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Volkswagen chief apologises after evoking Nazi slogan 'Arbeit macht frei'

Herbert Diess said he had not aimed to cause offence with what he said.

Herbert Diess CEO of Volkswagen.
Herbert Diess CEO of Volkswagen.
Image: Malte Ossowski/SVEN SIMON

VOLKSWAGEN CHIEF EXECUTIVE Herbert Diess has apologised for making a play on words with a Nazi slogan at a company meeting, insisting he was keenly aware of the German firm’s roots in the Third Reich.

Diess told business magazine Wirtschafts Woche he had not aimed to cause offence when he said “EBIT macht frei” during a VW management gathering on Tuesday.

EBIT refers to earnings before interest and taxes and Diess said he wanted to emphasise their importance to the company’s bottom line.

But the phrase echoed the infamous slogan on the main gate of the Auschwitz death camp “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will set you free”).

“It was in no way my intention to put my statement in the wrong context – I honestly didn’t think it would at the time,” he said.

It was in fact a very unfortunate choice of words and if I unintentionally hurt any feelings, I am truly sorry.

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 1938, Adolf Hitler himself laid the foundation stone for the first Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in northern Germany, tasked with building an affordable car for all Germans – which would go on to become the iconic Beetle.

During World War II, VW used concentration camp internees and prisoners of war as slave labour in its factories.

© AFP 2019

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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