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More Than A Dozen European Billionaires—Linked To BMW, L’Oréal, Bosch—Have Families With Past Nazi Ties

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Last week, the German billionaire Reimann family, whose JAB Holdings owns Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread and Pret a Manger, admitted to profiting from, and taking part in, Nazi abuses and slave labor during the Nazi regime.

The acknowledgement came after German newspaper Bild reported that Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr., both dead, were active in the Nazi Party and used Russian civilians and French prisoners of war as slaves during World War II. The family—which includes four billionaire children of Reimann Jr. worth an estimated $3.7 billion each—plans to donate about $11 million to a “suitable organization,” according to family spokesperson Peter Harf, though it hasn’t yet announced which. Harf also claims the family had already been looking into its ancestral ties to Nazism, commissioning German historian Pauk Erker to do so in 2014; his work remains ongoing and is expected to be completed in 2020, a spokesperson told Forbes.

But the family was far from alone in participating in Nazi activities or profiting from the Nazi regime. More than a dozen European billionaires and their families whose business roots predate World War II—including Kuehne and Nagel’s Klaus Michael Kuehne and Knorr-Bremse AG’s Heinz Hermann Thiele—had ties to Nazism through contracts, slave labor, the appropriation of stolen goods or other means.

“These kind of stories never come as a surprise. In 1944, one third of the whole workforce in Germany was forced labor. This means that almost every company which produced back then was in one way or the other involved in the war economy,” says Roman Köster, a German historian. “From 1942 it proved very complicated [for German businesses] to maintain production [that] was not in one way or the other related with the war.” He adds that Bild‘s findings in the case of the Reimann family are worse than others due to the abuse and mistreatment of these workers, though a Reimann family spokesperson says Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr. did not personally assault or harm any laborers.

Many of these billionaire companies openly acknowledge, and apologize, for those ties, though monetary responses are more rare.

“With the passage of time, it gets increasingly difficult to make a legal argument around reparations, unless the claimant can show conclusive proof of theft by the defendant’s ancestors,” says Karthik Ramana, a professor of business and public policy at the University of Oxford whose research has also encompassed ethics. “What potential claimants are left with then is moral suasion—and given the stakes for incumbents, I wouldn’t hold my breath in expectation of a flood of reparations.”

As billionaire Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad told Forbes in 2000regarding his teenage ties to the Nazi party, “Perhaps even you did something in your youth that you now know was stupid. Why did I not reveal this past foolishness myself? Simple. I was afraid it would hurt my business.” Kamprad died in 2018 and his three sons, all billionaires, inherited part of the Ikea empire and are among those whose family members had Nazi ties.

Businesses didn’t only profit from forced labor. “Contracts with the Nazis were not uncommon for an exclusive circle of entrepreneurs who were in the friendship circle of SS leaders or had other connections,” says Christopher Kopper, a German professor of economics and business history.

Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the richest woman in the world with $53.3 billion, inherited a nearly $50 billion stake in beauty giant L’Oréal, a company that reportedly thrived under the Third Reich. Frenchman Eugène Schueller, L’Oréal’s founder and Bettencourt Meyers’ grandfather, was said to have been a known anti-Semite.

More notable was the fact that Schueller reportedly established a partnership between paint and varnish manufacturer Valentine, where he was a co-director, and German company Druckfarben to supply paint to the German Navy. Between 1940 and 1943, Schueller’s tax returns show his income increased nearly tenfold, from 248,791 francs to 2,347,957 francs, according to the 2017 book The Bettencourt Affair: The World’s Richest Woman and The Scandal That Rocked Paris. Scheuller was later charged with economic and political collaboration with the Nazis but never convicted. L’Oréal declined to comment.

While Schueller operated from France, German businesses more often had ties to the Nazis. “Like the majority of Germans, the majority of business owners acted in an opportunist way,” says Kopper.

quandt
Herbert Quandt (left), here pictured with his wife Johanna, and his father Gunther employed about 50,000 slaves laborers at family factories in order to fill Nazi army Contracts. The Quandt family is now the largest shareholder in BMW.AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The free labor of those captured by Nazis—in concentration camps or as prisoners of war—was another way businesses profited from the war. The Quandt family, which is the largest shareholder in German car company BMW and includes billionaire Stefan Quandt (worth $17.3 billion) and Susanne Klatten (worth $20.1 billion), also had ties to the Nazis.

Family patriarch Gunther Quandt and his son Herbert (Stefan and Susanne’s grandfather and father) employed about 50,000 slave laborersfrom Nazi concentration camps at family factories during the Third Reich, according to German documentary Das Schweigen der Quandts,or The Silence of the Quandts. The slaves were used to fill Nazi army contracts, specifically for batteries, firearms and ammunition through the Quandts’ company Accumulatorenfabrik AG. The Quandts also acquired (without paying) a number of Jewish businesses seized by the Nazis—a practice of appropriation that was not uncommon, be it of stolen property, business or art.

BMW, in which the Quandt family became major shareholders after World War II and which accounts for the majority of their wealth, separately profited from forced labor and from the Nazis, as the company supplied the German army with arms, according to BMW’s website.  A spokesperson for Quandt family did not reply to a request for comment, but as BMW celebrated its 100th year in 2016, the company released a statement saying that “To this day, the enormous suffering this caused and the fate of many forced laborers remains a matter of the most profound regret.” The company gave money to the German Economy Foundation Initiative which provided compensation for former forced laborers.

German media conglomerate Bertelsmann profited from both slave labor and more direct means. Prior to World War II, the company—whose vice chair, Elisabeth Mohn, is currently worth $3.2 billion—was a relatively small publisher. But by the late 1920s, it began publishing, and profiting from, antisemitic and nationalistic and Nazi texts, according to the company’s archive. It soon became the number one supplier of books to the German armed forces, publishing paperback books that were popular with soldiers. To increase its profit margin, the company likely used Jewish slave labor to make the books, according to a report commissioned by Bertelsmann in 1998. Heinrich Mohn, Elisabeth’s father-in-law and the son of Bertelsmann’s founder, was not a member of the Nazi party but nevertheless benefited from the economic growth, says Kopper.

Bertelsmann has since worked to make reparations for its actions. In 2000, it joined 6,000 German companies in paying a collective $4.5 billion to people who performed slave labor for the Nazis. And Elisabeth Mohn, a prominent philanthropist, has worked to promote Jewish-German relations, while her late husband, Reinhard Mohn, was one of the first to establish an independent commission to look into the company’s history with the Nazi party, a spokesperson for the company said.

Some wealthy European business leaders actively shunned working with the Nazis. Frenchman Marcel Dassault—whose grandchildren Olivier, Thierry, Laurent Dassault and Marie-Hélène Habert are each worth $6 billion—built fighter planes and bombers for the French army during the beginning of World War II, according to the company’s history. But after Germany seized control of France, Dassault—who was reportedly Jewish (he later converted to Catholicism and changed his last name from Bloch to Dassault)—refused to cooperate with the new regime. He was arrested by the Vichy government and labeled a “dangerous individual for national defense and public security.” He was eventually sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was offered a job running a factory in exchange for freedom. He refused the offer and remained in the camp until it was liberated in 1945.

But even some business tycoons who were anti-Nazi chose to work for the Nazis rather than lose their business or put themselves and their family in danger. Both Kopper and Köster point to engineering entrepreneur Robert Bosch, whose son Robert Jr. and his family were worth $4.6 billion in 2006.

“I am happy for the Jews, Turks, and Buddhists to worship their own gods and idols; as long as they are good people, I love them, too,” Bosch wrote in 1885 in a letter to his fiancé. He went on to become a founding member of the Verein zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus, an organization similar to the Anti-Defamation League dedicated to fighting antisemitism, in Stuttgart in 1926, according to Bosch’s company historian.

“Bosch himself and parts of the management staff were strictly against Hitler and even supported resistance groups,” Köster says. “Nevertheless, the company was deeply involved in the war economy and employed thousands of forced laborers and very often did not treat them well.”

The company concedes that Bosch was “entangled with the rearmament” of the Third Reich. A spokesperson confirms that it employed about 20,000 slave laborers and had contracts with the Nazi party. But it also helped to rescue Jewish associates and support the resistance movement, providing money to help Jews emigrate and hiring them in an effort to help them avoid persecution.

So while the Reimann case may be disturbing, it would be foolish to believe it is rare. A number of long-rich European families— not to mention numerous major companies that still exist from that era but don’t have billionaire ties—have histories marred by their relationship with the Nazi regime.

“You would have a lot of trouble finding any ‘innocent’ companies which existed back then,” says Köster.

-Madeline Berg; Forbes Staff

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A Statement On The Skyline

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South Africa is on its way to another record with Africa’s tallest building.


A new superstructure is making its mark in Sandton in the heart of Africa’s richest square mile.

The $3 billion project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and beat Carlton Centre’s reign as the tallest building in Africa since 1973.

The 223-meter, 50-storey Carlton Centre in Johannesburg has for 46 years stood the test of time as a skyscraper dominating the skyline in South Africa and the continent.

The new building coming up in Sandton will be a 55-storey, 234-meter classical Italian eponym paying homage to Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian artist of the Renaissance era.

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It adds to the luxurious portfolio of hotels by the Legacy Living property group.

As The Leonardo rising from the bedrock and gradually etches its presence on the skyline, Gijs Foden, Director of Retail Management in Legacy Living, says it is a beacon that represents economic growth far beyond the surface.

“From a development perspective, everyone knows about the crisis in construction. There is light at the end of the tunnel, through a tough economy. It is a tough market and we are working our way out of it. We are going up. We are part of the beacon of hope through tough times,” he says.

South Africa has nine out of 20 of the continent’s tallest buildings, amounting to 1,277 meters in total and 5,000 steps up a staircase.

While most of these buildings were erected in the 1900s and early 2000s, records have stayed the same.

Johannesburg’s Ponte City Tower standing as the third tallest building in Africa, coming in after Kenya’s Britam Tower at 200 meters.

The Leonardo was initially set out to be a mixed-use building with 33 floors but has since escalated to dominating the South African skyscraper inventory.

Foden says the development will not only provide investment opportunities for South Africa, but it will celebrate African authenticity.

Set to be completed in the year of Leonardo Da Vinci’s 500th death anniversary, African art will be the center-piece of the tower.

You look out of the window and that is your canvas. Internally, the art in the building is African art.

“We are supporting the African artist, it is what it is. The art defines the building. Keeping the essence of the building and at the same time the warmth and lifestyle will be an attraction, irrespective of the Italian name,” Foden says.

By following due processes in getting the height approved, overtaking Carlton Centre’s record, Foden says: “It [Carlton Centre] is still an icon and no one has been able to beat it. It is different times and it is also different generations. This is our generation which is going to be a timeless building for many years to come. It is an urban flight.”

However, the record by The Leonardo may be short-lived as yet another African skyscraper may overshadow it by the end of 2021.

 The Pinnacle, currently being built in Nairobi’s financial hub, is set to be a 70-storey mixed-use development.

According to a yearly study published by The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), Beijing’s China Zun 528-meter skyscraper was the tallest building completed in 2018, making it the eighth-tallest building in the world.

 The study reports that 16 new buildings entered the 100 tallest lists in 2018; up from 14 in 2017, 76% of these were in Asia.

Co-Arc Director, Francois Pienaar, says the influx of skyscrapers in Africa is a way for property investors and developers to exploit the options of sites.

“Sites can become very valuable. There are a lot of things to do with money – [for] better returns for the investment of the land, and that is why people go up. It takes quite a lot of courage, to go 55 floors.

You need to have a client who is inspired to do it. Especially, with the volatility of Africa,” Pienaar says. 

Despite the competition for a piece of the sky, none of the 2019 projected top 30 tallest buildings will supersede the world’s tallest building in Dubai at a towering 829.8 meters with 163 floors above the ground.

The Burj Khalifa has boasted this record since its completion in 2010.

According to Pienaar, the opportunity to build a structure of this magnitude does not come by every day in Africa.

Breaking his 30-storey skyscraping record, Pienaar, who is currently working on The Leonardo, adds:  “It takes a lot more when it comes to delivering services and the kinds of aesthetics that take place.

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“The building has a skin outside which is imported from Spain. It is a new invention from Spain that reduces the heat load on the glass. We have produced a building that is responsible for the climate. We are trying to keep the building energy-efficient,” he says.

As the global economic outlook develops, there is fierce competition for a piece of the sky.

The taller the building, the more money it pulls in.

As the South African economy picks itself up, the lingering shadow of the Leonardo will represent a symbol of growth and a new dawn.

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Lab-grown Diamonds: Never Mined, It’s Man-Made

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Turns out there is literally no difference between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds, well, apart from the price.


Ever wondered what the difference between lab-produced diamonds and natural diamonds was? Well, nothing. They are exactly the same.

As with most things of value, a great deal of information has been produced over the years about the price of diamonds. In short, many believe the real price of diamonds is far lower than what ‘big business’ would have us believe and that it is driven up by our insatiable hunger and the social importance we place on the stones.

In line with this, there is a widely-held belief that they are not rare and the market is being deliberately controlled to create the façade that they are difficult to produce. Therefore, their price is dictated by the fact that they symbolize the most enduring of all human emotions – love.

 With that out of the way, in recent times, society has developed a pragmatic relationship with diamonds, rather than a romantic one that has long sustained the industry.

It might be that we live in the era of instant gratification or that we have stopped romanticising the idea of waiting millions of years for the precious stone, but more people have embraced the idea of purchasing lab-grown diamonds.

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Unlike an imitation gem like cubic zirconia, it has the same physical characteristics and chemical components as a natural diamond but production time is much shorter, enabling producers to create it in a matter of weeks.

Lab-grown diamonds producer Ross Reid offers FORBES AFRICA a very sobering perspective with the following analogy to describe man-made diamonds.

“If a couple can’t fall pregnant using conventional methods, they do IVF where the baby’s origin of life is manmade. Is that not a real baby when it’s born?”

The room falls silent as all contemplate this question.

“So by that logic, it is a real diamond,” Reid states emphatically.

Reid is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Inception Diamonds, One of South Africa’s first Diamond companies to offer lab-grown diamonds and fine jewelry.

The world’s leading diamond producer, De Beers, however, has a different perspective.

“We view natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds as very different products as they have completely different production processes. Natural diamonds are created in the earth, under intense heat and pressure over billions of years. Each diamond is rare, finite and unique,” says Bianca Ruakere, a De Beers Group spokesperson.


De Beers Lightbox range. Picture: De Beers

Reid says he recognizes the market potential for global growth in being able to offer conflict-free, environmentally-friendly lab-grown diamonds, especially to the millennial market.

“With the creation of laboratory-grown diamonds, it allows you to offer the consumer the same thing optically, physically, and chemically at a big discount. So you can have the same beauty, the same hardness, the same look and the same feel for less money,” Reid says.

Large diamond producers have also recognized the same potential.

De Beers Group has been producing synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes for more than 50 years. “Last year, we launched Lightbox in the United States to market a range of fun, fashion jewelry using lab-grown diamonds. They are accessibly priced, and a distinct product offering compared with natural diamonds,” Ruakere says.

 Price is not the only reason that encourages the market to opt for lab-grown diamonds. They are also other ethical factors such as having a guarantee that the rock on your finger is conflict-free.

 Shogan Naidoo, who proposed to his fiancé, Preba Iyavoo, on Valentine’s Day at the popular independent cinema house, The Bioscope, did so with a healthy bank balance and clean conscience.

They were traditionally engaged in July last year, so by the time the ring engagement happened, Iyavoo was caught completely off-guard and was pleasantly surprised.

“Shogan is the most endearing person, but he’s not romantic in the slightest,” says a giddy Iyavoo, who recalls the proposal that happened in a filled theater, with a movie Naidoo had created just for her.

The couple are besotted with their lab-grown diamond. Naidoo says after doing exhaustive research to find the perfect ring to propose with, all conventional options had failed him.

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 He says his final ring choice far exceeded his expectations in price and design. Naidoo explains that Iyavoo has a very specific preference and that he was not willing to compromise in getting her the perfect ring but the one he initially wanted was in the range of R80,000 ($5,500).

  “We were planning a wedding and we’d just bought a house,” he says. The exorbitant cost of retail rings led him to search out of the box, and eventually the box returned with the perfect gem.

 The couple who lead a very environmentally-conscious lifestyle, say they are especially proud to be the custodians of this ring because they are guaranteed it’s conflict-free and no miners were exploited.

 Reid says he has to grapple with a great deal of scepticism because many are not ready to fully embrace the idea of lab-grown diamonds despite their advantages.

“The Federal Trade Commission has changed the definition of a diamond. It does not need to come from the ground.

“We have opened up the market for people to be able to afford beautiful pieces without compromising on quality,” Reid says.

Change is inevitable and with that, there will always be those resistant to it. But one thing is for sure, society’s relationship with diamonds are changing.

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A New Language Doesn’t Hamper Kids Learning. Other Things Do

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South Africa is a linguistically and culturally diverse country. There are 11 official languages and several other minority languages. But English continues to be preferred as the language of learning and teaching.

Many South African children are still in the process of learning English by the time they first start going to school. In a single English-medium classroom, one can find children with various levels of English proficiency; from children with English as their mother tongue to children who have never learnt English before.

This situation poses a range of challenges for both the teacher and the children. One of the biggest challenges is that a certain level of proficiency in English is required for the children to be able to perform well academically in an English-medium school. It’s a widely known factthat academic success is very much dependent on language competence and proficiency.

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This means that there’s a great need to understand how language develops in children’s early school careers. It is also important to understand the cognitive mechanisms that underlie language learning. To further explore how this happens in the early years of schooling I did a study involving pre-primary children in an English-medium school in Cape Town.

The group consisted of children who were still learning English as well as children whose mother tongue was English. The children were very diverse – there was a total of nine different home languages in the group of children who were still learning English.

The findings showed that the ability of children to develop their language skills didn’t depend on whether they were proficient when they started out. Their ability to learn and advance – or not – was in fact dependent on a range of other factors, none of which had to do with English language proficiency.

The findings

The research aimed to understand the link between language and working memory development. I did this by tracking how working memory developed for the children chosen to take part in the study.

Working memory is the ability to store and use information in the short-term and is important for our everyday lives. For example, we use working memory when we need to remember an address that we just heard while we are looking for a pen to write it down. Working memory also underlies many important academic competencies, like reading and mathematics.

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The children were broken into two groups: those with English as their primary language, and those still learning English. They were given the same tasks; these were an English language assessment and working memory tasks. They were assessed three times over the course of the year – at the beginning, middle and end.

The results showed that both groups improved over the year on the assessment of English language abilities. The results also revealed that great improvements were made in language development during the first year of formal schooling.

Results from the working memory tasks indicated that children who were still learning English, as well as the children who have English as their mother tongue, performed the same on these tasks and achieved comparable scores. Children in both groups saw their language abilities and working memory abilities improve over the year.

The most interesting finding is that the route, or trajectory, the children’s cognitive and language development followed was the same for both groups, regardless of the English abilities they had at the beginning.

Importantly, the result that working memory scores between groups were comparable also indicated that the amount of knowledge of English that a child had didn’t affect their working memory abilities.

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What this points to is that, if a child’s working memory scores are low and the trajectory of the development is not the same as their peers, there may be cause for concern. In this case, the children should be referred to an occupational or speech therapist for further assessment. Our research shows the fact that they’re struggling can’t simply be explained away as a “symptom” of the child not knowing English well enough.

Falling through the cracks

Studies like these are important for giving professionals better ways of seeing if a child has a disorder or is only struggling because they have not acquired a sufficient level of English yet.

In the context of a classroom with various languages and proficiencies of English, it is easy for a child with a disorder to be overlooked.

Along with the under-resourced schools and over-burdened teachers, heterogeneity among learners results in them not receiving the support that they need, be it academic or linguistic. Those whose primary language is English as well as those learning English suffer alike. The upshot is clearly seen in the worsening educational crisis in South Africa.

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