Somebody Stole the Sign

FROM OVER THE gates at Auschwitz, Arbeit Macht Frei. Which reminds me about a notion I’ve had for years.

The phrase Arbeit Macht Frei is generally translated into English as Work Makes [You] Free. Which, if you’re not a stickler, can allow you to shrug and say, “Close enough for government work.” Which, after all, it was.

But Arbeit doesn’t really translate 100% to the denotations and connotations of the English word “Work.” And, of course, there never is a 1:1 correspondence between two words in any pair of languages — even direct borrowings, like le cheeseburger, will inevitably drift apart form their source over time.

But Arbeit really translates more accurately to labor. At least, in this context. Fair enough. After all, Auschwitz really was a slave labor camp.

Which makes whoever comissioned that sign and had it put there a real cynical SOB.

I think that, if one were to really put forth an accurate statement of that concept, however, the original German should have read Taten Machen FreiDeeds Make You Free. For, while labor does confer benefits on the laborer beyond his wage, it is the accomplishment, the encompassing of deeds that truly make a man free, independent, capable of standing on his own two feet.

Yes, I am very much aware that Arbeit is the noun used in the description of Work in physics. Don’t bother to write. You’re missing my point if you do.

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