It is with a heavy heart I’m passing on the worst news I’ve heard all day: Krispy Kreme’s parent company was once run by full-fledged Nazis. Who knew!
The New York Times has published a deep dive on the history of JAB Holding Company, which existed in 1940s Germany as a family-run company called Benckiser. It’s an extensive report that details a love affair between Albert Reimann Jr., the son of Benckiser’s chief executive at the time (both father and son were members of the Nazi party) and Emilie Landecker, a Jewish woman who worked there. Two of their three children now own a 45 percent stake in JAB, and did not know about their father and grandfather’s Nazism until this year.
The news is obviously devastating—in no small part because surely everyone who’s ever tried a Krispy Kreme donut before has, however briefly, entertained the thought that they could love a donut company unconditionally. Unfortunately for lovers of cheap coffee and pre-packaged sandwiches, according to the Times, JAB also owns “Peet’s Coffee, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Pret A Manger, Keurig and other breakfast brands.” Nothing is sacred!
A German tabloid was the first to report that Benckiser had a history of relying on and abusing forced laborers. Until this year, Landecker’s children knew their mother’s father had died in the Holocaust, but did not know their father was a Nazi. (The chairman of JAB, Peter Harf, had been urging the Reimanns to look into their family history for years; the Times reports that Harf’s own father was a Nazi.)
Grappling with family legacy is a rite of passage for the many German companies that prospered and expanded into global corporations under the Third Reich. L’Oréal’s explicitly pro-Nazi founder quadrupled the company sales, in part, by selling military paint to German forces; Bosch flourished through contracts with the Nazi party and tens of thousands of conscripted laborers. Though some of brands with Nazi ties have apologized for their company’s past (Volkswagen and Hugo Boss have), a larger number have not.
At the very least, the Reimanns and Harf have been rocked by the news, and seem to making an effort to learn from their family legacy. The Reimanns will donate 10 million euros (or $11.3 million) to “institutions that help former forced laborers and their families,” according to the Times. They’re also pouring more money into their family foundation, which will serve to “honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of Nazi terror.” The foundation has also been renamed after Alfred Landecker, Emilie’s father who died in the Holocaust. Still unclear whether we can enjoy the donuts unscathed.