Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess sorry for Nazi pun

Cornelia Mascio
Marzo 15, 2019

The chief executive of Volkswagen is facing calls to resign after an astonishing gaffe in which he appeared to riff on a Nazi death camp slogan.

Herbert Diess apologised for the pun "Ebit macht frei" - a reference to the infamous Third Reich motto "Arbeit macht frei" or "work will set you free" - which he made during a speech to hundreds of managers. 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.

"It was in no way my intention to put this statement in a false context", he said.

Volkswagen was founded by the German Labour Front under Nazi rule in the 1930s and eventually admitted to using 15,000 slave workers during World War II. In an apologetic statement, Diess said what happened was "definitely an unfortunate choice of words". "At the time, I simply did not think of this possibility".

Although popularised by the Nazis, "Arbeit Macht Frei" was coined by the 19th Century linguist, ethnologist and author Lorenz Diefenbach.

Herbert Diess, CEO of German automaker Volkswagen AG, speaks at the company's annual press conference at Volkswagen headquarters on March 12, 2019 in Wolfsburg, Germany.

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