Not Saussure

September 3, 2006

Work Makes You Free

Filed under: history, Politics, Russia/USSR — notsaussure @ 1:41 am

Last Thursday, The Daily Telegraph reported an unfortunate slip by an Italian politician:

An Italian politician has used the “work makes you free” slogan used on the gates at Auschwitz in a brochure to promote local job centres.

Tommaso Coletti said he could not remember the source but was impressed by the quote.

“Work makes you free. I don’t remember where I read this phrase but it was one of those quotes that have an instant impact on you because they tell an immense truth,” Mr Coletti, the president of Italy’s southern Chieti province and member of the centre-left “Daisy” party, wrote in the pamphlet.

There was a bit of a discussion at Mr Eugenides about the origins of the phrase Arbeit macht frei and its left-wing connotations. I’ve at last found the reference for which I was looking and, rather than post there again, I’m putting it here.

In her study of the Soviet camps, Gulag: A History, Anne Applebaum writes

If it was not dark, if they were not ill, and if they were interested enough to look up, the first thing the prisoners saw on arrival was their camp’s gate. More often than not, the gate displayed a slogan. On the entrance into one of the Kolyma lagpunkts “hung a plywood rainbow with a banner draped over it which read: “Labour in the USSR is a Matter of Honesty, Glory, Valour and Heroism!” Barbara Armonas was welcomed to a labour colony in the suburbs of Irkutsk with the banner:”With Just Work I Will Pay My Debt to the Fatherland”. Arriving in Solovetsky in 1933 — it had by then become a high-security prison — another prisoner saw a sign reading: “With an Iron Fist, We Will Lead Humanity to Happiness!” Yuri Chirkov, arrested at age fourteen, was also confronted with a sign at Solovetsky which read: “Through Labour — Freedom!” — a slogan which is about as uncomfortably close as it is possible to get to the slogan that hung over the gates of Auschwitz. (pp 172 -173)


1 Comment »

  1. Good spot. Rather than a simple spectrum, political opinions form a circle; between extreme right and extreme left there’s often very little to choose.

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — September 3, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

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