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Devra First

The company behind Peet’s is atoning for its Nazi past with a new foundation

Peet's house coffee blend, as pictured in 2001.
Peet's house coffee blend, as pictured in 2001.(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File)

Should we eat food that exists because of circumstances we find morally reprehensible? I recently posed this question in a story after learning that Peet’s — producer of Major Dickason’s Blend, my daily brew — is owned by a company, JAB Holding, with Nazi ties. (Its portfolio also includes Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Panera, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Krispy Kreme, and more.) Previous honchos Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr. had actively supported the Third Reich, and they built their fortune utilizing Nazi Germany’s forced-labor system.

The UK-based Mail on Sunday broke the story in September 2018, when JAB was on the verge of acquiring sandwich chain Pret a Manger. But no one took much notice until March, when German tabloid Bild Am Sonntag reported on the company’s past, coupled with an announcement that the Reimann family would donate about $11 million to charity as a result. Which charity? What was the timeline for the donation? The Reimanns are reportedly Germany’s second-richest family, with a fortune estimated at about $37 billion last year. What is the price tag for atonement?

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Some of these questions were answered last week, when a New York Times story announced that the money will be donated to “institutions that help former forced laborers and their families.” The article also told the complicated story of the Reimanns’ ancestry: Albert Jr. had an affair with a half-Jewish woman named Emilie Landecker and later adopted their three children, who today are partial owners of JAB. The Reimanns are renaming their family foundation after Alfred Landecker, Emilie’s Jewish father, who was deported in 1942 and murdered by the Nazis, the New York Times reported. The Alfred Landecker Foundation will have an annual budget of about $28 million, used to “raise awareness of the Holocaust and support and promote projects in research and education, designed to uphold the memory of all the victims of the Nazis,” according to the foundation’s website.

I am not sure how much more one could ask of a company aiming to make up for its Nazi past, short of bowing out of business entirely. Many German companies have similar histories and have done much less, without the same transparency. (Companies including Bayer, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, and Volkswagen did contribute to the Foundation EVZ — the acronym for “Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future” in German — which paid restitution to former forced laborers from 2001 to 2007 and continues to work on related projects.) The Reimanns commissioned a report looking into the family’s past in 2014, years before it became public, an indication of sincere motives beyond mere damage control. The New York Times story quotes Reimann Jr.’s grandson Martin, who is 30 years old: born the year the Berlin Wall fell and more than four decades after the end of the Nazi regime. Post-World War II generations of Germans have interrogated the actions of their forebears. Now far-right ideologies are on the rise again, in their country, and in ours, and beyond. We need as many Alfred Landecker Foundations as we can get.

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So next time I run out of coffee, I won’t mind buying from Peet’s. But it is no longer my main brew, for reasons that have less to do with ethics than possibilities. After the initial story ran, so many of you wrote to tell me about your favorite coffee companies (or the ones you own) — Allegro, Birds & Beans, Dean’s Beans, Equal Exchange, George Howell Coffee, Indigo Coffee, Karma Coffee, Mystic Coffee Roaster, Recreo, Redeye Coffee Roasters, Six Depot, Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co., Virgin Hill Coffee Roasters, Wicked Joe, and many more. Some of them I’ve tried; others I’d never heard of. It will take me many mornings to work my way through them all.

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Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.