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Panera’s parent voluntarily owns up to its Nazi past

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Most restaurant companies go to extreme lengths to distance themselves from political or social controversy. Not so the Luxembourg-based parent of Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme and 10 other restaurant chains, which confirmed over the weekend that it has discovered clear links between the company and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, to the point of using occupants of German-occupied territories as slave laborers.

JAB Holding Co. said it would donate about $11 million to charities as penance of sorts for the affiliation and what it readily acknowledges were war crimes. 

The Nazi ties came to light at the instigation of the company itself. JAB, whose other holdings include Bruegger’s Bagels, Pret A Manger and Peet’s Coffee, is controlled by the Reimann family, which originally made its fortune in the chemical business. Family records from the days of Hitler’s Third Reich convinced current-day members of the clan to commission a probe in 2014 into possible connections with the Nazis.

The research by the University of Munich unearthed irrefutable evidence that longtime JAB leader Albert Reimann and his son, Albert Reimann Jr., were supporters of the Nazis and its paramilitary forces even before Hitler consolidated his political control over Germany. Among the documents that came to light was a letter from the younger Reimann that complained to Nazi officials about the lack of productivity among the French nationals who were forced to work as slaves in the company’s chemical factories. 

 JAB readily acknowledged the findings to German media and characterized the actions of the elder and younger Reimanns as criminal acts. “They belonged in jail,” JAB managing partner and chairman Peter Harf told the German newspaper Bild.His comments suggest the company and its owners cooperated with the publication on the article.

The older Reimann died in 1954, and the younger in 1984, according to news reports. Today, about 90% of JAB is held by the nine adopted children of Albert Reimann Jr. 

Preliminary results from the research were presented to JAB’s management a few weeks ago, according to Bild.  "We were all ashamed and turned as white as the wall. There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting," it quoted Harf as saying. 

The findings were made public in a Bild story on Sunday. JAB and the Reimann family have vowed to make the full University of Munich report public once it is completed and published. 

The activities cited in the report occurred long before JAB had become the world restaurant power it is today. Most of its foodservice-related holdings, from Peet’s Coffee to Insomnia Cookies, were added to the fold in recent years through acquisitions. 

But the brands’ connection to JAB and the Reimann family were almost invariably mentioned in the outpouring of coverage following Bild’s initial story. 

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