One of Germany’s richest families has spoken of its “shame” and pledged to donate €10 million (£8.5 million) after historic ties to the Nazi regime were uncovered.
The Reimann family owns major interests in brands including Krispy Kreme donuts, the Pret a Manger sandwich chain and Clearasil skincare products, and is estimated to be worth as much as €33 billion (£28 billion).
It emerged at the weekend that the family business had close ties to the Nazi regime and used slave labour during the Second World War.
Albert Reimann Sr and Albert Reimann Jr, the two men who headed the business during the Nazi era, were “avowed Hitler supporters” and “convinced National Socialists”, according to details published by Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Albert Reimann Sr donated funds to the SS as early as 1931, two years before Hitler rose to power.
“Reimann Sr and Reimann Jr were guilty. Both businessmen have passed away, but they belonged in prison,” Peter Harf, the family spokesman and chairman of its JAB Holding Company, told Bild.
Mr Harf said the details were not new to the family, which commissioned a historian to research its Nazi-era history three years ago and was horrified by the results
“We were speechless,” he said. “We were ashamed and white as sheets. You cannot gloss over that. Those crimes are abhorrent.”
His comments were a rare public statement from a family which usually avoids the limelight and does not give interviews.
Mr Harf said Albert Reimann Sr and Albert Reimann Jr had not talked about their Nazi past, and that the family had assumed the full details had emerged in a 1978 report, but younger members began to ask questions after discovering old family documents.
Bild submitted its findings to Professor Christopher Kopper of Bielefeld University, a leading expert on German economic history in the Nazi era.
“In my opinion, the Reimanns were convinced National Socialist entrepreneurs,” Prof Kopper told the newspaper. “While most company bosses and managers only sided with the Nazis after they seized power, this was already the case with the Reimanns in 1931. Father and son Reimann were obviously not political opportunists, but National Socialists out of conviction.”
The family said the donation would be made "to a suitable organisation".