The Reimann family, which owns the controlling stake in JAB Holdings and is the second richest family in Germany, admitted in 2019 the company used slave labor during World War II. Today, JAB owns well-known brands such as Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Keurig Dr. Pepper, Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee, Einstein Bros. Bagels, and Pret A Manger.
In 1823, Johann Adam Benckiser established a chemical and industrial manufacturing company based in Germany. Chemist Ludwig Reimann joined with Johann in1828. Reimann married one of Benckiser’s daughters and took over the business when Benckiser died. According to the company website, which makes no mention of its Nazi ties, early in the 20th century, Benckiser primarily supplied processed cheese, salts for blood treatment, supplements for baby food, and chemicals to soften water.
Ludwig’s son, Albert Reimann Sr., who died in 1954, and grandson, Albert Reimann Jr., who died in 1984, ran the company in the 1930s and 1940s. They were anti-Semites who supported Adolf Hitler from the early 1920s and later donated money to the Waffen-SS. By the time Hitler took power, Benckiser housed a Nationalist Socialist Company Organization — a worker council that sought to uphold Nazi ideology.
In July 1937, Albert Reimann Jr. wrote a letter to Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS. “We are a purely Aryan family business that is over 100 years old,” he wrote. “The owners are unconditional followers of the race theory.”
The German tabloid Bild broke the story after obtaining an interim report delivered by Paul Erker, an economic historian at the University of Munich, who was hired by the Reimanns in 2014 to investigate the family’s Nazi ties.
The report found that Benckiser used Russian civilian prisoners and French prisoners of war as forced labor in their factories during World War II. By 1943, the company employed as many as 175 forced workers – a third of its workforce – to produce items for the German army. At one labor camp operated by the company under the supervision of Paul Werneburg, workers were beaten, and women were forced to stand at attention naked in their barrack, according to Katrin Bennhold. If they refused, they were sexually abused. Apparently, the Reimanns, unlike most company bosses, were also directly involved in some of the mistreatment of workers.
Bennhold said, “During a bomb raid on Jan. 7, 1945, Werneburg threw dozens of workers out of a camp bomb shelter. Thirty were injured, and one died. As word of Werneburg’s brutality spread, even the local Nazi office in charge of allocating forced laborers reprimanded the Reimanns for mistreating their workers.”
Investigators found a letter from Reimann Jr. written to a local mayor complaining that the French prisoners of war weren’t working hard enough and should be in prison.
The Reimanns’ also used forced laborers in their private villas.
The Reimanns were investigated after the war. Reimann Jr. was arrested and interned by the Allies. He wrote a letter to the commanding officer denying he had been an “early and enthusiastic Nazi” and claimed he was a victim of the Nazis.” The French barred them from continuing their business activities, but the Americans reversed the judgment.
Wolfgang Reimann told Bennhold that the only thing his father ever said about the war was how much the workers loved the company. “He claimed that the French workers often got some red wine on Saturdays,” Wolfgang said, “and that transferees from other camps said that Benckiser was the best camp they had ever been in or heard of.”
Following the revelations, Peter Haft, the chairman and one of the managing partners of JAB Holdings, said the Reinmans “belonged in prison.” He admitted, “We were ashamed and white as sheets. There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting.”
According to the New York Times, the revelations led some customers to accuse company employees of “working for Nazis.” The story noted the Boston Globe published an article with the headline: “I found out Nazi money is behind my favorite coffee. Should I keep drinking it?”
Following the revelations, the company said it would donate $11 million to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to help provide services and care to surviving Holocaust victims. The money will be administered through the Alfred Landecker Foundation, which the family planned to support with 250 million euros over 10 years.
“This (donation) marks a significant step for the Alfred Landecker Foundation and our ambition of researching and remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust, as well as providing humanitarian assistance for survivors of the Holocaust and former forced labor in World War II,” David Kamenetzky, chair of the Foundation, said in a statement.
The family renamed their original foundation after learning their mother’s story. In 1941, Emilie Landecker, a 19-year-old who was half-Jewish went to work for Benckiser after her father Alfred was deported. Despite being terrified of also being deported, she fell in love with her boss, Albert Reimann Jr., and carried on a secret affair that produced three children while he had no children with his wife. Emilie worked for Benckiser until 1965, the same year, Reimann Jr. formally adopted their children who became heirs to the family fortune.
The children knew that their maternal grandfather had been murdered by the Nazis, but they did not learn their father had been a Nazi until the disclosures about the company came out in 2019. They subsequently renamed the family foundation in their grandfather’s honor “to preserve Alfred Landecker’s memory and, through our work, ensure that his fate is not forgotten – and that something like this never happens again.” It is also committed to raising “awareness of the conditions that paved the way for and enabled the Holocaust to occur, and to combat anti-Semitism in the here and now.”
The foundation website says it “supports Holocaust survivors and former forced laborers” and has already donated five million euros to the Claims Conference. Additional funds have been donated to establish a Covid-19 emergency relief fund of 1.2 million euros for Holocaust survivors.
As of the end of 2020, 838 names of former Benckiser forced laborers had been identified and the foundation said it is going to provide them or their heirs with financial support.
“What we can learn from history and how we can learn from history is at the core of this foundation,” Norbert Frei, the chairman of its academic advisory council told the New York Times. “This is not just about researching and remembering the past,” he said. “It’s about stabilizing and maintaining democracy today.”
Today, 90% of JAB, which is based in Luxembourg, belongs to four of the nine adopted children of Albert Reimann Jr. The family expects to publish a book next year that will detail the ties with the Nazis.
Sources: JAB Holding Company;
“JAB Holding Company,” Wikipedia;
Brigit Katz, “German Family That Owns Krispy Kreme Admits It Profited From Nazi Ties,” Smithsonianmag.com, (March 27, 2019);
Chris Isidore, “Krispy Kreme, Panera Owners Family History of Nazi Ties,” CNN Business, (March 25, 2019);
Katrin Bennhold, “Germany’s Second-Richest Family Discovers a Dark Nazi Past,” New York Times, (March 25, 2019);
“Admitting its Nazi past, family that owns Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread donates $7.3 million to Holocaust survivors,” National Post, (December 12, 2019);
Eli Rosenberg, “German billionaire family that owns Einstein Bros. Bagels admits Nazi past,” Washington Post, (March 25, 2019);
Katrin Bennhold, “Nazis Killed Her Father. Then She Fell in Love With One,” Washington Post, (June 14, 2019);
Alfred Landecker Foundation.