Anger as VW chief executive plays on Nazi slogan at company event

The entry gate to Auschwitz with the slogan

Volkswagen's chief executive officer has apologised for alluding to a Nazi propaganda slogan while speaking at a company meeting. In an apologetic statement, Diess said what happened was "definitely an unfortunate choice of words". "I would like to apologise in any form".

CEO Herbert Diess said he should not have uttered "Ebit macht frei", a phrase echoing "Arbeit Macht Frei", which means "work sets you free" and is synonymous with the camp.

Ebit is a commonly used acronym for "earnings before interest and taxes".

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 USA government lawsuit.

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

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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.

Herbert Diess used the line "Ebit macht frei" at a company event on Tuesday. The phrase sounds similar to "Arbeit macht frei", a phrase inscribed the gates of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Within the Volkswagen Group, "brands with a higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions".

The Volkswagen factory was also repurposed during the Nazi era to build military vehicles and equipment. The CEO's comments were first reported by German news outlets.

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

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

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