Forward Thinking

It's a Nazi Slogan, Dude

By Liam Hoare

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Readers might not expect a lot of historical analysis from the British tabloid The Daily Mail. But it shouldn’t be too much for the editors to at least remember Nazi Germany and some of its signature evil.

That’s why it was particularly disturbing to see this item uncovered by the Twittersphere this morning from a piece published last month by columnist Dominique Jackson, in which she somehow forgot to mention the concentration camp provenance of the notorious slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

The German slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” is somewhat tainted by its connection with Nazi concentration camps, but its essential message, “work sets you free” still has something serious to commend it. There is dignity to be gained from any job, no matter how menial, and for young people at the start of their careers, there are valuable lessons to be learned from any form of employment, whether that is on the factory floor, on a supermarket till or in the contemporary hard labour camp of a merchant bank or law office.

First of all, I love that Jackson feels the need to hedge her remarks, referring to the mantra Arbeit Macht Frei as a “German,” rather than Nazi, slogan. She also says it is only “somewhat” tainted, as if the experience of forced labour in Europe was not all that bad. Her feelings on this are reminiscent of people who would always say that Hitler wasn’t such a terrible guy because he built the Autobahn.

Also deliciously absent from her work is any feeling for irony. Jackson really does seem to believe that Arbeit Macht Frei, the expression, etched onto the gates of camps across Eastern Europe, for which the term irony was perfectly conceived, has an “essential message.” The message? That work does indeed set you free, and that this lesson can be detached from the historical context in which it was most infamously used and applied to any real world situation. She then goes on, seemingly without irony once more, to refer to the work environment of an investment bank as a “contemporary hard labour camp”.

Jackson’s observations are obviously fantastically ignorant and almost too ridiculous to even take seriously. But they are also unfortunate, since they confirm the worst suspicions watchers have about The Daily Mail. Its writers (and those who approve their work, apparently) would appear to be genuinely of the opinion that the United Kingdom would be improved by having all young people interned in draconian labour programmes as a means of bettering them. A rather regrettable thought, you might say, for a newspaper which has consistently demonised the poor, immigrants, and asylum seekers, flirted with neo-fascists, and in the early 1930s published an editorial arguing that the “minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing on Germany.”


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