Volkswagen’s supervisory board on Friday condemned the auto giant’s chief executive for evoking a chilling Nazi slogan to highlight the importance of boosting profits.
Speaking to workers at a VW event earlier this week, CEO Herbert Diess coined the line “EBIT macht frei” — a German phrase that echoed “Arbeit macht frei,” the false promise “Work makes you free” that was emblazoned atop the wrought-iron gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Diess apologized, explaining he was trying to make the point that VW’s more profitable units had more financial freedom. EBIT is a commonly used abbreviation in finance for earnings before interest and taxes.
Diess took to social media this week to apologize for the gaffe.
“It was in no way my intention to put this statement in a false context,” Diess wrote on LinkedIn on Wednesday. “At the time, I simply did not think of this possibility.”
Nevertheless, the auto exec admitted his company’s “special responsibility in connection with the Third Reich.” Founded in 1937 as part of Adolf Hitler’s vision for every German family to own a car, Volkswagen used more than 15,000 slave laborers during the war as it manufactured vehicles for the German army.
“The statement of the CEO Herbert Diess is in this context considered inappropriate and difficult to comprehend,” VW’s supervisory board said Friday, adding that it “strongly distances itself from this, but at the same time takes note of the immediate apology from Mr. Diess.”
Diess’ embarrassing flub wasn’t the only bad news hitting the company this week.
The Security and Exchange Commission accused Volkswagen and its former CEO Martin Winterkorn of “massive fraud,” claiming they made “deceptive claims” about the cars’ environmental compliance while raising billions from bond investors.
Reps from Volkswagen did not immediately respond to requests to comment.
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