Work sets you free: the dark side of Nazi camps.

2 weeks ago Sakshi Darpan 0

The years from 1940 to 1945 witnessed utter brutality in the form of concentration and death camps. One of the relics of this bleak history is a phrase- Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates to “Work sets you free”. But why was it written on the Auschwitz entrance? Or any entrance of the Nazi concentration camps such as the Dachau, Theresienstadt, Sachsenhausen, and Gross-Rosen concentration camps? The phrase is not just a reminder of one of the darkest period of world history. It was there for a reason besides cruel mockery of the prisoners. According to the Kingdom of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss might not have intended the phrase as a mockery of the prisoners who spent weeks marching in and out of the camp’s gate to daily forced labor; and nor was it meant literally as a cynical lie for the people that those who worked to exhaustion would eventually be released and be able to live a free life.

entrance of the Nazi concentration camps such as the Dachau

The phrase could rather have meant that endless labour brings a kind of spiritual freedom. But obviously, the prisoners knew there was no viable escape from the ghastly death camps and the insidious horror of the ubiquitous cruelty. When the SS (Schutzstaffel) ordered the prisoners to make this inscription for the Auschwitz camp, they placed a hidden message for the coming generations by turning the ‘B’ upside down in ‘ARBEIT’. It was only natural for them to be enraged by the endless fear and create a mark of their courage to draw some strength from it in times of crisis. The horrendous experiences wouldn’t go away, but the gates they passed through every day did not mock them for being indifferent at least.

Arbeit Macht Frei at the entrance of Nazi camps

There have been many books and articles and speeches on the life of Hitler and Auschwitz which recount the horrors of a little less than five years during which more than one and a half million were killed.  This crime scene of the Holocaust which is visited by tourists from across the globe is preserved perfectly and the scene is almost unchanged from when the photographs were taken after the war. The attempts at erasing evidence of the brutality were abandoned because of the advancing Red Army. Since the liberation of the camp on January 27, 1945, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has preserved pictures which can be compared to the current scenario. The only difference is the yard of the infamous Block 11 which features the ‘Wall of Death’ which was reconstructed after the war as a memorial. And a wall inside an inconsequential room of the empty brick building where clothes and belongings from the victims were disinfected and shipped to journey; the wall is full of photographs that were taken from the deportees right after their arrival to Auschwitz.

upside down ‘B' represents the beatings and torture at the Nazi camps

The International Auschwitz Committee statue of the upside down ‘B’ represents the message from the prisoners who endured the beatings, the rape and the murder from seventy-three years ago- “Remember: when injustices take place when people are discriminated against and persecuted- never remain indifferent. Indifference kills.”

Sakshi Darpan on EmailSakshi Darpan on Wordpress
Intern writer at Global Daily tribune
An amateur writer. A learner. Occasional painter and dancer. Feminist, but guess what? I don't support sexism in the name of feminism. Sapiosexual. Can carry myself off impeccably.