World

German family to donate €10M after learning extent of Nazi past

One of Germany's richest families plans to donate millions to charity after learning about their ancestors' enthusiastic support of Adolf Hitler and use of forced labourers under the Nazis, according to a report Sunday.

Members of Reimann family supported Hitler, used forced labourers during WW II

A man walks through the gate of the Sachsenhausen Nazi death camp at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Oranienburg, Germany, on Jan. 27. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

One of Germany's richest families, whose company owns a controlling interest in Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Panera Bread, Pret a Manger and other well-known businesses, plans to donate millions to charity after learning about their ancestors' enthusiastic support of Adolf Hitler and use of forced labourers under the Nazis, according to a report Sunday.

In a four-page report, the Bild newspaper reported that documents uncovered in Germany, France and the U.S. reveal that Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr. used Russian civilians and French prisoners of war (POWs) as forced labourers.

Family spokesperson Peter Harf, who is one of two managing partners of the Reimann's JAB Holding Company, said recent internal research confirmed Bild's findings.

"It is all correct," he told the newspaper. "Reimann Sr. and Reimann Jr. were guilty … they belonged in jail."

The father and son, who died in 1954 and 1984, did not talk about the Nazi era and the family had thought that all of the company's connection to the Nazis had been revealed in a 1978 report, Harf said.

But after reading documents kept by the family, the younger generation began to ask questions and commissioned a University of Munich historian in 2014 to examine the Reimann history more thoroughly, Harf said.

The expert presented his preliminary findings to the Reimann children and grandchildren, as well as Hanf, several weeks ago, he said.

Family spokesperson Peter Harf, who is one of two managing partners of the Reimann's JAB Holding Company, said recent internal research confirmed Bild's findings. (Soeren Stache/dpa via Associated Press)

"We were all ashamed and turned as white as the wall," he said. "There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting."

In addition to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Pret a Manger, the Luxembourg-based JAB Holding Co. has controlling stakes in Keurig Green Mountain, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee Co., Panera Bread and other companies.

Many German companies have acknowledged using slave labourers during the Nazi era and have conducted their own independent investigations.

In 2000, the German government approved a 10 billion-mark (about 5.1-billion euro) fund to provide compensation, with half the money coming from companies like Bayer, Siemens, Deutsche Bank, Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen and AEG.

Family donated to SS

Bild reported that even before the Nazis came to power, the Reimanns donated to the paramilitary SS.

During the Second World War, the company used forced labourers in its industrial chemicals company. It was not clear how many were used overall, but Bild said in 1943, 175 forced labourers were being used — about 30 per cent of its workforce.

In addition to Russian and other Eastern European civilians, the company used French POWs, about whom Reimann Jr. complained in a letter to the Ludwigshafen mayor in 1940 that they weren't working hard enough.

After the war, the two were investigated by the occupying Allied powers and initially banned by the French from continuing their business activities but then had the judgment overturned by the Americans, Bild reported.

Harf said the family would donate 10 million euros ($15.22 million Cdn) to a not-yet-determined charity as a gesture, and once the historian's report is complete, it would be released to the public.

"The whole truth must be put on the table," he said.