If you’ve ever eaten at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts or spread butter on a bagel purchased at Panera Bread you should know that the owner of these eateries built their wealth on greed, forced labor and enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler.
Along with Krispy Kreme and Panera, Pret A Manger, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Peet’s Coffee, Keurig, Snapple, Dr. Pepper, and cosmetics giant Coty are brands (none of which have participated in the Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 competition) owned by a single private German company — consumer good conglomerate JAB Holding. The Reimanns are the family behind JAB.
Meet the Reimanns
Germany’s second wealthiest family, the Reimanns, have an estimated net worth of $33 billion euros. Financial Times refers to them as “one of Europe’s wealthiest business dynasties.”
In the early 19th century, Johann Adam Benckiser (JAB) bought a chemicals business in a small southern Germany town and rose to industrial prominence. Ludwig Reimann, the great-great-grandfather of the Reimanns who now own JAB, joined the company and married Benckiser’s daughter.
Reimann took over the company after Benckiser’s death. His son and grandson brought forced labor and Nazism into the business.
Abuse at Work and Home
A four-page report released on Sunday by the German tabloid Bild showed that patriarch Albert Reimann Sr. and his son Albert Reimann Jr. “used Russian civilians and French POWs as forced laborers during World War II.”
Both men, staunch Hitler supporters and anti-Semites, ran the company in the 1930s and 1940s. The Reimanns condoned the abuse of forced laborers in their company, and in their own home.
“Female workers from Eastern Europe were forced to stand at attention naked in their factory barracks,”according to The New York Times. “Those who refused were sexually abused. Workers were kicked and beaten, among them one Russian woman, who cleaned in the Reimanns’ private villa.”
The father and son participated in the abuse.
“It was very common for companies to use forced laborers — but it was not common for a company boss to be in direct and physical contact with these forced laborers,” Andreas Wirsching, director of the Munich-based Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History, said.
According to family spokesman Peter Harf, a JAB Holdings managing partner, the family also conducted research and confirms the legitimacy of the claims.
Harf said the Reimann family was shocked by connections to Nazi abuses.
“Reimann senior and Reimann junior were guilty,” he said. “They belonged actually in prison.”
The Reimann’s answer is to donate $11 million to charity, however the recipients have not been named.
Is $11 Million Enough?
This family supported the Nazis and benefited from that arrangement. They built $33 billion in wealth, which at the core, forced labor was, at least, partially responsible for. Bild reported that, by 1943, a third of their total workers, about 175, were forced laborers.
The lives of the descendants of the people abused were affected by the actions of the Reimann family.
Only four family members are currently owners of JAB Holding, who share the immense wealth: Matthias, Renate, Stefan and Wolfgang.
So is $11 million enough? In light of lives being destroyed, it seems more can be done.
In the United States, reparations — compensation to the descendants of enslaved Africans and those affected by discriminatory public policies such as Jim Crow laws — remains a topic of debate, most recently among presidential candidates.
Journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates offered insight on why some resist the idea of reparations in his widely read 2014 essay, “The Case for Reparations”:
“The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.”