The plaque on the door of the camp read “Work is Liberty.” What was your reaction when you read it? Why would the Nazi’s have put that there?

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dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

'Arbeit Macht Frei' was not a plaque on a door, it was  scripted in iron over the gated entrance of Auschwitz. (The same inscription appears at Dachau) The reason I clarify is because it was high enough for everyone to read amid the chaos and confusion once off the trains. 'Arbeit Macht Frei' depending upon which holocaust survivor, translated the phrase either 'the work will set you free' or 'work brings freedom'. Many Jewish prisoners believed just that, they were prisoners being sent to 'work camps'. However, it became apparent to family members held hostage in the Warsaw ghettos that once a person boarded the trains (actually cattle cars) to the 'work camps' they were never heard from again. As an historian, the research suggests that the Nazis erected the statement over the gate for two reasons, both psychological. The first was Hitler's psychological deception of what Auschwitz was. 'Arbeit Macht Frei' was the visible sign that served to counter the negative psychological impact the SS were beginning to manifest due to the 'firing squad' methods of mass murder. Secondly, it served as a 'comfort' element for all thousands of people finally off the trains everyday. Think about it, 5-7 days on a railroad car without tiolets, windows, or food. People were scared, children were crying, people died, the smells must have been horrific. Calculated by Hitler, 'Arbeit Macht Frei' were words of relief to all who exited the trains. That relief, combined with loaves of bread being tossed at the passengers as if they were animals was the first step towards implementing Hitler's Final Solution.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The placard placed over Auschwitz about the nature of work and freedom represents the Nazi extent of cruelty.  If it can be imagined the nature of those who entered the death camp, the mentality would certainly be one of struggling to find ways to extricate themselves from such a condition.  The natural tendency would be to examine the sign which indicates that work is akin to freedom. Through their diligent notions of work, those who were entering the camps could be "free" and some notion of a happy ending could be evident.  If those entering the death camps would "work hard," they could achieve freedom.  It is the highest form of cruelty to suggest such a claim because the work those many did at the camps had some semblance of hope and that this could be achieved through their work.  Many who entered were unaware that there could be little, if any, escape from this situation.  There could be no "liberty" nor "freedom" from these camps and to suggest so otherwise is an example of cruelty.