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It is also a tale of modern-day corporate atonement. Decades after World War II, Benckiser evolved into one of the largest consumer goods conglomerates on the planet. The relationship between Reimann and Landecker was for many years a secret. He was married, but had no children with his wife. He and Landecker had three, and he adopted them in the s; today, two of them own a combined stake in JAB of about 45 per cent.
A prisoner of war who was kicked out of a bomb shelter and died. Reimann and Landecker, who died in and , respectively, never spoke about those years. Incriminating documents were destroyed or locked away in a safe. A two-volume company history glossed over the Nazi era in a handful of pages. But as Benckiser grew, morphing into the globe-spanning JAB, its past became impossible to ignore.
Peter Harf, who joined the company in and became chairman this year, and whose own father was a Nazi, said he never really bought the idea that the organisation had nothing to hide. Around , as JAB was acquiring high-profile coffee brands and drawing global attention, Harf pressed the family to open its archives to an independent scholar. By , Paul Erker, an economic historian at the University of Munich, took on the task.
Only now, 74 years after World War II, are the family and the company grappling with their dark and complicated history. In March, the first findings about the abuse of forced labourers at the company leaked in a German tabloid. Discovering Nazi activity in corporate history is a somewhat regular occurrence in the country, and the crimes of the Reimanns were not as severe as, for example, those of the many larger companies with ties to death camps and the expropriation of Jewish businesses.
Should I keep drinking it? The heirs carry both sides within them. In a series of interviews with the New York Times, members of the Reimann family spoke publicly for the first time about the Nazi scandal. In an interview, Harf noted that he lived in three places — New York, London and Milan — where nationalism and ethnic division were on the rise. For most of his long career, he said, he considered shareholder capitalism to be value neutral. No longer. The Reimanns had embraced National Socialism and anti-Semitism long before the Nazis came to power, according to an interim report by Erker, the historian.
The younger Reimann heard Hitler speak in Munich in and became an early supporter. His son followed a year later. Around this time, the men gave the company a makeover in keeping with Nazi principles. By the time Hitler took over, Benckiser already housed a Nationalist Socialist Company Organization — a worker council that sought to uphold Nazi ideology. In , it employed people. As an important supplier to the food industry, Benckiser benefited from the Nazi system, more than tripling sales over the next decade.
Reimann Sr served as president of the regional chamber of Industry and commerce, which helped orchestrate the Aryanisation, expropriation and expulsion of Jewish businesses. Benckiser itself did not profit from businesses that had been taken from Jewish owners, and it never used concentration camp labour, as was common in bigger companies like Messerschmitt, a predecessor of Airbus , or IG Farben, which later split into companies including BASF and Bayer. But starting in late , the Reimanns routinely took advantage of forced labuor: men and women taken from their homes in Nazi-occupied territories, as well as prisoners of war, who were allocated by the Nazis to farms and industrial companies across Germany.
It was around this time that Emilie Landecker started working in the accounting department as a clerk. Little is known about her time at the company during the war years, except that Reimann Jr was now her boss. By , people, or a third of the total work force, were forced labourers, most of them from France and Eastern Europe. Benckiser operated two labour camps, one of them overseen by a brutal foreman, Paul Werneburg, who had been with the company since On his watch, female workers were forced to stand at attention naked outside their barracks, and those who refused risked sexual abuse.
During a bomb raid on January 7th, , Werneburg threw dozens of workers out of a camp bomb shelter. Thirty were injured, and one died. Landecker would have witnessed it all, her son, Wolfgang Reimann , said in an email. Held in the A block in Camp 73 under prisoner No. On one recent list of the wealthiest families in Germany, the Reimanns ranked second. Wolfgang Reimann said that the only thing his father ever told his children about the war was that the forced labourers had loved the company so much, they cried when the conflict ended and they had to leave.
Landecker was at work at Benckiser when the Gestapo came for her father. It was April 24th, Around noon, two police officers arrived at the family apartment. Her younger brother, Wilhelm, who would later recollect the incident in an unpublished family memoir, opened the door. Wilhelm led them to his father, who had been waiting.
A letter had arrived that month, informing him of the date of his deportation. With Germanic precision, it had instructed him to pack one suit, some underwear and a coat with a yellow Star of David sewn to the front. No money or valuables were allowed. Then he hugged and kissed his son for the last time. Behave, and obey God.
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A few weeks later, one last letter arrived from Landecker, but only the envelope has survived. Landecker, a World War I veteran and successful accountant, had been a loving father. After his wife, a Catholic, died in , he looked after their three children by himself. Emilie, the eldest, was six at the time. The Nazis took over in Around that time, Landecker did two things that would prove prescient. He made sure his children were baptized Catholic, like his late wife.
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And he officially transferred to them his main possessions, including the family apartment, so that they could not be expropriated. Landecker was searching for a way to flee Germany — perhaps for the United States, where he had a brother and sister-in-law. When Landecker received his deportation notice in April, , the family made one last desperate attempt to stop it.
They were chased away. Despite the disappointment, their father got theatre tickets for everyone that night in Berlin. A few days later, he wrote his last letter to Bavaria.
Today I learned that my departure is on the 24th of the month? So this is the last letter that you receive from me from here or perhaps ever. You have your future ahead of you?
After her father was deported, Emilie Landecker continued working at Benckiser, becoming a trusted employee. When the war ended, Landecker would periodically bring Reimann Jr papers to review in Heidelberg — making a perilous journey through bombed-out landscapes and an emergency bridge over the Rhine.
A giant figure representing right-wing capitalists stands behind Hitler, placing money in his hand, suggesting "backhand" donations. The caption is, "the meaning of the Hitler salute" and "Millions stand behind me". Run in the Evening Standard on 3 July , it shows Hitler with a smoking gun grimacing at terrified SA men with their hands up.
The caption reads: "They salute with both hands now". Sieg Heil was a verbal salute used at the Nazis' mass rallies, where enthusiastic crowds answered Heil Hail!
But Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler. Sieg Heil! On 11 March , less than two months before the capitulation of Nazi Germany , a memorial for the dead of the war was held in Marktschellenberg , a small town near Hitler's Berghof residence. This silence of the masses The Swing Kids German: Swing Jugend were a group of middle-class teenagers who consciously separated themselves from Nazism and its culture, greeting each other with "Swing-Heil! Today in Germany, Nazi salutes in written form, vocally, and even straight-extending the right arm as a saluting gesture with or without the phrase , are illegal.
Usage that is "ironic and clearly critical of the Hitler Greeting" is exempt, which has led to legal debates as to what constitutes ironic use. Modified versions of the salute are sometimes used by neo-Nazis.