Now, in a rarer move, the company is turning its attention to a more tangible reminder of former sins – its vast private art collection.

In a floor-to-ceiling library at Dr Oetker’s sprawling headquarters in the North-Rhine Westphalian city of Bielefeld, Dr Monika Bachtler reveals one of its treasures – a resplendent 17th Century silver goblet.

“It’s a typical German silversmith’s piece,” says the white-gloved curator of the Oetker collection, “made in Augsburg in 1612”.

The goblet originally belonged to Emma Budge, a wealthy Jewish socialite, philanthropist and art-lover from Hamburg. It was part of an impressive collection forcibly auctioned off by the Nazis in the early 1930s, including porcelain figures by Kaendler and paintings by van Loo.

This particular piece of silverware’s troubling provenance was discovered as a consequence of a voluntary audit of Dr Oetker’s own collection.

The collection, which includes some some 4,500 priceless pieces, scattered across several, secret locations, was mostly purchased by Rudolf-August Oetker, who was a renowned art enthusiast.

American servicemen view art treasures on show at a former Luftwaffe barracks near Konigsee - paintings looted from all parts of Europe under orders from Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe: May 1945Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionNazi leaders like Hermann Goering looted art from all over Europe during the Second World War

The company’s board, which includes members of the Oetker family, commissioned the audit in 2015. So far, just four artworks have been restored to their rightful owners – including the windmill-shaped goblet.

Dr Oetker is tight-lipped about the precise value of the goblet – for which the Budge estate elected to receive financial compensation – but other items in the Budge collection are worth as much as £270,000, according to Lothar Fremy, one of just a dozen or so lawyers in Germany who represent heirs of Nazi confiscated art.

Mr Fremy, a Berliner who represents the Budge heirs, says few cases are carried out this smoothly.

“Sometimes it’s like a big puzzle you have to put together,” he explains. “Between 1933 and 1945, hundreds of thousands of items were sold, the market was flooded with artefacts.”

Tracing their origin is a process which will take “10, 20 or 30 years easily”, he says.

Lothar Fremy
Image captionPrivate collectors have generally not wanted to look too closely at the provenance of some of their artworks, says Lothar Fremy

In this case, thanks to the meticulous paperwork left behind by Nazi bureaucrats, a comprehensive catalogue of the forced auction of the Budge collection exists, complete with images of most items.

This allowed Mr Fremy to enter the details of more than 1,000 items from the catalogue onto lootedart.com, an online registry for the return of stolen cultural objects.

But although many items from the Budge collection have been found in galleries, including Meissen porcelain figures at the V&A in London, it is rarer for private collections – let alone those owned by corporations – to voluntarily examine their inventory for a match to an artefact on the online database.

A visitor looks at a painting at the 'Looting and Restitution' ('Raub und Restitution') exhibition at the Jewish Museum on September 18, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. The exhibition detailed the looting of Jewish art collections and household objects by the Nazi regime before and during the Second World War. and the various institutions put in place to find and return the looted goods.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMore than 70 years after the end of the war, the return of looted items is becoming more commonplace

The widely-followed principles for returning Nazi-confiscated art, outlined after a conference in Washington in 1998, are largely focused on public institutions.

Private collectors, Mr Fremy says, have generally not felt inclined to look too closely into the origins of their prized possessions.

Yet the return of stolen items from the Budge collection and beyond, he says, is becoming more common.

“Ten or 12 years ago, it wasn’t a warm or co-operative reception,” says Mr Fremy, reminiscing about early approaches to individuals who may have been in possession of stolen art, “but in general it’s getting better.”

People check the back of the painting 'Young Man As Bacchus' by Jan Franse Verzijl during a ceremony to return the painting to representatives of the Max and Iris Stern Foundation, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York on February 8, 2017. The painting was part of the collection of the Galerie Stern in Dusseldorf,that was forced by the Nazis to liquidate its inventory because of the owner's Jewish Heritage in 1936Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionDr Oetker’s Joerg Schillinger hopes other firms will follow his company’s lead

Back in Bielefeld, Dr Oetker’s researchers say it may take decades to determine how many more items in its collection are due for restitution.

But Joerg Schillinger hopes that other German companies, among which huge art collections are not uncommon, will follow the frozen food firm’s lead.

“It’s a pity that there are still some companies that haven’t stepped into their history,” he says. “We were quite late, 70 years after the war, but we are very happy that we did it.”

His recommendation to other businesses?

“Just do it, for the sake of your company and for the sake of the stakeholders.”

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