VW chief apologizes for evoking Nazi concentration camp slogan

VW chief apologizes for evoking Nazi concentration camp slogan

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess is in hot water for what he's now calling "definitely an unfortunate choice of words" he used at a company event Tuesday: "EBIT macht frei". EBIT is a commonly used abbreviation in finance for earnings before interest and taxes.

No German audience would fail to spot the reference to Auschwitz, where more than a million people were murdered by the Nazis - the overwhelming majority.

Diess's remark "is in this context considered inappropriate", the supervisory board said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

The phrase "arbeit macht frei" or work sets you free hung above the gates at Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz.

Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the National Socialist Party under Adolf Hitler to develop an affordable economy vehicle that would eventually become the Volkswagen Beetle.

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Responding on LinkedIn, Diess said he had meant to say that more profitable divisions had more freedom to make decisions and hadn't meant to invoke the Nazi slogan.

In 1938, Adolf Hitler himself laid the foundation stone for the first Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in northern Germany, tasked with building an affordable vehicle for all Germans - which would go on to become the iconic Beetle. The CEO's comments were first reported by German news outlets.

Diess took to social media this week to apologize for the gaffe.

Diess went on to explain: "For more than three decades, Volkswagen has demonstrated with many activities that the company, myself and our employees are aware of Volkswagen's special historical responsibility in connection with the Third Reich".

VW said the SEC complaint is "legally and factually flawed" and the company will "contest it vigorously".

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