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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Volkswagen chief apologises for use of phrase similar to a Nazi slogan

Mr Diess appeared to use a phrase that was prominently displayed outside concentration camps such as Auschwitz

Mr Diess said his controversial comments were made within the context of a management presentation on achieving high growth margins. Getty Images
Mr Diess said his controversial comments were made within the context of a management presentation on achieving high growth margins. Getty Images

Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess apologised for his use of a phrase that appeared to play on a Nazi-era slogan, “Work sets you free.”

Diess said “Ebit macht frei during an internal Volkswagen event, evoking memories of “Arbeit macht frei,” the words that appeared prominently at the entrance of Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz. “Ebit” refers to earnings before interest and taxes, while arbeit is work in German.

“It was in fact, a very unfortunate choice of words and I am deeply sorry for any unintentional pain I may have caused,” Mr Diess wrote in a post on his LinkedIn page. “For that I would like to fully and completely apologise.”

The comments are all the more unfortunate considering Volkswagen’s history. The automaker was founded by the German government in 1937 to mass-produce a low-priced car, and was originally operated by the German Labour Front, a Nazi organization, according to Britannica.com. Volkswagen, whose factory was repurposed during World War II to build military equipment and vehicles, is today the world’s biggest automotive group with brands including Audi, Bugatti, and Porsche.

The expression ‘Ebit macht frei was made in an internal Volkswagen management presentation in connection with operating margins from various company brands, Mr Diess said. Within the Volkswagen Group, “brands with higher margins have more freedom within the group to make their own decisions. My comment was made within this context,” he said.

The chief executive said it wasn’t his intention to make this expression in a way that could be misinterpreted, and he didn’t consider the possibility that it could be.

“Volkswagen has undertaken many activities over the last 30 years that have made the company, myself personally and our employees fully aware of the historical responsibility Volkswagen bears in connection with the Third Reich,” Mr Diess wrote.

Updated: March 15, 2019 02:22 PM

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