VW boss apol­o­gises for us­ing Nazi slo­gan

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Pa­trick Sawer and Justin Hug­gler in Berlin

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.

A T-shirt fea­tur­ing a moon­walk dance de­sign, in­spired by Michael Jack­son, had been un­veiled by Louis Vuit­ton on the Paris cat­walks

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