"In fact, it was a very unfortunate choice of words and if I had unintentionally hurt feelings with it, I am extremely sorry".
Volkswagen's supervisory board criticized a remark made by Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess that appeared to play on the slogan on the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp, "Work sets you free".
Ebit is a commonly used acronym for "earnings before interest and taxes".
Diess said "Ebit macht frei" during an internal Volkswagen event, evoking memories of "Arbeit macht frei", the words that appeared prominently at the entrance of Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz.
"At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context", the CEO said in an emailed statement.
Herbert Diess used the pun "EBIT macht frei" during a speech at the firm's management gathering on Tuesday.
Responding on LinkedIn, Diess said he had meant to say that more profitable divisions had more freedom to make decisions and hadn't meant to invoke the Nazi slogan.
Volkswagen, whose factory was repurposed during World War II to build military equipment and vehicles, is today the world's biggest automotive group with brands including Audi, Bugatti, and Porsche. The Times said that more than 300 children died at the nursery. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to comment.
Diess took to social media this week to apologize for the gaffe. In a separate email to Business Insider, Volkswagen called the case "legally and factually flawed, and Volkswagen will contest it vigorously".