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Volkswagen C.E.O. Apologizes for Echoing Nazi Slogan Volkswagen C.E.O., After Echoing Nazi Slogan, Apologizes
(about 2 hours later)
BERLIN — Volkswagen’s chief executive has apologized for using a phrase that echoed a Nazi-era slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work sets you free,” that was emblazoned on the gates of Auschwitz and other concentration camps, saying the connection did not occur to him at the time.BERLIN — Volkswagen’s chief executive has apologized for using a phrase that echoed a Nazi-era slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work sets you free,” that was emblazoned on the gates of Auschwitz and other concentration camps, saying the connection did not occur to him at the time.
The German carmaker’s chief, Herbert Diess, repeatedly said, “Ebit macht frei” — referring to profits within the company’s divisions — when speaking on Tuesday to hundreds of managers at an internal company event after Volkswagen’s annual earnings news conference, German news media reported. Ebit is an acronym for “earnings before interest and taxes.”The German carmaker’s chief, Herbert Diess, repeatedly said, “Ebit macht frei” — referring to profits within the company’s divisions — when speaking on Tuesday to hundreds of managers at an internal company event after Volkswagen’s annual earnings news conference, German news media reported. Ebit is an acronym for “earnings before interest and taxes.”
The next day, Mr. Diess, who took over the company last year as part of efforts to move past its emissions scandal, posted an apology on his LinkedIn page. “I did not in any way intend for this comment to be set in a false context,” Mr. Diess said. “I did not think of such a possibility at the time I said it.”The next day, Mr. Diess, who took over the company last year as part of efforts to move past its emissions scandal, posted an apology on his LinkedIn page. “I did not in any way intend for this comment to be set in a false context,” Mr. Diess said. “I did not think of such a possibility at the time I said it.”
Mr. Diess said his use of the phrase had been in reference to brands within the Volkswagen Group that make more profit and therefore have more freedom to make decisions in the group, which includes the Audi, Porsche and Skoda brands, in addition to Volkswagen.Mr. Diess said his use of the phrase had been in reference to brands within the Volkswagen Group that make more profit and therefore have more freedom to make decisions in the group, which includes the Audi, Porsche and Skoda brands, in addition to Volkswagen.
“It was a very unfortunate choice of words,” Mr. Diess said in his apology. “If I unintentionally hurt feelings with it, I am extremely sorry.”“It was a very unfortunate choice of words,” Mr. Diess said in his apology. “If I unintentionally hurt feelings with it, I am extremely sorry.”
Last week, Volkswagen said that it would cut up to 7,000 positions to bolster productivity and deliver 5.9 billion euros (about $6.7 billion) of annual savings at its core brand by 2023.Last week, Volkswagen said that it would cut up to 7,000 positions to bolster productivity and deliver 5.9 billion euros (about $6.7 billion) of annual savings at its core brand by 2023.
Some of those present at the Volkswagen event told the Germany newsmagazine Der Spiegel that many in the audience had been embarrassed or angry about the remarks.Some of those present at the Volkswagen event told the Germany newsmagazine Der Spiegel that many in the audience had been embarrassed or angry about the remarks.
Germany prides itself on having openly and painstakingly examined the crimes of the Nazis and sought to atone for them through hundreds of memorials to the victims, the education of younger generations and a vow of “never again.”Germany prides itself on having openly and painstakingly examined the crimes of the Nazis and sought to atone for them through hundreds of memorials to the victims, the education of younger generations and a vow of “never again.”
But the remarks and the apology came as the country is experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism and an increased willingness of Germans to question the culture of atonement — more than 70 years after the end of World War II. According to government figures released last month, anti-Semitic crimes increased almost 10 percent, to 1,646, in 2018, compared with the previous year.But the remarks and the apology came as the country is experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism and an increased willingness of Germans to question the culture of atonement — more than 70 years after the end of World War II. According to government figures released last month, anti-Semitic crimes increased almost 10 percent, to 1,646, in 2018, compared with the previous year.
Leaders of the populist, nationalist Alternative for Germany party, now the strongest opposition force in Parliament, have dismissed the Nazi era as a “speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history” and have referred to the country’s main Holocaust Memorial in the capital as “a monument of shame.”Leaders of the populist, nationalist Alternative for Germany party, now the strongest opposition force in Parliament, have dismissed the Nazi era as a “speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history” and have referred to the country’s main Holocaust Memorial in the capital as “a monument of shame.”
Volkswagen’s own history is linked to the Nazis: The company was founded in the 1930s by Ferdinand Porsche, a Nazi Party member, and was supported by Hitler, who wanted to produce an affordable “people’s car,” which became the Beetle. During the war, the company relied heavily on the work of slave laborers from occupied countries or borrowed from concentration camps, including Auschwitz.Volkswagen’s own history is linked to the Nazis: The company was founded in the 1930s by Ferdinand Porsche, a Nazi Party member, and was supported by Hitler, who wanted to produce an affordable “people’s car,” which became the Beetle. During the war, the company relied heavily on the work of slave laborers from occupied countries or borrowed from concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
The company, which in 1996 published a 1,000-page historical review of its World War II history, has also supported the Auschwitz Committee for the past 30 years, including sponsoring young members of its work force to spend time maintaining the Auschwitz memorial site, in Oswiecim, Poland.The company, which in 1996 published a 1,000-page historical review of its World War II history, has also supported the Auschwitz Committee for the past 30 years, including sponsoring young members of its work force to spend time maintaining the Auschwitz memorial site, in Oswiecim, Poland.
The phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei,” originally attributed to the 19th-century lexicographer, linguist and novelist Lorenz Diefenbach, was emblazoned by the Nazis on several concentration camps. In 2014, thieves made off with a metal gate bearing the notorious slogan at the memorial site at the old Dachau camp, just north of Munich, and a similar sign at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2009.The phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei,” originally attributed to the 19th-century lexicographer, linguist and novelist Lorenz Diefenbach, was emblazoned by the Nazis on several concentration camps. In 2014, thieves made off with a metal gate bearing the notorious slogan at the memorial site at the old Dachau camp, just north of Munich, and a similar sign at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2009.