It is seldom that 3 random words can send shivers down your spine but the words Arbeit Macht Frei do.
Just three ordinary words used many times in daily life and yet they also mean total horror. The literal translation is Work makes free, I know they are often translated as works set you free, even by me, but I think that is wrong, the literal translation is what should be used.
‘Work sets you free’ has more of a condition attached to it, it is not a definite, for there is this silent’but’. Whereas ‘Work makes free’ it states exactly that it makes free for definite.
The Nazi regime turned so many things into weapons, including words. The phrase or slogan ‘Arbeit mach frei ‘was one of the most powerful psychological weapons. It gave the victims a sense of hope. If they would work they would be free. Even after arriving at the Concentration and death camps ,where the slogan was used at the gates, there were selections.
Again creating that illusion and false hope that people were selected for different kinds of works. Soon enough though it became clear that this was not the case.
Not only did the Nazis massacre millions of Jews and other groups of people they deemed to be subhuman,they also caused so much psychological damage to those few who survived. Psychological damage not only caused by the daily horrors they witnessed but also by these blatant lies, the promise that work makes free, creating the hope if I just work my family and I will be free at some stage. This was another psychological crime committed by the Nazis, ensuring that where possible families would be transported together, They even allowed them to bring some possessions ,again making the victims believe that. yes, the situation was bad but it could be worse. At least they were still together.
Only to be torn apart after they arrived at the Concentration camps.
Despite everything there were some brave people who were defiant. The slogan over the entrance to Auschwitz I , was erected by order of commandant Rudolf Höss, and was made by prisoners. As an act of defiance they turned the letter ‘B’ upside down.
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