Researching your family’s history can be an exciting way to learn about the past and your connection with history. However, when you start digging up the past, it’s only a matter of time before you uncover some secrets.
For years, a family in Germany thought they knew everything about how they came to be one of the richest families in the country. Yet the family discovered a dark family secret while researching their past. Now, they are giving millions away in an effort to make up for their history…
It has been more than 70 years since World War II ended and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime fell from power over Germany. In the decades that have passed since then, the world has tried to heal and move on from the atrocities that occurred during Hitler’s reign.
Confronting The Past
However, in the decades that have passed since the end of World War II, some of Germany’s biggest companies and the most powerful families throughout the country have had to confront their history with the Third Reich and the use of slave labor during that time.
Investigating Their Involvement
German companies like Volkswagen, Bayer, and Deutsche Bank have even conducted their own independent investigations over the years. The results of those investigations proved that many of those companies were deeply involved with the Nazi agenda.
Volkswagen, for example, used concentration camp internees and prisoners of war for slave labor in their factories during World War II. In addition, Hitler actually helped lay the foundation stone for the German automobile maker’s first factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.
So in 2000, companies like Bayer, Volkswagen, AEG, Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and Daimler-Benz contributed about half of a 5.1 billion euro fund created by the German government to provide compensation for their sordid histories with the Third Reich
The Reimann Family
Like many of those top companies and prominent families, the Reimann family, which is one of the richest families in Germany, also had ties to the Nazis. According to the family, they became aware that their relatives had ties to the Nazis decades after the end of World War II.
The JAB Holding Company
The family, which owns the Luxembourg-based JAB Holding Company, has controlling stakes in a number of companies like Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread, Keurig Green Mountain, Pret a Manger, Clearasil, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, as well as Caribou Coffee Co.
Today, the Reimann family is the second richest family in Germany and is worth an estimated 33 billion euros. Originally, however, the company and empire started in the mid 19th century when Johann Adam Benckiser and Karl Ludwig Reimann built a chemical plant together.
Since then, the family business expanded and grew into the JAB Holding Company. Like most prominent companies in the country, the Reimann family was found to have ties to the Nazis during a 1978 report. The report explained that Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr. had been investigated by Allied powers after the war.
Reimann Sr. and Reimann Jr. were both banned by the French from continuing business activities for their ties to the Nazis. However, the judgment was overturned by the United States. As a result, Reimann Sr. and Jr.’s descendants believed their relative’s connections to the Nazis had already been revealed.
Reimann Sr. died in 1954 and Reimann Jr. died in 1984. Neither the father or son never spoke to their family about what happened during the years that Hitler was in power, which is why none of their descendants ever asked any questions about the time.
However, in the 2000s, the family started to doubt that they knew the entire story. They stumbled upon some old documents that had been stored by the family over the years and the younger generation realized there was still much they didn’t know about how involved their ancestors had been with the Nazis.
So in 2014, the Reimann family contacted Paul Erker, a historian from the University of Munich, and hired him to examine their family history in depth. In early 2019, Erker presented his findings to the Reimann family and confirmed their suspicions.
Reimann Sr. and Jr. both used Russian civilians and French prisoners of war for slave labor at their industrial chemicals company during World War II. It is believed that in 1943, the company was using 175 forced laborers, which made up about 30 percent of the company’s workforce.
The historian also found proof that the Reimann’s also donated to the paramilitary SS before the Nazis even rose to power and didn’t just support the Nazis to get ahead in business. Rather, the father and son actually believed in Hitler’s mission and were both National Socialists and anti-Semites.
Not Just Opportunists
“Father and son Reimann were obviously not political opportunists, but National Socialists out of conviction,” said Christopher Kopper, an economic historian from the University of Bielefeld. When the Reimann family heard the findings of the report, they were understandably horrified.
Exposing The Truth
“When Professor Erker reported we were speechless, ashamed and white as the wall, there’s nothing to gloss over, these crimes are disgusting,” Peter Harf, a spokesperson for the family and company, said in a statement after the family’s history was exposed by Bild, a German newspaper.
“It is all correct,” Harf told the newspaper to confirm their report. “There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting.” The family is aware there is nothing they can do to change the past, so they have focused on what they can control and doing something good now.
As a gesture, the Reimanns have announced they will donate 10 million euros to a charity, which they have not yet chosen. “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.”
The Whole Truth
“Reimann senior and Reimann junior were guilty. The two entrepreneurs have both passed away, they belonged actually in prison,” said Harf. The family also plans to have the full results of the report released to the public in the next year. “The whole truth must be put on the table.”