Volkswagen boss apologises for Nazi gaffe after 'arbeit macht frei' pun

Herbert Diess CEO of German automaker Volkswagen AG speaks at the company's annual press conference at Volkswagen headquarters

Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess has apologized for using a controversial slogan at a recent company event.

The "Arbeit macht frei" phrase is from the National Socialist regime led by Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and was placed at the entrance of several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. EBIT refers to earnings before interest and taxes. In an apologetic statement, Diess said what happened was "definitely an unfortunate choice of words". "I would like to apologize unreservedly".

Mr Diess, 60, made the remark at Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, on Tuesday.

Volkswagen was founded in 1937, as part of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's vision to enable German families to own their first auto.

The comments are all the more unfortunate considering Volkswagen's history.

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Herbert Diess apologised on Thursday for a speech at a company event in which he repeatedly told VW employees: "EBIT macht frei".

The Volkswagen factory was also repurposed during the Nazi era to build military vehicles and equipment. Within the Volkswagen Group, "brands with a higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions".

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. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to comment.

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 has been CEO of Volkswagen since April a year ago.

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

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