VW CEO reportedly mimicked an infamous Nazi slogan during a company event

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VW CEO Herbert Diess speaks during the automaker's annual news conference in Wolfsburg, Germany, on March 12, 2019.

CEO Herbert Diess said he should not have uttered "Ebit macht frei", a phrase echoing "Arbeit Macht Frei", which means "work sets you free" and is synonymous with the camp.

The chief executive of Volkswagen has apologized for evoking the infamous slogan that appears at the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp when speaking about the German company's profits at a meeting on Tuesday.

"At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context", Diess said in the statement.

Volkswagen was founded in 1937 by the German government with a mandate to mass-produce affordable vehicles.

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

Diess's misstep coincided with a notice that the Securities and Exchange Commission has sued VW over the diesel emissions cheating scandal. "For that I would like to fully and completely apologize".

"The statement of the CEO Herbert Diess is in this context considered inappropriate and hard 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".

Mr Diess added that he and the company were "aware of the particular historical responsibility of Volkswagen in connection with the Third Reich". Diess has been CEO of Volkswagen since April previous year.

Analysts at Bernstein said management change at Volkswagen had become a significant risk following the supervisory board's statement. In a separate email to Business Insider, Volkswagen called the case "legally and factually flawed, and Volkswagen will contest it vigorously".

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