The Reimann Family, owners of Einstein Bros. Bagels, had ties to Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Third Reich. Students and faculty weigh in on the impact of its history and supporting the company
As students swarm out of class for their bagel and coffee fix, the line for the popular bagel joint, Einstein Bros. Bagels, can frequently extend out the door of the Argyros Forum.
“I come whenever I can. Sometimes I’ll go between classes if there’s enough time; it always depends on the line and how many people are here,” said Amanda Dodson, a junior integrated educational studies major.
But what students like Dodson might not be aware of is the recent discovery about the owners of the chain, who aren’t as sweet as their honey almond shmear. It came to light this past year that the Reimann Family, the owners of Joh. A. Benckiser (J.A.B.) Holding Company – which operates chains such as Einstein Bros. Bagels, Krispy Kreme and Panera Bread – have ties to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
The Reimanns were early supporters of Nazi sentiment and a large portion of their workforce were forced laborers who were brutally abused. Somewhere between 8 and 10 million people were forced to work as slaves during the Nazi era according to the book, “Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts,” written by Michael Bazyler, a Chapman law professor and a 1939 Society Law Scholar Holocaust and Human Rights Studies.
“The moral blame is still there, absolutely. Just like companies in the United States that exist today that used slaves in the Civil War era. It doesn’t cleanse that history,” Bazyler said. “The question is, once you find out and once you know, how do you respond?”
Bazyler explained that in the 1990s, roughly 45 years after World War II ended, stories began surfacing that uncovered businesses who profited off of the Holocaust. This is when the class action litigation lawsuits began as part of the Holocaust Restitution Movement in the United States, which helped Jewish families gain back what was lost financially at the hands of various corporations war crimes.
“The class action litigation started to name and shame German companies. Until then, the German companies had sort of a historical black hole,” he said. “As a result of these lawsuits, various companies (like Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen) began hiring historians to issue reports.”
Bazyler said that J.A.B. is one of the last companies to go through this process; it wasn’t until 2016 that the company hired Paul Erker, an economic historian at the University of Munich, to look into their historical associations with the Nazi party, according to The New York Times.
“I feel very strongly that what really makes all the difference is there’s been no effort to hide the involvement of their family members in the past,” said Marilyn Harran, the director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education.
“That they not only have owned up to it, they’ve gone to the extra steps of hiring an independent Holocaust historian to research exactly what happened.” Harrison Phan, a sophomore in the pre-pharmacy program, said that controversial ties within businesses don’t play a big factor in his restaurant choices.
“I don’t think it should affect the way I see Einstein’s. There are ties to it, but I feel like it has gone down the family line enough to the point where we shouldn’t care about it,” Phan said. “It’s a restaurant – a little grab food and go.”
However, other students consider J.A.B.’s historical past a significant component to keep in mind when weighing whether or not to support their businesses.
“It’s definitely a problem because they were connected to such a negative part of history and how they created a genocide that didn’t need to be created. It makes me question things,” Dodson said.
Shira Klein, a Chapman history professor who studies Jewish history, said it’s OK that Einstein’s is on campus, because J.A.B.’s current owners don’t have an association to anti-Semitism – their ancestors did.
“The question becomes, ‘Do we need to pay for what previous generations in our family did?’ I like to think not,” Klein said. “I like to think that we move beyond what our parents and our grandparents did and be our own person.”
Be it an apology or to make up for their family’s past, the Reimanns will donate 11 million to institutions that help former forced laborers. The family also renamed their foundation to honor Alfred Landecker, a family member who was killed by Nazis and whose daughter married into the Reimann family.
The foundation “is dedicated to educating current and future generations about the Holocaust and the terrible price paid when intolerance and bigotry reign,” according to the foundation’s website.
“I’m glad that in addition to apologizing, they are also giving out compensation, making a payment. Does the payment of this money clean their history? The answer is no,” Bazyler said. “The individuals who run the company today were not alive at the time, but in a sense, they are profiting from that because they’re in the position they are in now – because their parents or grandparents cooperated with the Nazis.”