Company behind Pret admits to Nazi past
The Reimann family is the second richest in Germany, with stakes in major brands like Pret and Krispy Kreme. Now they have found evidence of a dark Nazi past. How should this make us feel?
“Reimann Senior and Reimann Junior were guilty,” said Peter Harf, spokesman for one of the richest families in Germany, the Reimanns. “The two men have passed away, but they actually belonged in prison.”
The men were in charge of the family’s investments company JAB Holdings during the 1930s and 40s. The family hired a historian to look into their past and has discovered that the Reimanns were committed Nazis who relied heavily on forced labour during the Second World War. The details were first reported in the German newspaper Bild on Sunday.
Today, JAB Holdings owns stakes in well-known brands like Pret a Manger, Dr Pepper and Krispy Kreme.
Back then, it owned an industrial chemicals company in Germany. In 1941 it was deemed a “crucial” firm for the war, as it produced items for Germany’s weapons industry. By 1943 it was using 175 forced labourers, including Russian civilians and French prisoners of war.
Meanwhile, Albert Reimann Sr and his son Albert Reimann Jr were both anti-Semites and Hitler supporters.
Reimann Sr donated to the SS as early as 1931. In 1937, Reimann Jr wrote a letter to Heinrich Himmler describing them as a “purely Aryan family business”. Reimann Jr also wrote a letter to a local mayor complaining that the company’s forced labourers were not working hard enough.
The current family members were “ashamed and white as sheets” when they found out the details of their past, said Harf. “There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting.”
Now, the family is pledging to donate €10 million (£8.5 million) to a charity which supports former slaves.
But JAB Holdings is far from the first company to reckon with a Nazi past. Hugo Boss designed Nazi uniforms before turning to men’s fashion. German car companies BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen all used forced labourers, including concentration camp prisoners.
The news organisation Associated Press fired its Jewish employees in Germany and complied with Nazi censorship when other news companies refused. And Coca-Cola deliberately marketed itself as pro-Nazi, particularly among the Hitler Youth.
How should we feel about these companies now? Some may feel uneasy buying a sandwich from Pret knowing that it is partially funded by a family which profited from — and collaborated with — one of the most evil regimes in history. Can anything truly make up for the damage that was done?
Others may be impressed by the family’s honesty. Germany is particularly good at facing up to its mistakes. It even has a word for the process: “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”, meaning “overcoming the past”. It is only by reckoning with history, rather than sweeping it under the carpet, that we can move forward.
- Does learning about their history change how you feel about the companies mentioned in this article?
- Should more countries be open about their past mistakes?
- Choose one of the companies mentioned in this article. Write a paragraph which explains why you think it should, or should not, be blamed for its collaboration with the Nazis.
- Make a timeline of Germany’s history since the end of the Second World War in 1945. Pay attention to the ways that it reckoned with its Nazi history.
Some People Say...
“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”William Faulkner
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- JAB Holding Company is an investment firm for the Reimann family, who gained their wealth through a chemicals business in the 1800s. Albert Reimann Sr and his son both joined the Nazi party in 1931, before Hitler came to power. Reimann Sr died in 1954 and Reimann Jr in 1984. JAB Holdings now owns several global food and coffee companies. It bought Krispy Kreme in 2016 and Pret A Manger in 2018.
- What do we not know?
- Whether the company’s reputation (and the brands it owns) will suffer as a result of the news. In the past, German companies have acknowledged their history without repercussions, especially if they try to make amends. BMW, for example, helped to found the organisation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future”, which compensated former forced labourers.
- The family’s wealth is estimated at €33-37 billion (£28-31 billion), according to AFP News. It is thought to be the second richest in Germany.
- Forced labour
- Any work which people are forced to do against their will. Nazis abducted around 12 million people from Eastern and Central Europe in order to force them to work for German industries. They also used concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war.
- The SS
- The Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s paramilitary organisation, and the “political soldiers” of the Nazi Party. Hitler became leader of Germany in 1933, so Reimann Sr was an early fan.
- Heinrich Himmler
- Head of the SS, and one of Hitler’s closest allies. He oversaw the forced labour operation and the “Final Solution” — now known as the Holocaust.
- In Nazi ideology, the “Aryan” race was considered a “master race” that was superior to all others.
- Concentration camp
- Camps where people were detained in harsh conditions. Some were used for forced labour. Later, others were used for the mass murder of Jews and other minorities.
- Hitler Youth
- A youth organisation to indoctrinate children to Naziism.