VW boss apologises for using Nazi slogan
The head of Volkswagen is facing calls to resign after repeatedly using a pun on a Nazi slogan that appears above the gates to Auschwitz during a motivational speech. Herbert Diess, the firm’s chief executive, later apologised for telling workers “EBIT macht frei”, referring to a measure of profit and an apparent allusion to the slogan “Arbeit macht frei”. The car maker was founded in 1937 as part of Adolf Hitler’s ambition for German families to own affordable cars.
IF ANYONE should know better it is a German, and particularly one who heads a firm with a questionable past.
So one has to wonder what possessed the chief executive of Volkswagen to make a bizarre and distasteful reference to a slogan from Auschwitz.
Speaking at a company event, Herbert Diess made what was apparently meant to be a motivational speech in which he repeatedly told VW employees: “EBIT macht frei”.
EBIT is an acronym for Earnings Before Interest and Tax, a key indicator of a company’s profit, but few Germans would have failed to pick up the allusion to the slogan, emblazoned in wrought-iron above the gates to Auschwitz that greeted its victims as they were force-marched towards their deaths: “Arbeit macht frei” (work makes you free).
In Auschwitz alone more than a million people were murdered – the overwhelming majority of them Jews. Millions more died at other Nazi camps.
It was particularly shocking for observers that the reference was made by a senior executive of a firm originally founded by the Nazi regime and which used slave labour from its concentration camps during the Second World War. Mr Diess’s use of the phrase stunned many present at the annual event at VW headquarters, Wolfsburg.
“If he had only said it once, perhaps you could argue it just slipped out,” one witness told Spiegel magazine. “But he repeated it too many times.”
Mr Diess was appointed last year to help clean up VW’S reputation after the “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal. He now faces calls to resign.
Mr Diess said he had not intended to refer to the Nazi slogan and apologised for “a very unfortunate choice of words”.
Explaining that he was referring to the freedom which VW brands in strong financial health enjoyed he added: “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. If I unintentionally offended anyone, I am deeply sorry, and I would like formally to apologise for that.”
Mr Diess also acknowledged his company’s “special responsibility in connection with the Third Reich”.
“Herbert Diess’s position is untenable,” wrote Antje Höning, at the Rheinische Post. “It’s time for the VW board to ask if he is the right man to have at the head of a global company.”
VW was founded in 1937 as part of Adolf Hitler’s ambition for German families to own affordable cars, before going on to build vehicles for the German army using more than 15,000 slave labourers from nearby camps.
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