"Arbeit macht frei
" is a German
phrase meaning "work brings freedom" or "work shall set you free/will free you" or "work liberates" and, literally in English, "work makes (one) free".
The slogan is known in the English speaking world for being placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps
In 1872 the German-nationalist
author Lorenz Diefenbach
used the expression "Arbeit macht frei
" as the title for a novel, causing the expression to become well-known in nationalist
circles. It was adopted in 1928 by the Weimar government
as a slogan extolling the effects of their desired policy of large-scale public works
programmes to end unemployment, and mocking the Medieval
slogan "Stadtluft macht frei
" ("City air brings freedom"). It was continued in this usage by the NSDAP
(Nazi Party) when it came to power in 1933.
The slogan "Arbeit macht frei" was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps "as a kind of mystical declaration that self-sacrifice in the form of endless labour does in itself bring a kind of spiritual freedom.
Although it was common practice in Germany to post inscriptions of this sort at entrances to institutional properties and large estates, the slogan's use in this instance was ordered by SS General Theodor Eicke, inspector of concentration camps and first commandant of Dachau Concentration Camp.
The slogan can still be seen at several sites, including the entrance to Auschwitz I—although, according to Auschwitz: a New History, by BBC historian Laurence Rees, it was placed there by commandant Rudolf Höß, who believed that doing menial work during his own imprisonment under the Weimar Republic had helped him through the experience. At Auschwitz, the upper bowl in the "B" in "ARBEIT" is wider than the lower bowl, appearing to some as upside-down. Several geometrically constructed sans-serif typefaces of the 1920s experimented with this variation.
The slogan can also be seen at the Dachau concentration camp, Gross-Rosen, Sachsenhausen, and the Theresienstadt Ghetto-Camp.
At Buchenwald, however, "Jedem das Seine" ("To each his own") was used instead.
In 1938 the Austrian political cabaret writer Jura Soyfer and the composer Herbert Zipper, while prisoners at Dachau Concentration Camp, wrote the "Dachaulied" (The Dachau Song). They had spent weeks marching in and out of the camp's gate to daily forced labor, and considered the motto "Arbeit macht frei" over the gate an insult. The song repeats the phrase cynically as a "lesson" taught by Dachau. (The first verse is translated in the article on Jura Soyfer.)
In popular culture
- British band The Libertines wrote a song entitled "Arbeit Macht Frei". Their song was later used in the 2006 film Children of Men.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Pirates of the Third Reich" depicts gruesome medical experiments by a killer. Over his lab door is the slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei".
- British death metal/grindcore band Carcass recorded a song on their penultimate album Heartwork entitled "Arbeit Macht Fleisch".
- Welsh band Manic Street Preachers' song "A Design for Life" references the phrase in the line "Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free".
- During two episodes of the BBC television program Top Gear, James May says the phrase to Jeremy Clarkson. Once during the caravan holiday episode and once during the road works episode.
- On January 31, 2008, during an episode of the nightly call-in game show Night Loft on German commercial television station ProSieben, the game show hostess used the phrase in a mocking tone to a caller, resulting in her dismissal.
- Portland, Oregon based band The Thermals references this line in the song "An Ear For Baby"
- The Danish punk band "Under Al Kritik" made a song entitled "Arbeit Macht Frei" in 2007.
- The video games website UK Resistance uses "Spiel macht frei" as its slogan, a parody of "Arbeit macht frei".
- Studio Album "Arbeit Macht Frei", released in 1973 by Area, jazz rock/fusion Italian band, consider a masterpiece of progressive rock.
- One of the songs by the American hard rock band Anarchy Club, "Get Clean", which lyrics are based around the Holocaust, contains the line "said about the sign that tells me work will set me free".