The family behind Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Panera Bread and Pret A Manger is donating 5 million euros, or $5.5 million, to an assistance fund for Holocaust survivors after learning that the family business once used forced labor and supported the Nazi regime.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which seeks reparations for Holocaust survivors and funds social services, announced the donation Thursday.
The donation was made by the Reimanns, one of Germany’s richest families, through the family foundation, the Alfred Landecker Foundation. The family controls JAB Holding Co., which is worth more than $20 billion and also owns or has controlling stakes in Peet’s Coffee, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Keurig and other breakfast brands.
In the years leading up to World War II, executives at Benckiser, a predecessor of JAB, supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. The company also used forced labor from prisoners of war and others who were taken from their homes in Nazi-occupied territories.
The Reimanns have been publicly reckoning with that history, and they pledged this spring that a one-time donation of 10 million euros, or about $11.3 million, would go to institutions that help former forced laborers and their families.
The donation to the claims conference represents half of that pledge, said David Kamenetzky, the chairman of the Landecker Foundation.
The other 5 million euros is dedicated to finding and delivering funds to people who were forced to work for Benckiser during the war, Kamenetzky said, adding that researchers have so far identified 838 people. He said the foundation also hoped to interview those who are willing to talk about their experiences, to add to the historical record.
Julius Berman, president of the claims conference, said in a statement Thursday that the donation, which will be distributed over three years, would make a “significant difference” to Holocaust survivors.
“Elderly, poor Holocaust survivors need food, medicine and heat in the winter,” he said. “These funds will enable thousands of survivors to live in dignity.”
The claims conference will allocate nearly $610 million for social welfare next year, according to the statement.
Discovering Nazi activity in corporate history is a somewhat regular occurrence in Germany, where many large companies had ties to death camps and the expropriation of Jewish businesses. Under its postwar reparations program, Germany has paid billions of dollars in compensation over decades, mostly to Jewish victims of Nazi crimes.
The Reimann family foundation was renamed this year to pay respect to Alfred Landecker, a German Jew killed by the Nazis. He was also the grandfather of family members who now own a stake in JAB.
Landecker was the father of Emilie Landecker, who was employed by Benckiser, an industrial chemicals company, around 1940 and entered into an affair with her boss, Albert Reimann Jr., who — like his father, Albert Reimann Sr. — was an early disciple of Adolf Hitler.
After the Nazis were defeated in World War II, the younger Reimann was arrested and interned by the Allied powers. He insisted he was a victim of the Gestapo, and while the French initially barred him from continuing his business activities, US officials overturned that judgment and called him a “follower” of Nazism rather than an active Nazi.
Since then, the family’s fortunes have grown. Benckiser went through a series of mergers and spinoffs, and the Reimanns eventually channeled much of their wealth into JAB.
In recent years the holding company has bought chains including Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme and Pret A Manger. It also controls Coty, the cosmetics giant that owns Calvin Klein fragrances.
Reimann and Landecker had three children, two of whom now own a combined stake in JAB of about 45 percent. For decades, those descendants say, they did not know about their father’s and their grandfather’s Nazism and the abuses that had taken place at the company they inherited.
But as the business expanded globally, the family began to grapple with its complicated history. This year, with help from Paul Erker, an economic historian at the University of Munich, they publicly shared the details of the company’s history.
The 10 million euros to be spent on donations to Holocaust survivors and forced laborers at Benckiser is separate from the Landecker Foundation’s annual budget of 25 million euros, which is dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere, protecting minority groups and strengthening democracies in the West.
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