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Bahlsen: Cookies, Cakes and Forced Labor

Bahlsen, a German food company based in Hanover that makes cookies and cakes, employed about 200 forced laborers between 1943 and 1945, most of whom were women from Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

Verena Bahlsen, the heiress of the company, provoked outrage when she made a remark about her wealth that was viewed as insensitive to the company’s history of using forced labor. When asked about criticism of her comments, she said, “That was before my time, and we paid the forced laborers exactly as much as German workers and we treated them well.” She added, the company had done nothing wrong.

Lambasted for her “obliviousness to history,” Bahlsen apologized. “Nothing could be further from my mind than to downplay national socialism or its consequences” she said, acknowledging she had more to learn about the company’s history.

Following the uproar, Werner Bahlsen, the head of the company, said it would hire a well-known historian to examine its Nazi past.

The company said it voluntarily paid some 1.5 million deutschmarks (about 750,000 euros) in 2000-2001 to a foundation set up by German firms to compensate 20 million forced laborers used by the Nazis.

German courts have cited statute of limitations laws to stymie lawsuits by forced laborers and their heirs seeking compensation from Bahlsen.

Source: “Choco Leibniz biscuit heiress apologises over Nazi-era labour comments,” BBC, (May 16, 2019);
“This German Heiress’s Views On Nazi Slave Labor Are About What You’d Expect,” Reuters, (May 14, 2019);
“Roland Berger discovers his father’s dark secret,” Economist, (October 24, 2019).