German heiress apologises for Nazi labour comments
Verena Bahlsen, whose father owns Bahlsen, which makes some of Germany’s most popular biscuits, claimed her remarks that the employer did nothing wrong when it employed 200 forced labourers during the Second World War were thoughtless.
Most of the 200 forced labourers at Hanover operation between 1943 and 1945 were women from occupied Ukraine.
Former forced labourers have failed to obtain compensation from Bahlsen in individual legal cases in Germany’s courts because of the statute of limitations laws.
“This was before my time and we paid the forced labourers exactly as much as German workers, and we treated them well,” the 25-year-old, one of four children of Werner Bahlsen, told Bild.
The comments sparked social media calls for a Bahlsen boycott. The firm makes the delectable Leibniz butter cookies.
The biscuit heiress has also been criticised for boasting about her spending habits.
At a marketing conference last week, she told delegates: “I’m a capitalist. I own a quarter of Bahlsen, that’s great. I want to buy a sailing yacht and stuff like that.”
The biscuit manufacturer paid about €750,000 in 2000-01 to a foundation set up by German firms to compensate 20 million forced wartime labourers.
Forced labourers included displaced civilians from occupied Europe, prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates.
“It was a mistake to amplify this debate with thoughtless responses,” Bahlsen said.
“I apologise for that. Nothing could be further from my mind than to downplay national socialism or its consequences.
“As the next generation, we have responsibility for our history. I expressly apologise to all whose feelings I have hurt,” she said.
Major German companies used forced and slave labour during the war, including BMW, Daimler-Benz and the Friedrich Krupp Ironworks.
“If you inherit such a large estate you also inherit responsibility and should not come across as aloof,” Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the Social Democrats, told Bild. “It is no wonder that people lose faith in justice when millionaires talk about yachts and not about responsibility.”
Christine Glauning, head of the Forced Labour Documentation Centre in Berlin, also criticised Verena Bahlsen’s comments.
“I was shocked that someone in her position, coming from such a big industrial family, could show so little awareness and understanding on forced labour,” she said.
Picture credit: Wikimedia