Volkswagen CEO apologizes for phrase similar to Nazi slogan

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

Speaking to the German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche, the Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess apologised for uttering at a management meeting the phrase "EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) macht frei", which echoes the "arbeit macht frei" slogan that was displayed above the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The inscription appeared at the Dachau concentration camp, set up by Heinrich Himmler in 1933 to use dissidents as slave labour, and later became part of the Nazis' deception for the real use of the concentrations camps. "I would like to apologise in any form".

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 U.S. government lawsuit.

Afterward, Diess put out a statement saying it was "definitely an unfortunate choice of words".

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.

Volkswagen was founded in 1937 by the German government with a mandate to mass-produce affordable vehicles.

The Volkswagen factory was also repurposed during the Nazi era to build military vehicles and equipment.

The CEO 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. Diess' comments were first reported by German news organizations.

VW's powerful works council welcomed Diess's "swift clarification and unequivocal apology" for the remark, adding that remembrance and responsibility are part of the company's DNA.

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

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