Published: Sun, March 17, 2019
Money | By Ralph Mccoy

Volkswagen CEO apologizes for evoking Auschwitz slogan at company meeting

Volkswagen CEO apologizes for evoking Auschwitz slogan at company meeting

Speaking to workers at a VW event earlier this week, CEO Herbert Diess coined the line "EBIT macht frei" - a German phrase that echoed "Arbeit macht frei", the false promise "Work makes you free" that was emblazoned atop the wrought-iron gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp. EBIT is a finance acronym for "earnings before interest and taxes", and Diess says he was referring to the freedom the Volkswagen Group would have from positive sales growth.

The Volkswagen executive said: "It was a very unfortunate choice of words and if if I accidentally hurt feelings with it, I am extremely sorry".

"I didn't intend to banalize the darkest page in history", he said to apologize after making the remarks on Italian radio Wednesday, Il Corriere della Sera reported.

Herbert Diess used the pun "EBIT macht frei" during a speech at the firm's management gathering on Tuesday.

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Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the National Socialist Party under Adolf Hitler to develop an affordable economy auto that would eventually become the Volkswagen Beetle. Founded in 1937 as part of Adolf Hitler's vision for every German family to own a auto, Volkswagen used more than 15,000 slave laborers during the war as it manufactured vehicles for the German army.

In 1938, Adolf Hitler himself laid the foundation stone for the first Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in northern Germany, tasked with building an affordable auto for all Germans - which would go on to become the iconic Beetle. "My comment was made within this context", he said.

Diess added that he, the company and its staff were "aware of the particular historical responsibility of Volkswagen in connection with the Third Reich". In a separate email to Business Insider, Volkswagen called the case "legally and factually flawed, and Volkswagen will contest it vigorously".

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