Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess apologizes after appearing to reference Nazi slogan

Mae Love
March 17, 2019

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess made the comment "ebit macht frei", a play on a Nazi-era slogan during an internal company event. "For that I would like to fully and completely apologize".

"EBIT" stands for "earnings before income and taxes", but his choice of words echoed the phrase "arbeit macht frei", which translates to "work will set you free".

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess has apologised for comments made which appeared to play on a Nazi-era slogan, capping a rough week for the automaker battling a United States government lawsuit.

"At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context", the CEO said in an emailed statement. The automaker was founded by the German government in 1937 to mass-produce a low-cost vehicle, and was originally operated by the German Labour Front, a Nazi organization. The Times said that more than 300 children died at the nursery.

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Herbert Diess apologised on Thursday for a speech at a company event in which he repeatedly told VW employees: "EBIT macht frei". During World War Two, the Wolfsburg-based firm manufactured vehicles for the German army, using more than 15,000 slave labourers from nearby concentration camps. Within the Volkswagen Group, "brands with a higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions". German government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to comment.

Mr Diess added that he and the company were "aware of the particular historical responsibility of Volkswagen in connection with the Third Reich".

Asked whether Bernstein analyst Max Warburton was right to suggest that Diess had lost support internally as a result of the remarks, Volkswagen's supervisory board said such an inference was inappropriate. In a separate email to Business Insider, Volkswagen called the case "legally and factually flawed, and Volkswagen will contest it vigorously".

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