Choco Leibniz heiress apologizes for defending use of Nazi slave labor

The heiress of German biscuit empire Bahlsen has apologized for defending the company’s use of forced laborers during World War II.

Verena Bahlsen, 25, who owns a quarter of the company, sparked a backlash by telling German newspaper Bild her company had treated the laborers “well,” and that the firm “was guilty of nothing.”

She said in a statement that she “deeply regrets” her comments, adding that she intends to “learn more about the history of the company whose name I carry.”

Bahlsen owns a quarter of the Bahlsen firm, which generated a turnover of 545 million euros ($610 million) in 2018 and produces the popular Choco Leibniz biscuits.

She initially sparked controversy last week when she told a marketing conference she was a capitalist who wanted “to make money and buy yachts.”

Those comments came under fire on social media, with many Germans pointing out Bahlsen’s history of using forced labor during the Nazi period. Between 1943 and 1945, around 200 forced workers, mainly women, worked in factories for the firm.

Attempting to defend her remarks, she told Bild: “It’s not alright to connect my talk with (forced labor). That was before my time and we paid the forced laborers as well as the Germans and treated them well.

“The court dismissed the lawsuits,” she added, referring to compensation claims by the former laborers that were dismissed by a court because the limitation period had expired. “Today there are no more claims against Bahlsen. Bahlsen was guilty of nothing,” she said.

Her remarks were condemned by politicians and historians alike, with the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre in Berlin tweeting: “There are significant gaps in knowledge not only among family members of the family Bahlsen. The issue of Nazi forced labor is often still a white spot in (our) collective memory.”

In a statement on the company’s website, Bahlsen said: “I deeply regret that my speech on economic sustainability at the marketing congress in Hamburg has turned into a debate on German history and forced labor in the Third Reich and the role Bahlsen played. That was not my intention in any way.

“It was a mistake to amplify this debate with thoughtless responses. I apologize for that. Nothing could be further from my mind than to downplay national socialism or its consequences,” she added.

“I have also recognized that I need to learn the more about the history of the company whose name I carry. As the next generation, we have responsibility for our history. I expressly apologize to all whose feelings I have hurt.”

The firm added that it will have its history of using forced laborers “researched even more fully by independent historians.”

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