“Our work makes us free,” a high-ranking National Socialist shouted to his so-called comrades in the middle of the Second World War. In doing so, he not only continued the long tradition of “German work,” according to which Germans are said to have a very special relationship with work. At the same time, he modified a widespread concentration camp inscription. Because “Work makes you free” was emblazoned on the camp gates of Auschwitz, Dachau, Sachsenhausen and elsewhere.
But what does the sentence actually mean? Whose work sets whom free? And above all: from what? To answer these questions, Nikolas Lelle takes a look at texts by Shoah survivors Primo Levi, Jean Améry and Tibor Wohl, who each wrote texts about the Nazi motto “Work makes you free.” Dealing with Nazi ideology and its “Meanings” is still a challenge today. Because how can it be that, on the one hand, this sentence is taboo, and on the other hand, the extreme right constantly plays with it and it degenerates into a hashtag on social media platforms? Only a successful reappraisal of the past can enable society to face its past and present.
Nikolas Lelle has been working at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation since 2020 and is primarily concerned with anti-Semitism, the memory of National Socialism and “German work”. Previously, after studying philosophy and sociology in Frankfurt am Main and Mainz, he received his doctorate in social philosophy at the Humboldt University of Berlin.