There’s one cardinal rule if you’re the CEO of a German company that’s closely associated with Adolf Hitler. Don’t mention him, Nazis or any of their sayings unless you’re apologizing for past actions.
Unfortunately, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess came close to repeating a Nazi-linked phase during Tuesday’s Annual Media Conference and Capital Markets event. According to the BBC, Diess was discussing the company’s financials and brought up EBIT which stands for “earnings before interest and taxes.”
While that’s innocent enough, Diess reportedly said “Ebit macht frei” which meant “earnings before interest and taxes sets you free.” That doesn’t sound too bad, but it’s raised a lot of eyebrows in Germany as it’s similar to “Arbeit macht frei.” The latter phase translates to “work sets you free” and that’s associated with concentration camps. In fact, the phase is an integral part of the iconic gate at Auschwitz.
Given the sensitivity of the issue, Diess has apologized for the similarities. The BBC says the executive issued a statement saying “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.” He went on to describe “Ebit macht frei” as an “unfortunate choice of words” and noted Volkswagen has a “special responsibility in connection with the Third Reich.”
Volkswagen regularly apologies for their involvement with the Nazis and Diess visited the Auschwitz concentration camp last year with some of the automaker’s apprentices. At the time, he noted “anti-Semitism and the radical right are again gaining ground,” so it’s “important for us to keep alive memories of the incredible degree of contempt for humanity which exceeds the bounds of our present imagination.”