndt and his mother, whom Alfried had deserted on Gustav's order a few years after their marriage (she was considered too bourgeois to be first lady of Kruppdom), lived hand-to-mouth and were considered pariahs until Alfried's sentence was commuted in 1951 and the company was restored to him. Graduating in the mid-'50s from a Swiss prep school where "boys beat me up because I was a Krupp," Arndt began flaunting his new wealth. He bedecked his playmates, male and female, with lavish jewelry (including a $94,000 Cartier diamond ring) and invited them aboard his 102-foot mahogany yacht, Antinous II, named for the favorite young page of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. "I have a lot of nice lady friends, but I don't exclude the company of men," says Arndt. "I enjoy beauty in every respect, whether it be male or female. In Europe that makes you a playboy."

In 1966, the year Arndt graduated from the University of Cologne, the Krupps hired a Munich public relations man to repair Arndt's image with columnists who had portrayed him as an arrogant Apollo. Finally, in 1969, Arndt decided to marry Princess Henriette "Hettie" von Auersperg of Austria's royal family. These days the couple maintain what Arndt calls "a close friendship" but choose to live apart. Says he: "I love my wife, but we each have strong character traits we need to be alone with.

"My mother has been the closest person to me," Arndt adds. "She was abandoned. I share that with her. It is something special between us." He supervises a staff of 27 servants at the Palm Beach manse and the family's 84-room Blühnbach Castle in Austria, a 38-room Moroccan palace in Marrakesh and an apartment in Munich.

Through philanthropy, Arndt hopes to redeem his family's tarnished name and give his life meaning. "I want to spend more time in Thailand with underprivileged youth," he says. "I give half a million dollars a year to charity, so I don't feel as bad about spending $100,000 for a car or a piece of jewelry. It soothes the conscience of extravagance."

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