Dutch Businessman Launched Probe Into Own Family’s Nazi Era Hiistory

BERLIN (JTA) — A Dutch textile magnate who initiated a probe into his family’s exploitation of Jewish competitors and laborers during the Holocaust said he was shocked by the findings.

Dutch entrepreneur Maurice Brenninkmeijer, from one of Europe’s richest families, has become the latest business leader to confront his family’s Nazi-era history.  In an interview with Zeit newspaper, published July 13, Brenninkmeijer – owner of the Dutch-German C&A chain of department stores, which Forbes magazine recently called “one of the most secretive companies in the world” – said revelations about the company’s Nazi-era use of slave labor and its profiting from the forced sale of Jewish property were “disturbing and shocking” for his family.

The self-searching was triggered by a 2011 exhibition marking the centennial of the business, which revealed some details about the firm’s dealings during the Third Reich. The family hired historian Mark Spoerer, professor at the University of Regensburg, to probe the firm’s archives. “We wanted to be sure that we really know our family history,” Brenninkmeijer told Zeit.

The resulting book is to be published in the coming days.

According to Zeit, the German branch of the Brenninkmeijer family benefited from the forced “aryanization” of Jewish property and from the work of Jewish and non-Jewish slave laborers, in the Lodz ghetto and in Berlin.

The firm reportedly did make some restitution after World War II, but
the story of its actions during the war remained buried.

In the past two decades, several major German corporations, banks and government ministries – including Volkswagen, Dresdner Bank and the Foreign Ministry – have brought in outside historians to pore through their archives and put their Nazi-era history on the table. Hundreds of German companies large and small made donations to the German Government and Industry Fund, established some ten years ago to aid
former slave laborers and support educational programs about this history. A few large firms have been slow to open their archives, leading some observers to suspect they have something to hide.

Brenninkmeijer said he was particularly shocked by the accounts of expropriation of property. He believed his predecessors were “just thinking about the business, lost track of our values and made unethical decisions.” He said he was sure they were not committed Nazis but behaved in a “heartless” manner, and added that he “wished it could have been different.”


Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Dutch Businessman Launched Probe Into Own Family’s Nazi Era Hiistory

Thank you!

This article has been sent!