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German billionaire family that owns Einstein Bros. Bagels admits Nazi past

Peter Harf, who heads the Reimann family's JAB Holding Co., shown in Berlin in 2016. (Soeren Stache/DPA/AP)

The German family whose holding company owns controlling stakes in companies such as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Panera Bread, Pret a Manger and Einstein Bros. Bagels profited from the horrors of the Nazi regime, according to a bombshell report in a German newspaper.

The tabloid Bild, one of Germany’s most popular papers, reported that Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr., whose family backs JAB Holdings, had significant links to the Third Reich.

JAB Holdings is a privately held conglomerate that has investments in a wide portfolio of global companies, among them Peet’s Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain and Dr Pepper-Snapple. It acquired Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, which owns three national bagel chains — Einstein Bros., Noah’s New York Bagels and Manhattan Bagel — in 2014.

The report found that Russian civilians and French prisoners of war were used as forced laborers in the family’s factories and private villas around World War II, when it was involved in chemicals-related manufacturing mostly for the food industry, according to Deutsche Welle.

“It is all correct,” family spokesman Peter Harf, who is one of two managing partners of JAB Holdings, told Bild. “Reimann Senior and Reimann Junior were guilty. The two men have passed away, but they actually belonged in prison.”

The two men died in 1954 and 1984, respectively.

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Other disclosures in the report include revelations that the two men were anti-Semites and avowed supporters of Adolf Hitler, and Reimann Sr. donated to the paramilitary SS force as early as 1933, according to Deutsche Welle.

Reimann Jr. once complained to the mayor of Ludwigshafen, where the family had an industrial chemicals company, that the French prisoners of war weren’t working hard enough, Deutsche Welle reported.

The report was a reminder of the way that some private businesses that are willing to put moral and human rights concerns aside are able to profit from the repression of fascist regimes. Many German companies have reckoned with histories of collaboration with the Nazi regime, among them: Hugo Boss, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others.

Harf told Bild that the company plans to give about $11 million to charity after learning of the family’s history, the AFP reported. He said that the family had been looking into its past and in 2014 commissioned a historian, Paul Erker of Munich University, to study its ties to the Nazi regime, a work that has yet to be completed after more than four years. Harf said that the family plans to release more information about that study when it is done.

In an email, Erker confirmed that he was investigating the company’s history during the Nazi era.

“It is about an overall story also in the industry context, but in which the subject of forced labor plays a central role,” Erker said. “The mandate includes absolute scientific independence and unrestricted access to files, including the Benckiser Archive and family records. I ask for your understanding that I cannot provide any information on the details and results of the ongoing project.”

JAB Holdings was founded in the 1820s by Johann A. Benckiser, according to CB insights, and now serves as the “investment vehicle” for the Reimann family.

It holds stakes in companies behind brands such as Mucinex, Woolite and Durex condoms, according to CB Insights, and is a majority shareholder of the beauty product company Coty. In recent years, its aggressive moves to expand beyond the world of household goods have drawn attention, particularly in the world of coffee and baked goods. It has reportedly spent more than $40 billion to acquire brands such as Peet’s Coffee, Caribou Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia.

The Reimann family, which has been described repeatedly in news reports as “secretive,” has an estimated wealth of some 33 billion euros, or about $37 billion, according to the AFP, and is believed to be the second-wealthiest in Germany. JAB Holdings did not respond to a request for comment.

Erker said he did not have an exact date when he expected to have his report ready.

According to the AFP, the company employed as many as 175 forced laborers, and produced items for the Nazi military and weapons industry. The company has not provided compensation to any of the forced laborers, “but we have since talked about what we can do now,” Harf said.

“We want to do more and donate ten million euros to a suitable organization,” he said.

Luisa Beck contributed to this report.

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