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Volkswagen CEO apologises for alluding to Nazi slogan

17 March 2019

The chief executive of Volkswagen is facing calls to resign after an astonishing gaffe in which he appeared to riff on a Nazi death camp slogan. In an apologetic statement, Diess said what happened was "definitely an unfortunate choice of words". "For that I would like to fully and completely apologize".

Herbert Diess this week said "EBIT macht Frei" before apologizing for the comments and explaining he in no way wanted to draw a comparison to the Nazi-era slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei", which appeared on the gates of Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

Herbert Diess, CEO of German automaker Volkswagen AG, speaks at the company's annual press conference at Volkswagen headquarters on March 12, 2019 in Wolfsburg, Germany.

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Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the National Socialist Party under Adolf Hitler to develop an affordable economy vehicle that would eventually become the Volkswagen Beetle. Within the Volkswagen Group, "brands with a higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions".

In 1938, Adolf Hitler himself laid the foundation stone for the first Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in northern Germany, tasked with building an affordable auto for all Germans - which would go on to become the iconic Beetle.

"Volkswagen has undertaken many activities over the last 30 years that have made the company, myself personally and our employees fully aware of the historical responsibility Volkswagen bears in connection with the Third Reich", Diess wrote.

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Asked whether Bernstein analyst Max Warburton was right to suggest that Diess had lost support internally as a result of the remarks, Volkswagen's supervisory board said such an inference was inappropriate. Diess' comments were first reported by German news organizations.

VW said the SEC complaint is "legally and factually flawed" and the company will "contest it vigorously".

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Volkswagen CEO apologises for alluding to Nazi slogan