Arbeit Macht Frei

“What do you think their thoughts were on seeing this?” We were standing before the very first sight that met prisoners as they arrived at Dachau concentration camp – a black, metal gate bearing the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei‘. Tom, our guide was eager to garner our participation. After a long silence a few hesitant suggestions arose, with the general consensus being: “If you work hard, you will be freed”.

This slogan was sited at the entrance of a number of Nazi concentration camps and after weeks of working to exhaustion under conditions of severe brutality, the motto came to be despised by prisoners as an insulting mockery.

So it was with disbelief that I read about the recent use of the slogan in an online article by the Daily Mail entitled “Why our new legions of unemployed graduates need to adjust their expectations”

The following paragraph was hurriedly deleted after it was brought to light by good, old Twitter:

“The German slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ is somewhat tainted by its connection with Nazi concentration camps, but its essential message, ‘work sets you free’ still has something serious to commend it.

There is dignity to be gained from any job, no matter how menial, and for young people at the start of their careers, there are valuable lessons to be learned from any form of employment, whether that is on the factory floor, on a supermarket till or in the contemporary hard labour camp of a merchant bank or law office.”

Read more here and here

What do you think? Can there be any justification for adopting the slogan in this way? Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Nicky

    I think it’s tasteless, and it actually detracts from the point she’s trying to make, which in itself isn’t controversial and is probably along the right lines (hard graft = good, you’re not ‘owed’ anything, etc.). It’s completely inappropriate… “somewhat tainted”!! x

    • KarenGuttridge

      I agree. I can see what she was trying to say but it’s really no-go when it comes to using anything associated with concentration camps!

  • Jake Lunniss

    This is almost unbelievable. A little like saying the Nazis had some things right. If the Nazis weren’t German (and therefore incapable of irony…) one could view ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ as a twisted joke – the ‘freedom’ that came from work was death, not release from the camp.

    Somewhat tainted… Jesus.

    • KarenGuttridge

      Exactly. I still can’t believe that anyone could even contemplate using the words to promote their article but – yes – the greatest insensitivity is surely the belittling words “somewhat tainted”. Shame.

  • Marian

    Not only did this woman wrongly and distastefully equate the Auschwitz slogan to a huge present day youth unemployment problem, but she also has no idea what young graduates are coming up against in the struggle to find any sort of employment. Far from being ‘set free’ by hard work, they are having to accept UNPAID placements or internships in the private, public and international sectors where they are exploited 100% for the ‘job experience’ factor. Just how are you supposed to survive on a zero salary? So, unless they do an evening job too, so as to be able to support themselves, or have parents who are able to support them economically, they are certainly not ‘free’. And as for accepting ‘menial’ jobs, I know a graduate who was told he was over-qualified to be a cashier at his local supermarket and that he should aim higher! Another girl who applied to work in a coffee house chain discovered that there were another 50 applicants for the same job queuing up ahead of her. Undoubtedly there are a certain number of kids with university degrees who think they are the answer to every employer’s dream but why don’t these journalists research their facts a little bit better before they start pontificating?!!

    • KarenGuttridge

      Hi Marian – I agree wholeheartedly with you on the graduate issue as I have 3 children who have just experienced the university process (or are on the verge of doing so). In the hugely competitive marketplace, employers are fully aware that graduates will accept unpaid placements in order to pad out their CV but as you say – who can live on thin air…?!

      As for the insensitive use of “Arbeit Macht Frei” – I was speechless on first reading the article and still am!