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The Bottom Line: Reckoning in Germany sheds light on Upper Valley foundation

  • Emilie Landecker is shown in the early 1960s. Landecker, the namesake for a charitable foundation that’s given to countless causes in the Upper Valley, lost her father to the Holocaust and later had three children in an affair with a business owner who collaborated with the Nazis in Germany. Photo courtesy of Andrea Reimann-Ciardelli.

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/10/2019 9:51:03 PM
Modified: 8/11/2019 3:41:20 PM

Emily Landecker’s name is not a familiar one in the Upper Valley, and the legacy established in her honor has been shrouded in secrecy.

But the Emily Landecker Foundation has had a profound impact in the region as the source of funding for the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in Hartford, providing millions of dollars over the years to build and maintain the indoor swimming facility.

Typically, benefactors seek recognition or public applause for their gifts — just look to the alumni names adorning any building on the Dartmouth College campus or The Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, set up by the late insurance magnate and Etna resident Jack Byrne and his wife, Dorothy Byrne, which has given countless sums to scores of Upper Valley institutions and whose family name is affixed to the Haven shelter residence in White River Junction, to a hall at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and to the new palliative and hospice care center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Yet, with nothing known about Emily Landecker, she was as good as anonymous.

Who was Emily Landecker?

When the Valley News inquired last year as part of a series of stories about UVAC, people associated with the foundation declined to provide any information about Landecker — who she was, where she came from or what she did — citing a desire for privacy by Hanover resident Andrea Reimann-Ciardelli and her family, the foundation’s officers and by extension UVAC benefactors.

But the mystery of Emily Landecker and the guarded privacy of Reimann-Ciardelli, who is Landecker’s daughter, and her family was pierced two months ago when The New York Times published an extraordinary story about Emily Landecker’s life under the headline “Nazis Killed Her Father. Then She Fell in Love With One.” The story was accompanied by photographs of a darkly beautiful woman and her no less handsome paramour, two lovers who shared a secret relationship that much of the world probably cannot fathom.

That’s because Emily Landecker was the daughter of a Jewish father who was murdered by the Nazis during World War II and whose three children, including Reimann-Ciardelli, were fathered by an avowed Nazi sympathizer who used forced labor at his company that later became one of biggest consumer brand conglomerates in the world — and half a century later endowed his heirs, including Emily Landecker’s children, with immense wealth from which the Upper Valley benefits today.

“I created the Emily Landecker Foundation in 2004 to honor my mother,” Andrea Reimann-Ciardelli said in a written statement to the Valley News, the first time she has spoken publicly about her family history. “She saw extreme hardship, terror and destruction in her young life. Despite never having had much money at her disposal, she regularly donated to charitable organizations, even if only in small amounts.

“I strongly believe those who are fortunate to have wealth also have an obligation to support their community,” Reimann-Ciardelli said.

Born and raised in Germany, Reimann-Ciardelli has lived unpretentiously in Hanover for 38 years with her husband, Thomas Ciardelli, the son of a World War II truck driver who landed on Utah Beach in France a couple of weeks after D-Day and later started his own fuel delivery service in Milford, N.H. They met when Andrea Reimann was a graduate student in molecular biology at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, where her future husband had moved for post-doc work after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire.

The couple later moved to the Upper Valley when Ciardelli got a job at the White River Junction VA Medical Center before joining the Geisel School of Medicine, then Dartmouth Medical School, where he eventually became a professor of pharmacology before retiring and operating Hanover Outdoors, a clothing and fishing gear store in Hanover that closed in 2012.

The Emily Landecker Foundation’s most recent tax filing with the New Hampshire Charitable Trusts Unit reports net assets of $30.2 million and charitable contributions of $8 million from 2013 to 2017 and $781,000 in 2018. About 40 nonprofits from the Upper Valley were among the charities that benefited last year, including $145,000 to the Upper Valley Land Trust, $224,500 to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and $25,000 to the Alliance for Vermont Communities. And federal tax returns filed by Sports Venue Foundation, the entity that operates the Upper Valley Aquatic Center, show that the Emily Landecker Foundation and Reimann-Ciardelli together gave a total of $5.1 million to UVAC for the years 2014 through 2016 — a period that encompasses when the swimming facility underwent a $4.4 million expansion.

Reimann-Ciardelli was mostly unknown until Forbes magazine several years ago identified her, with a net worth of $1.1 billion, as the wealthiest person in New Hampshire (the magazine, which doesn’t say how it estimated that number, has subsequently downgraded her fortune to $720 million).

But this much is certain: The source of Reimann-Ciardelli’s wealth was generated by the 2003 sale of her ownership stake in her family’s business, the German consumer products company JAB Holding Co., which owns Lysol, Jimmy Choo shoes, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Peet’s Coffee, Keurig, Einstein Bros. Bagels and the Panera Bread chain, among other marquee brands.

JAB Holding Co.’s roots go back to the early 19th century with its founding as an industrial chemical company. In the 1850s, it came under the control of Ludwig Reimann, a chemist. For the next 150 years the company, then named Benckiser, evolved into a small- to medium-size company that made and sold supplements to the food industry before transforming in the early 2000s into a consumer brand giant, according to the company’s website.

The conglomerate now has a Harvard-educated non-family chairman, Peter Harf, but two Reimann family descendants continue to own a large share of the company, and Reimann family members count among Germany’s wealthiest citizens. Despite its nearly 200-year history, JAB Holding — and the Reimann family wealth — is only a relatively recent phenomenon and is credited to the arrival of Harf in 1981.

Moreover, it was Harf, whose father also had been a Nazi, who pushed the company to confront and come clean about its past, according to The New York Times. As JAB Holding’s acquisition of brand-name companies drew more scrutiny to the once-obscure maker of industrial cleaners, Harf told the newspaper that he grew skeptical of the brief dealing of the war period in the company’s official two-volume corporate history.

“I knew the stories they told. It didn’t smell right,” he told the newspaper.

Like many German companies with long histories, JAB Holding in recent years has come to reckon with its involvement with the country’s Nazi government through the 1930s and World War II. A study commissioned in 2016 by JAB Holding’s chairman and undertaken by a University of Munich scholar found that JAB Holding’s predecessor company, Benckisier, used about 200 civilians captured by the Nazis from France, Ukraine, Italy and the Netherlands as forced laborers at its factories (although it didn’t use concentration camp labor as many large German companies did), according to a preliminary report released to the public.

Most unsettling, the JAB Holding investigation found that Albert Reimann Jr. and his father, Albert Reimann Sr., who ran Benckiser, “were outspoken in their anti-Semitism and ardent supporters of Adolf Hitler,” says the foundation recently established in the name of Emily Landecker’s father, which aims to advance a reconciliation program funded by Reimann family heirs. “Both father and son attended speeches by Hitler in the 1920s and subsequently joined the Nazi party as well as making donations to the SS.”

Despite the Reimann Jr. and Sr.’s full-throated embrace of Nazism under Hitler, the investigation into Benckiser’s conduct during that dark period of German history concluded the family “was not involved in private enrichment or illegal gains through the expropriation of Jewish property or assets,” the foundation says.

Reimann Jr.’s profession at the time might not have been unusual among Germans who supported Adolf Hitler. But the relationship he struck up with a 19-year-old clerk named Emilie Landecker (the Hanover-based foundation in her name uses the Anglicized “Emily”) blossomed into a lifetime extramarital affair that produced three billionaire heirs who each had to come to terms with a horrible secret: Their father — and by extension their fortune — had undeniable ties to and benefited from the Nazis.

Stranger yet, the family learned and The New York Times reported, Emilie Landecker was the daughter of a successful Jewish accountant and Catholic mother. Her father, Alfred Landecker, raised Emilie and her siblings after their mother died in 1928. When Alfred Landecker saw the Nazis’ virulent anti-Semitism sweep Germany in the 1930s, he had his children baptized Catholic, a decision that no doubt spared their lives.

But, as a Jew himself, Alfred Landecker’s fate was sealed: The Gestapo came for him in 1942 and, after a couple of letters, the Landecker children never again heard from their father, one of the millions who perished in the death camps of the Holocaust.

Emilie Landecker, the oldest of the three Landecker children but still only a teenager, in 1941 had gone to work as a clerk in the accounting department of Benckiser​​​​​. The family doesn’t know when her romantic relationship with Reimann Jr. began, but the first of their three children was born in 1951.

Reimann Jr., who was married but never had children with his wife, fathered three children with Landecker, whom he adopted in the 1960s. He also adopted his cousin’s two sons and his sister’s four children. Reimann died in 1984.

In the The New York Times story, Reimann family members said they had been told growing up that their parents met “at the company.” They knew their maternal grandfather had died in the Holocaust, but their mother rarely talked about the war years or her Jewish heritage. She worked at the company until 1965 and died in 2017 at age 94.

“I was born in 1956 and did not know the identity of my father until I was 10 years old,” Reimann-Ciardelli told the Valley News. “Because my father was much older and a very distant figure to me, I did not know the details of his wartime history until very recently. I grew up with my Mother and siblings, separate from my father.”

The Reimanns didn’t learn the full extent of their father’s collaboration with the Nazis until earlier this year, when JAB Holding released the findings of the investigation it commissioned, the family said.

Following disclosure of the main findings earlier this year, JAB Holding announced it was changing the name of the Reimann family foundation from Benckiser Stiftung Zukunft to the Alfred Landecker Foundation and “redirecting its purpose” 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.”

“I was shocked and saddened when I learned the results of the family research earlier this year,” Reimann-Ciardelli said. “I am glad the information is public, and now that we know the full truth about my father and grandfather’s past, we are trying to make a positive difference for the future through the Alfred Landecker Foundation.”

Along with defining the foundation’s new direction and desire to “honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of Nazi terror,” the Reimanns announced that they immediately would fund $11.3 million “to provide humanitarian assistance for survivors of the Holocaust and victims of forced labor in World War II” and further pledged to give another $277 million to the Berlin-based foundation over the next 10 years “which will become a rolling commitment in perpetuity.”

“We believe that a strong understanding of the destructive violence that made the unspeakable and historically unique Holocaust possible is critical to guaranteeing our democracies,” the Alfred Landecker Foundation says on its website. “All people should have the right to live without fear, persecution and suffering. We must combat prejudice and intolerance in all their many forms.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

Correction

Albert Reimann Jr. fathered three children with Emilie Landecker, whom he adopted in th e 1960s. He also adopted his cousin’s two sons and his sister’s four children. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the number of Reimann’s biological children. 




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