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Old 15th March 2019, 11:08 AM   #1
Checkmite
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Volkswagen CEO apologizes for Nazi pun

The incident happened this past Tuesday, when he made a pun referencing a well-known Nazi slogan:

Quote:
Speaking at a Volkswagen (VLKAF) management event in Germany on Tuesday, Herbert Diess used the expression "Ebit macht frei." The phrase sounds similar to "Arbeit macht frei," a slogan inscribed the gates of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Arbeit macht frei means "work sets you free." Ebit is a measure of a company's profits, and is short for earnings before interest and taxes. Diess' comments were first reported by German news organizations.

"At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context," Diess wrote in a post on social network LinkedIn on Wednesday. "At the time, I simply did not think of this possibility."

He said his comments were intended to highlight Volkswagen's strong profits, not cause offense. "This was definitely an unfortunate choice of words," he wrote. "If I have unintentionally caused offense, I am extremely sorry. I would like to apologize unreservedly."
I for one find the bolded statement to be utterly duplicitous. It simply beggars belief that Diess did not realize he was directly referencing the "Arbeit macht frei" slogan when he said "Ebit macht frei". It's an obvious aural pun, the connection is the whole point.
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Old 15th March 2019, 11:23 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
The incident happened this past Tuesday, when he made a pun referencing a well-known Nazi slogan:



I for one find the bolded statement to be utterly duplicitous. It simply beggars belief that Diess did not realize he was directly referencing the "Arbeit macht frei" slogan when he said "Ebit macht frei". It's an obvious aural pun, the connection is the whole point.
Of all the companies that would want to not bring up the Nazis...
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Old 15th March 2019, 12:19 PM   #3
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Old 15th March 2019, 12:22 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by SuburbanTurkey View Post
Of all the companies that would want to not bring up the Nazis...
Yeah, the company that sells the car that Hitler helped designed.
OF coure the Volkswagen of the 1930's was a huge scam;the money customers paid on the installment plan went straight to the military budget and, of course none of them ever got a car.
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Old 15th March 2019, 12:47 PM   #5
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Really? We certainly are scraping the bottom of the "taking offence" barrel these days.
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Old 15th March 2019, 01:29 PM   #6
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Untermensch say, "no pun intended."

Ubermensch intend their puns.
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Old 15th March 2019, 01:32 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by qayak View Post
Really? We certainly are scraping the bottom of the "taking offence" barrel these days.
If any company other then Volkswagen had made that comment, it would not have been so bad.
You don't get why "arbeit macht frei" is not something a company that was basically founded by the Nazis should be using?
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Old 15th March 2019, 02:28 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by dudalb View Post
If any company other then Volkswagen had made that comment, it would not have been so bad.
You don't get why "arbeit macht frei" is not something a company that was basically founded by the Nazis should be using?
A comedian riffing on the phrase might be funny.

The head of any company, anywhere, riffing on the phrase is not.

The head of Volkswagen should have "do not riff on this phrase ever" at the top of his daily to-do list. Right below to "never refer to employee focus workshops as 'concentration camps'" and "never refer to fixing a problem as 'the final solution'".

Oh, and also "we want to put our brand in the living room of every European" is probably bad optics for Volkswagen.

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Old 15th March 2019, 03:22 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by dudalb View Post
Yeah, the company that sells the car that Hitler helped designed.
OF coure the Volkswagen of the 1930's was a huge scam;the money customers paid on the installment plan went straight to the military budget and, of course none of them ever got a car.
Elon Musk is the reincarnated Hitler?
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Old 15th March 2019, 03:25 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by dudalb View Post
If any company other then Volkswagen had made that comment, it would not have been so bad.
You don't get why "arbeit macht frei" is not something a company that was basically founded by the Nazis should be using?
You don't get that he didn't say that. It wasn't "work will set you free" it was "profits will set you free" and it wasn't in relation to inmates at a concentration camp, it was in relation to the bottom line of one of the largest car companies in the world.

Dude's no more a Nazi than you are.
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Old 15th March 2019, 03:27 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by qayak View Post
You don't get that he didn't say that. It wasn't "work will set you free" it was "profits will set you free" and it wasn't in relation to inmates at a concentration camp, it was in relation to the bottom line of one of the largest car companies in the world.

Dude's no more a Nazi than you are.
I can't begin to imagine what led you into this degree of confusion, and I have no idea how to go about leading you out of it.
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Old 15th March 2019, 07:17 PM   #12
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It might be worth knowing how old he is.

The reason I ask is that I tried this out on my family at a family get-together on Thursday night. I set up a scenario where I was the head of a large German corporation. I said I was toying with the idea of a new logo for the company, which would have the words "Profits Will Set You Free"

None them them (younger sister, brother in law, two daughters, their husbands and, their children (17, 19, 19 & 21) thought there was anything wrong with it apart from it appearing a bit elitist. We had my older brother (by 10 yrs, and who lives in England) on Skype. He said, and I quote "You won't get away with that in Germany"

I then showed them images on the infamous gateway at Dachau and translated the German for them. My sister and brother-in-law said they recognized it, but didn't know what the words meant. None the kids had ever seen it before I showed it to them.

IMO a person's age and education would have a lot to do with whether they "got" the reference. The Holocaust is not taught in any great depth in NZ Schools..... perhaps it ought to be.
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Old 15th March 2019, 08:46 PM   #13
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Any native German speakers here? Is the phase ".....macht frei" used often enough in German that it is in any way conceivable that the guy did not know he was making a reference to Auschwitz (and Dachau? Smartcooky said Dachau, but I think it was Auschwitz, though it may have been both.)


For an English speaker, at least one of a certain age, we would immediately associate it with Auschwitz, and I think it is extremely likely that the speaker did as well, despite his denial. "ebit" and "arbeit" sound too similar. And "ebit" doesn't mean "profit", at least not literally. It's an English language stock acronym. I think he must have been making a play on words with "ebit" and "arbeit".


I think an apology is appropriate. In modern America, people would be demanding that he resign. That, in my opinion, is not appropriate. I'm kind of tired of the "He said something offensive so he has to be fired" nonsense.



In forum history there was a famous incident where a very popular member was banned, and it all started with a reference to a Nazi slogan. Someone posted a message saying, as best I recall, "What's wrong with the slogan "One Land, One People" . The soon to be banned member responded with a Hitler reference, that also included an instaban suggestion.


It was a highly controversial ban, with over a hundred forum members "signing a petition", i.e. putting a supportive response in a thread, for the ban to be reversed. One controversial element was whether or not the instaban offense (advocacy of suicide) had actually happened. There were different interpretations. The interesting thing that I noted at the time was that those of us who recognized "One Land, One People" as being suspiciously similar to a Nazi slogan ("Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer") were far more inclined to interpret the words of the soon to be banned member charitably, to not include advocacy of suicide. Those who thought that the Nazi reference came out of the blue were more inclined to support the ban.


I bring it up as an example of how speakers of different languages might have different interpretations of things, especially things in other languages. Sometimes a person using literal meanings may not realize associations with specific situations.

ETA: Looked it up. The phrase was used at lots of concentration camps. Dachau first.

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Old 15th March 2019, 11:14 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
Any native German speakers here? Is the phase ".....macht frei" used often enough in German that it is in any way conceivable that the guy did not know he was making a reference to Auschwitz (and Dachau? Smartcooky said Dachau, but I think it was Auschwitz, though it may have been both.)
The phrase was used in the main gate at at least six camps

Auschwitz
Dachau
Theresientadt
Sachsenhausen
Flossenburg
Gross-Rosen

Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
ETA: Looked it up. The phrase was used at lots of concentration camps. Dachau first.
That's why I referenced it to Dachau.
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Old 15th March 2019, 11:27 PM   #15
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I've never lived in Germany and know little of the language. I don't think anyone not very familiar with both can really say whether or not anyone should be offended.

I've heard some German music that plays around with words that sound similar but have very different meanings. I don't know if that's a common thing in Germany.

Like, how would I know? Sounds like a lot of US news these days though, so to me personally,
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Old 15th March 2019, 11:28 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
The phrase was used in the main gate at at least six camps

Auschwitz
Dachau
Theresientadt
Sachsenhausen
Flossenburg
Gross-Rosen



That's why I referenced it to Dachau.
So the Nazis own everything that ends ". . . will set you free?"

People are really getting desperate when it comes to being offended. And the truth of that will set you free.
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Old 16th March 2019, 12:01 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
For an English speaker, at least one of a certain age, we would immediately associate it with Auschwitz, and I think it is extremely likely that the speaker did as well, despite his denial. "ebit" and "arbeit" sound too similar. And "ebit" doesn't mean "profit", at least not literally. It's an English language stock acronym.
It's EBIT, and it stands for earnings before interest and taxes. It is considered a key measure of profitability for a company but you are right that it is not quite synonymous with profit.

Quote:
I think he must have been making a play on words with "ebit" and "arbeit".
I agree, although I have never heard anybody pronounce it e-bit (it's always e-bee-eye-tee).
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Old 16th March 2019, 12:03 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by qayak View Post
So the Nazis own everything that ends ". . . will set you free?"

People are really getting desperate when it comes to being offended. And the truth of that will set you free.
It takes a Trumpian degree of willful dishonesty to claim that "Ebit macht frei" isn't supposed to be a direct pun on "Arbeit macht frei". Your prevarication in this post is laughable.
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Old 16th March 2019, 12:06 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
I agree, although I have never heard anybody pronounce it e-bit (it's always e-bee-eye-tee).
Neither have I; which is another reason to conclude it's intentional. The only reason to pronounce it that way is so that you can make the pun work.
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Old 16th March 2019, 09:22 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
It takes a Trumpian degree of willful dishonesty to claim that "Ebit macht frei" isn't supposed to be a direct pun on "Arbeit macht frei". Your prevarication in this post is laughable.
It only takes a miniscule amount of controversy to have an internet SJW lose their rational mind. Words, dude W.O.R.D.S.
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Old 16th March 2019, 09:27 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
It's EBIT, and it stands for earnings before interest and taxes. It is considered a key measure of profitability for a company but you are right that it is not quite synonymous with profit.



I agree, although I have never heard anybody pronounce it e-bit (it's always e-bee-eye-tee).
I spent almost forty years working for German and Swiss-German forwarders. It's pronounced ee-bit, not spelled out.
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Old 16th March 2019, 09:58 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
Any native German speakers here? Is the phase ".....macht frei" used often enough in German that it is in any way conceivable that the guy did not know he was making a reference to Auschwitz (and Dachau? Smartcooky said Dachau, but I think it was Auschwitz, though it may have been both.)

Not a native German but my wife is. She is mid 30's btw just for context. She immediately screwed up her face and said 'ouuuuuch', when I told her the phrase and from who. The guy would have known exactly what he was saying, he was either having a brain fart or just being incredibly crass. The phrase simply wouldnt be used in any other way, certainly not in any common situation.
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Old 16th March 2019, 12:45 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
It takes a Trumpian degree of willful dishonesty to claim that "Ebit macht frei" isn't supposed to be a direct pun on "Arbeit macht frei". Your prevarication in this post is laughable.
Oh, so most of my family are "Trumpian dishonest" when they say the have never heard the phrase before?

Keep in mind that you and I and most other regulars here on this forum live in an echo-chamber of reason and understanding... we know what these things mean and what they are because we are interested in them... in all likelihood, its why we are here in the first place. Joe Public may or may not know or have heard of the phrase, but there is no reason to call them "dishonest" just because they don't.
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Old 16th March 2019, 06:36 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
Oh, so most of my family are "Trumpian dishonest" when they say the have never heard the phrase before?

Keep in mind that you and I and most other regulars here on this forum live in an echo-chamber of reason and understanding... we know what these things mean and what they are because we are interested in them... in all likelihood, its why we are here in the first place. Joe Public may or may not know or have heard of the phrase, but there is no reason to call them "dishonest" just because they don't.
While the tone* of his post is kinda off, his point was correct.

This was a German-speaking executive addressing a German-speaking audience at an event in Germany. The speaker understood the pun. The audience understood the pun. The fact that your relatives in NZ aren't as familiar with it does not make it any less an atrocious faux pas.


*ETA: The tone wasn't really off. He was addressing, not you, but another poster. The willful ignorance quotient is much higher in said poster.
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Old 16th March 2019, 07:12 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
Oh, so most of my family are "Trumpian dishonest" when they say the have never heard the phrase before?

Keep in mind that you and I and most other regulars here on this forum live in an echo-chamber of reason and understanding... we know what these things mean and what they are because we are interested in them... in all likelihood, its why we are here in the first place. Joe Public may or may not know or have heard of the phrase, but there is no reason to call them "dishonest" just because they don't.
There is a difference between Joe Public, though, and the CEO of Volkswagen. Diess cannot be reasonably defended as ignorant of what he was saying.

Diess made this pun during a meeting in Germany, and it was German domestic media, not "SJWs" on the internet, who first called him out for it.
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Old 16th March 2019, 07:16 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
I for one find the bolded statement to be utterly duplicitous. It simply beggars belief that Diess did not realize he was directly referencing the "Arbeit macht frei" slogan when he said "Ebit macht frei". It's an obvious aural pun, the connection is the whole point.

Gonna disagree with you here. I think it was just a very poor word choice. Maybe he remembered the slogan but didn't connect it in his mind to the Holocaust. If there's any company going out of its way to distance itself from the Nazis, it's Volkswagen.

And Hugo Boss.

Also, Switzerland.
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Old 16th March 2019, 11:37 PM   #27
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Is it safe to say that he did Nazi that coming?
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Old 17th March 2019, 01:36 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Foolmewunz View Post
While the tone* of his post is kinda off, his point was correct.

This was a German-speaking executive addressing a German-speaking audience at an event in Germany. The speaker understood the pun. The audience understood the pun. The fact that your relatives in NZ aren't as familiar with it does not make it any less an atrocious faux pas.


*ETA: The tone wasn't really off. He was addressing, not you, but another poster. The willful ignorance quotient is much higher in said poster.
Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
There is a difference between Joe Public, though, and the CEO of Volkswagen. Diess cannot be reasonably defended as ignorant of what he was saying.

Diess made this pun during a meeting in Germany, and it was German domestic media, not "SJWs" on the internet, who first called him out for it.

I have little doubt that you are both right; he very likely knew what he was saying.

MY point was that his age might come into it... the younger someone is, the less likely it may be that they might recognize the phrase.

I tried another little history experiment today, on my staff. I have three female staff members, they are 19, 25 and 38 respectively.

I printed out this list of names and asked them to tick off which ones they recognized and what they had in common

Sachsenhausen
Dachau
Chelmno
Treblinka
Flossenburg
Auschwitz
Warsaw
Belsen
Majdanek
Theresienstadt
Neuengamme

The two youngest ones only ticked Auchwitz, Belsen and Dachau.

- the 19 yr old knew they were something to do with Germany and WW2 but couldn't say what.

- the 25 yr old picked they were "German concentration camps" but she didn't realize that they were not all in Germany and was surprised when I told her some were in Poland and the Czech Republic

- the 38 year old picked the same three plus Treblinka, Buchenwald and Chelmno. She knew they were concentration camps but thought that all camps had gas chambers and were death camps.

I have come to the conclusion that our education system is deficient in teaching history.
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Old 17th March 2019, 07:08 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
I have little doubt that you are both right; he very likely knew what he was saying.

MY point was that his age might come into it... the younger someone is, the less likely it may be that they might recognize the phrase.
I think the other point, though, is that if the speaker had not recognized the phrase, he would not have used the phrase. The phrase, "ebit macht frei", doesn't make much sense all by itself. (I asked the earlier question just to confirm that, but it is the consensus that that's correct. The only reason to say it was as a pun on the more famous phrase.)

I think where youth comes into it is that for young people, the relatively recent past might seem like the very distant past. I can remember making some Hitler jokes as a teenager, or seeing pop culture references to Nazis, like the Star Trek episode, and thinking of all that as ancient history. It didn't really sink in that there were 50 year old people living near me that were actual survivors of the war or of the holocaust. Had I even thought about it, 50 would have seemed like ancient history to me anyway, but somehow 50 years old looks a lot different to me today than it did then.

So, thinking of something as ancient history, a young person might see no more harm in a reference to Hitler than they would to a reference to Atilla the Hun. It might not sink in that there are still people alive today who were victims, and there are quite a lot of people whose parents were victims.
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Old 17th March 2019, 03:44 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
I think the other point, though, is that if the speaker had not recognized the phrase, he would not have used the phrase. The phrase, "ebit macht frei", doesn't make much sense all by itself. (I asked the earlier question just to confirm that, but it is the consensus that that's correct. The only reason to say it was as a pun on the more famous phrase.)

I think where youth comes into it is that for young people, the relatively recent past might seem like the very distant past. I can remember making some Hitler jokes as a teenager, or seeing pop culture references to Nazis, like the Star Trek episode, and thinking of all that as ancient history. It didn't really sink in that there were 50 year old people living near me that were actual survivors of the war or of the holocaust. Had I even thought about it, 50 would have seemed like ancient history to me anyway, but somehow 50 years old looks a lot different to me today than it did then.

So, thinking of something as ancient history, a young person might see no more harm in a reference to Hitler than they would to a reference to Atilla the Hun. It might not sink in that there are still people alive today who were victims, and there are quite a lot of people whose parents were victims.
[temporary sidetrack]
I run into the same issue with young people who are JFK CT's.

1963 seems like ancient history to people in their 20s, but they forget that it was less than 20 years after WW2, and the man JFK succeeded as President was actually a General and a key Allied leader in that war. They don't understand that much of the technology in terms of things like movie and still cameras, film stock, x-ray machines, recording equipment in the early 1960s was often either the same equipment or hardly better than what was available during WW2. Stuff like that was designed and built to last, as opposed to today where we pretty much have build-in redundancy. They see CTs in the fact the Zapruder and other movies are blurry and not pin-sharp like their own digital home movies.
[/temporary sidetrack]
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Old 17th March 2019, 09:06 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
[temporary sidetrack]
I run into the same issue with young people who are JFK CT's.

1963 seems like ancient history to people in their 20s, but they forget that it was less than 20 years after WW2, and the man JFK succeeded as President was actually a General and a key Allied leader in that war. They don't understand that much of the technology in terms of things like movie and still cameras, film stock, x-ray machines, recording equipment in the early 1960s was often either the same equipment or hardly better than what was available during WW2. Stuff like that was designed and built to last, as opposed to today where we pretty much have build-in redundancy. They see CTs in the fact the Zapruder and other movies are blurry and not pin-sharp like their own digital home movies.
[/temporary sidetrack]
[continued sidetrack] I put this in perspective for myself once by comparing what I felt as a baby-boomer, was "recent" history. We'd just come out of WWII and the bad guys in most movies still had swastikas on the hats or airplanes or tanks, so WWII qualified as "recent". The immediately prior periods, not so much. The Great Depression, Roaring 20s, WWI,... ? That was History with an upper case H. But I now look back and remember the seminal moments in my own history and have to realize that JFK's assassination, which seems like yesterday to me, was more than five decades ago, and that as it relates to my 1963 self, to today's young 'uns, it's even more ancient than those upper-case H historical items I dismissed when I was younger. When Glenn circled the globe, my mom and dad were still remember the 30s like I still remember the space race and Kennedy's assassination.

I'll try to think of mom when I'm doing my Get Off Your Lawn routine and can't believe that some young whipper snapper doesn't know what "The Checkers Speech" was.

I think the correlation between age and knowing some of these answers (like the names and locations of concentration camps) is also explained by learning more as you get older, not necessarily that people aren't being taught those topics. I grew up in a liberal city in the 50s and can't recall having been "taught" the names and locations of the camps. I knew that they were there and that they were mostly outside of Germany and what their purpose was, but I only learned precise details by independent reading at an older age.
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Old 18th March 2019, 01:46 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
I have little doubt that you are both right; he very likely knew what he was saying.

MY point was that his age might come into it... the younger someone is, the less likely it may be that they might recognize the phrase.
You need to take into account the difference between NZ education and German education, at least wrt the Nazis.

Doing your experiment with Kiwis is a largely pointless exercise to determine whether it is reasonable for a German to recognise this stuff.
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Old 18th March 2019, 02:22 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by Tolls View Post
You need to take into account the difference between NZ education and German education, at least wrt the Nazis.

Doing your experiment with Kiwis is a largely pointless exercise to determine whether it is reasonable for a German to recognise this stuff.
You don't even have to be a German to recognize this. Merely being a European is enough.

Over 100.000 of the Dutch jews were transported to Nazi camps, most of those proudly said 'Arbeit macht Frei', with only 5000 to return.

No. As a German you don't get to make puns on this slogan.
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Old 18th March 2019, 02:26 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
'Whatever you do, don't mention the war! I did once, but I think I got away with it.'
"You started it!"
"No we didn't."
"Yes, you did, you invaded Poland!"
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Old 18th March 2019, 02:27 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by dudalb View Post
Yeah, the company that sells the car that Hitler helped designed.
OF coure the Volkswagen of the 1930's was a huge scam;the money customers paid on the installment plan went straight to the military budget and, of course none of them ever got a car.
I'm sure some of them got to drive a Kübelwagen in due course, though.
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Old 19th March 2019, 02:09 AM   #36
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Everybody is mad at this guy, but consider how much putting the slogan over the entrance of every VW factory would boost productivity.
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Old 19th March 2019, 12:39 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
I agree, although I have never heard anybody pronounce it e-bit (it's always e-bee-eye-tee).

My experience is that it is most often written EBITA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, and Amortization) and pronounced "ee-bit-uh". Doesn't make sense to me for someone to use it the way it was done in the OP unless it was a deliberate reference.
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