VW chief apologizes for evoking Nazi concentration camp slogan

Herbert Diess CEO of German automaker Volkswagen AG speaks at the company's annual press conference at Volkswagen headquarters

"I would like to apologize unreservedly".

The phrase echoes the maxim "Arbeit Macht Frei" - meaning "work sets you free" - which was famously emblazoned in wrought-iron on the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Ebit is a measure of a company's profits, and is short for earnings before interest and taxes.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess has apologised for comments made which appeared to play on a Nazi-era slogan, capping a rough week for the automaker battling a U.S. government lawsuit.

The "Arbeit macht frei" phrase is from the National Socialist regime led by Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and was placed at the entrance of several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau.

Herbert Diess apologised on Thursday for a speech at a company event in which he repeatedly told VW employees: "EBIT macht frei".

"It was in no way my intention to put my statement in the wrong context - I honestly didn't think it would at the time", he said.

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Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the National Socialist Party under Adolf Hitler to develop an affordable economy auto that would eventually become the Volkswagen Beetle.

The Volkswagen factory was also repurposed during the Nazi era to build military vehicles and equipment.

"Experience at Volkswagen shows that brands with higher margins normally have greater freedom of choice within the Group".

Volkswagen's supervisory board on Friday said the group's history and the responsibility is therefore bears was a major part of its corporate identity. Diess' comments were first reported by German news organizations.

Analysts at Bernstein said management change at Volkswagen had become a significant risk following the supervisory board's statement.

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