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Berlin - German Biscuit Heiress Draws Ire With Remark On Nazi Forced Labor

Published on: May 14, 2019 02:00 PM
By: Reuters
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FILE -  Part of a memorial to the victims of forced labour under Nazi rule in Germany is seen at the former Buchenwald concentration camp site in Schwerte, Germany, January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender/File PhotoFILE -  Part of a memorial to the victims of forced labour under Nazi rule in Germany is seen at the former Buchenwald concentration camp site in Schwerte, Germany, January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender/File Photo

Berlin - The heiress of a German biscuits empire has stirred outrage after she appeared to play down the hardship suffered by dozens of people forced to work at the family business under Nazi rule.

Verena Bahlsen, whose father owns the Bahlsen company that makes some of Germany’s most famous biscuits, told the mass-selling Bild newspaper that the firm, which employed some 200 forced laborers during World War Two, “did nothing wrong” then.


Most of the forced laborers at Hanover-based Bahlsen were women, many from Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

“This was before my time and we paid the forced laborers exactly as much as German workers and we treated them well,” the 25-year-old Bahlsen, one of four children of company owner Werner Bahlsen, told Bild.

German politicians criticized her remarks and some social media users called for a boycott of Bahlsen biscuits.

“If you inherit such a large estate you also inherit responsibility and should not come across as aloof,” Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the center-left Social Democrats, told Bild.

In a statement, Bahlsen, which also makes the Leibniz butter cookies brand and has annual sales exceeding 500 million euros ($562 million), said it was aware of the moral responsibility that comes with being one of dozens of German companies that used forced labor during the Nazi dictatorship.

“The company is aware of the big suffering and injustice experienced by forced laborers and many more people at the time and recognizes its historical and moral responsibility,” said the statement, issued following Verena Bahlsen’s remarks.

Bahlsen says it voluntarily paid some 1.5 million deutschmarks (about 750,000 euros) in 2000-2001 to a foundation set up by German firms to compensate 20 million forced laborers used by the Nazis.

Former forced laborers have failed in individual lawsuits to obtain compensation from Bahlsen. German courts have cited statute of limitations laws.

Germans voiced anger at the heiress on social media.

“Bahlsen is now officially the official snack food of the AfD,” one Twitter user wrote, referring to the far-right Alternative for Germany party that won its first seats in parliament at the last national election in 2017.

“The Bahlsen package is rather blue,” the user added, referring to the blue color of both the biscuit box and the AfD party flag.

Other Twitter users called for a boycott of the Bahlsen brands. “never buy #Bahlsen,” tweeted Walter Petermann.

Verena Bahlsen was earlier criticized for boasting about her wealth and her love of conspicuous consumption.

“I own a fourth of Bahlsen and I am very happy about that,” she said at a business event in Hamburg earlier this month. “I want to earn money and buy a sailing yacht.”

($1 = 0.8902 euros)

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Read Comments (4)  —  Post Yours »


 May 14, 2019 at 02:53 PM Anonymous Says:

So what. They only used 200 slave laborers. No big deal for Trump's fine people and Viktor Orban's arrow cross nazis. Pass tbe biscuits please.


 May 14, 2019 at 03:08 PM Anonymous Says:

Look, our own government is no better. When American GI's, who were former POWs of the Japanese Imperial Army, were treated as subhumans, because of forced labor, they were thwarted at every turn, by the State Department, when they attempted to sue the individual Japanese companies for forced labor, and inhumane conditions.


 May 14, 2019 at 10:46 PM PaulinSaudi Says:

#2 seems confused. American soldiers cannot sue as they were already compensated by the US government.


 May 15, 2019 at 06:54 AM Anonymous Says:

To:PaulinSaudi- Maybe the religious police have drowned out your logical way of thinking. The soldiers I was referring to, were out of the army, and private citizens, when they attempted to get compensation from Japanese companies, which subjugated them as slave laborers, during World War Two. As private citizens, they had the right to seek compensation in court. Also, the U.S. government never compensated our GI's, for the suffering they endured as POW's of the Japanese, or even the Germans.


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