"Oblivious," "arrogant," and "aloof" is how a cookie company heiress is being painted this week after comments on how her company used Nazi-era forced labor. The BBC reports 25-year-old Verena Bahlsen of the Bahlsen company joked about how rich she is at a marketing meeting last week. Some on social media criticized her, as her family's business had put to work about 200 forced laborers during World War II, mostly Ukrainian women whose own country was overrun with Nazis. Bahlsen then deflected responsibility in a follow-up interview. "That was before my time, and we paid the forced laborers exactly as much as German workers, and we treated them well," she told Bild. Pushback was swift, with one historian noting her "obliviousness to history."
In a tweet, Germany's Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre accused members of the Bahlsen family of "significant gaps in knowledge" and added that "the issue of Nazi forced labor is often still a blind spot in collective memory." Bahlsen is now walking back her comments. "It was a mistake to amplify this debate with thoughtless responses," she said in a statement, adding that "as the next generation, we have responsibility for our history. I expressly apologize to all whose feelings I have hurt." ABC Australia, which notes that other German companies like BMW and Daimler-Benz also used forced labor during the Third Reich, reports the Bahlsen company paid about $860,000 nearly 20 years ago to a group offering compensation to millions of forced laborers in the Nazi era. (Read more heiress stories.)