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Volkswagen boss apologises for using phrase similar to a Nazi slogan

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
FILE PHOTO: Herbert Diess, CEO of German carmaker Volkswagen is surrounded by media during the annual news conference at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany March 12, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/File Photo

The boss of Volkswagen (VOW.DE) apologised for using a phrase that evoked a Nazi slogan that was emblazoned on the iron gates of concentration camps.

This week, Herbert Diess used the phrase “ebit macht frei” to describe how increasing the automaker’s profits was at utmost importance. EBIT is a commonly-used acronym for “earnings before interest and taxes.”

However, it echoed “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which means “work sets you free.” While it wasn’t coined by the Nazis — it was created by the 19th Century linguist and author Lorenz Diefenbach — it was popularised by the regime to promote its employment policies and adorned the gates of several concentration camps.

Diess said in statement he was sorry for “definitely an unfortunate choice of words. At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context. At the time, I simply did not think of this possibility.”

The VW CEO also acknowledged his company’s “special responsibility in connection with the Third Reich.”

As part of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s plan to enable German families to own their own car, the company was originally founded in 1937. VW vehicles were also manufactured for the German army during the second World War, using the labour thousands of slaves from nearby concentration camps.