Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess sorry for Nazi pun

Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess sorry for Nazi pun

The phrase echoes the maxim "Arbeit Macht Frei" - meaning "work sets you free" - which was famously emblazoned in wrought-iron on the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess made the comment "ebit macht frei", a play on a Nazi-era slogan during an internal company event. "Ebit" refers to earnings before interest and taxes, while "arbeit" is work in German.

The attempt at humour caused particular offence. The company was founded in 1937 as part of a plan to ensure Germans could afford a vehicle, and utilized slave labour from those at concentration camps during World War II.

Herbert Diess, CEO of German carmaker Volkswagen is surrounded by media during the annual news conference at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany March 12, 2019. The speech was meant to rally his company's flagging spirits after he announced that it would... Within Volkswagen, "brands with higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions".

"It was in no way my intention to put this statement in a false context", he said. "At the time, I simply did not think of this possibility".

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In a statement, Mr Diess said he was sorry for what he described as "definitely an unfortunate choice of words".

The Volkswagen factory was also repurposed during the Nazi era to build military vehicles and equipment. "My comment was made within this context", he said.

"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", Diess wrote.

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.

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