THE chairman of the car making giant Volkswagen has apologised for making an unintentional and potentially offensive gaffe with Nazi connotations.
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 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 would like to apologise in any form.”
Diess went on to explain: “For more than three decades, Volkswagen has demonstrated with many activities that the company, myself and our employees are aware of Volkswagen’s special historical responsibility in connection with the Third Reich.”
Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the National Socialist Party under Adolf Hitler to develop an affordable economy car that would eventually become the Volkswagen Beetle. During the Second World War, prisoners of war and concentration camp captives were used as slave labour at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg factory as part of Germany’s military efforts.
Diess’ comments come shortly after the car making group he leads posted strong results for the latest financial year. Despite a downturn in new car demand, a massive £880m dieselgate fine and disruption caused by the introduction of new WLTP emissions testing rules in September in 2018, Volkswagen posted a profit of €3.2bn (£2.73bn).