Verena Bahlsen Bio
Verena Bahlsen 25-year-old heiress to the German business behind Choco Leibniz biscuits has been accused of trivializing the company’s Nazi past.
Verena Bahlsen Background
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.
What did Verena Bahlsen say?
The controversy started last week, when Ms Bahlsen told delegates at a marketing conference: “I’m a capitalist. I own a quarter of Bahlsen, that’s great. I want to buy a sailing yacht and stuff like that.”
Although German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the audience clapped and laughed along with her, some social media users accused the heiress of being insensitive to the company’s past exploitation of forced labourers by making light-hearted remarks about her wealth.
Asked about the criticism in an interview with Bild newspaper, Ms Bahlsen replied: “That was before my time, and we paid the forced labourers exactly as much as German workers and we treated them well.”
Unternehmenserbin Verena Bahlsen löste innerhalb weniger Tage eine empörte Debatte in den sozialen Medien aus. Spätere Bemerkungen über Zwangsarbeiter heizten sie an. Nun zeigt sie sich einsichtig. https://t.co/ZQlkQmqdk2 pic.twitter.com/YCbIBo9ZJ9
— MORGENPOST/Wirtschaf (@BMOnline_wirt) May 15, 2019
She added that the company had nothing to feel guilty about.
These comments only deepened the controversy.
What has the response been?
The Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre in Berlin tweeted that there was “a great knowledge gap for family members of the Bahlsen family”.
“The issue of Nazi forced labour is often still a blind spot in the collective memory,” they added.
Wir laden übrigens jeden gern zu uns in die Ausstellungen ein.
Nicht nur bei Familienmitgliedern der Familie #Bahlsen gibt es erhebliche Wissenslücken. Das Thema NS-Zwangsarbeit ist oft noch immer ein weißer Fleck im kollektiven Gedächtnis. https://t.co/6Rc1zVa79q
— Doku NS-Zwangsarbeit (@dznsza) May 13, 2019
Guy Stern, a 97-year-old scientist whose family were killed in the Holocaust, also criticised Ms Bahlsen – telling reporters that she was talking about forced labourers “from the high viewpoint of an heiress”.
The Social Democratic Party’s general secretary Lars Klingbeil said: “Someone who inherits such great wealth, also inherits responsibility and should not be so arrogant.”
And historian and writer Felix Bohr argued in Der Spiegel magazine that although Ms Bahlsen couldn’t change her company’s past, “she must face up to its historical responsibility”.
He also criticised her “obliviousness to history”.
Auschwitz Memorial and education about the holocaust will always be necessary to stop history repeating.
Choco Leibniz heiress Verena Bahlsen sparks outrage by saying the company “did nothing wrong” in its use of forced labour during Nazi rule. https://t.co/zCyONg67DG …
— Orrite Then (@OrRite_Then) May 15, 2019
Ms Bahlsen has now apologised, admitting her comments were thoughtless.
“Nothing could be further from my mind than to downplay national socialism or its consequences,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
She added that she recognised the need to learn more about the company’s history.
“As the next generation, we have responsibility for our history. I expressly apologise to all whose feelings I have hurt,” she said.
Other Twitter users called for a boycott of the Bahlsen brands. “never buy #Bahlsen,” tweeted Walter Petermann.
The heiress to a major German biscuit company said it did “nothing wrong” when it used 200 forced laborers during Nazi rule. Verena Bahlsen has now apologized.
The Nazis subjected millions of people to forced labor. Many died from overwork or were systematically killed. pic.twitter.com/R9gQJeFehU
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 15, 2019
Verena Bahlsen was earlier criticised 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.”