Last September, shortly before JAB Holding bought the Pret-A-Manger sandwich chain, the Daily Mail reported that the company’s late owners were literal Nazis who used forced labor during World War II. Albert Reimann inherited JAB Holding and was an active member of the Nazi party—well before he passed the control of the company on to his son, Albert Reimann, Jr. At the time, a company spokesperson said that they were all aware of the Nazi history, but said that the family’s wealth had been accumulated after the war, so it’s not like they benefited from forcing occupied people to work for them.
It’s hard to get worse than a statement confirming that your business was controlled by two generations of Nazis, but fast-forward six months, and here we are. According to a report from German newspaper Bild, the Reimanns forced as many as 175 Russian citizens and French prisoners of war to work for them in Nazi-era Germany, which added up to about 30 percent of its total workforce at the time. On top of that, the younger Reimann once complained to a German mayor that the POWs weren’t working hard enough. “It is all correct,” Peter Harf, a spokesperson for JAB Holding, told the newspaper. “Reimann senior and Reimann junior were guilty ... they belonged in jail.”
Even if you’ve never heard of JAB Holdings, you definitely know some of its properties. In addition to the Pret-A-Manger chain, the company currently owns Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Panera Bread, Peet’s Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Keurig, and Insomnia Cookies, among others.
Both Reimanns are dead, and a 1978 report had already revealed some of their Nazi connections, but their younger descendants hired a University of Munich historian to look deeper into the family tree. In addition to providing additional details about their use of forced labor, the historian also confirmed that the Reimanns were staunch supporters of Adolf Hitler and had donated to the Nazi Schutzstaffel—the SS—well before the war. Their company, which largely produced chemicals, was considered to be “crucial” during the war as it was a supplier for the Wehrmacht, the Nazi armed forces.
After the conflict ended, both Reimann Senior and Reimann Junior were investigated by the Allies, and the French tried to prevent them from continuing to do business. (That judgement was overruled by the Americans).
The surviving members of the Reimann family have since pledged to donate €10 million ($11.3 million) to an as-yet-unnamed charity, as a form of penance. Harf said that there was no evidence that the forced laborers had been compensated in any way. "But we have since talked about what we can do now," he said. “We want to do more and donate ten million euros to a suitable organisation." The family has also promised to release the historian’s report to the public after its completion.
According to The Local, the family’s combined worth is an estimated €33 billion ($37 billion), making them the second-wealthiest family in Germany. JBG Holding is far from the first German company that has had to reconcile its executives’ behavior during World War II, but this pledge is a very public acknowledgement of the Reimanns’ inexcusable past.
“We were all ashamed and turned as white as the wall,” Harf said. “There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting.”