25-year-old German cookie heiress apologizes for downplaying family history with Nazi forced labor on grounds that ‘we treated them well’

Verena Bahlsen, the heiress of the German biscuit empire Bahlsen, at a press dinner in Berlin in March 2019. She has apologized for

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Verena Bahlsen, the heiress of the German biscuit empire Bahlsen, at a press dinner in Berlin in March 2019. She has apologized for “thoughtless responses” over forced laborers and socialism.
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Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty

  • Verena Bahlsen, a 25-year-old heiress of Germany’s Bahlsen cookie company, defended her family’s history of using 200 forced laborers under Nazi rule.
  • “We paid the forced laborers exactly as much as German workers and we treated them well,” she said in comments published by Bild newspaper on Tuesday.
  • She also told a marketing conference last week that she was a “capitalist” and “I want to buy a sailing yacht.”
  • She has since apologized for her “thoughtless responses” and said she didn’t mean to “downplay national socialism or its consequences.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The 25-year-old heiress of a German cookie empire has apologized for downplaying her family’s history of using forced laborers under Nazi rule, saying that “we treated them well.”

Verena Bahlsen, whose great-grandfather Hermann Bahlsen founded the eponymous company that produces the Leibniz brand of cookie, told Germany’s Bild newspaper last week that the company did nothing wrong when it employed dozens of forced laborers during World War II.

She is currently is a founder of Hermann’s, a restaurant owned by the Bahlsen company.

“This was before my time and we paid the forced laborers exactly as much as German workers and we treated them well,” Bahlsen said, as cited by Reuters. The German newspaper published the remarks on Tuesday.

Choco Leibniz snacks, which are manufactured by Bahlsen.

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Choco Leibniz snacks, which are manufactured by Bahlsen.
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Wikimedia Commons

The Bahlsen company employed about 200 forced laborers, most of whom were women from German-occupied Ukraine, between 1943 and 1945. The company voluntarily paid 1.5 million Deutschmarks – Germany’s currency at the time, which is equivalent to 767,000 euros or $860,000 – to a foundation to compensate forced laborers under Nazi rule.

Verena Bahlsen also appeared to show off her wealth at a marketing conference in Hamburg last week, around the same time she made the comments to Bild.

She told the audience, according to the Handelsblatt newspaper: “I am a capitalist. I own a quarter of Bahlsen, that’s great. I want to buy a sailing yacht and stuff like that.” The company said it raked in a revenue of 545 million euros ($611 million) in 2018.

Bahlsen on Wednesday apologized for her “thoughtless responses” in a statement posted on the family’s website.

“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,” she said.

“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 that “as the next generation,” she needed to learn more about Bahlsen’s past and take “responsibility for our history.”

Verena Bahlsen in Berlin in March 2019.

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Verena Bahlsen in Berlin in March 2019.
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Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty

The company also said in a Monday statement that it “is aware of the great grief and injustice suffered by forced laborers and so many other people then.”

Read more: Auschwitz urges online store to stop selling mini-skirts and tote bags showing images of the infamous Nazi death camp

Bahlsen’s comments on forced labor courted widespread criticism, including from German politicians.

Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the country’s Social Democratic Party, told Bild on Tuesday: “Anyone who inherits such a large fortune also inherits responsibility and should not appear so detached. It’s no wonder people lose faith in justice when millions of heirs talk about yachts and not about responsibility. “

Many Germans also called for a boycott of snacks manufactured by Bahlsen brands on social media, according to Reuters.