I’m not sure if other people have seen the Daily Mail article recently which quoted ‘arbeit macht frei’ as a phrase we should reclaim in relation to graduate recruitment.  First of all let me say I find it deplorable that anyone should use this phrase, it’s obvious Nazi connotations are chilling to say the least.  For those who don’t know it translates roughly as ‘work will set you free’ and this phrase is immortalised above the gates of Auschwitz.  I can’t personally think of another phrase I would less like to ‘reclaim’, I’m sure there’s a million other ways of saying something similar without it being utterly offensive.

Since then though I have seen numerous people on Twitter and elsewhere discussing the sentiment behind the phrase, I hasten to add not the Nazi sentiment but the idea in general that work sets you free.  Below is the Wikipedia extract tracing the origins of the phrase:


“The expression comes from the title of a novel by German philologist Lorenz DiefenbachArbeit macht frei: Erzählung von Lorenz Diefenbach (1873), in which gamblers and fraudsters find the path to virtue through labour.[2] The phrase was also used in French (“le travail rend libre!”) by Auguste Forel, a Swiss ant scientist, neuroanatomist and psychiatrist, in his “Fourmis de la Suisse” [“Ants of Switzerland”] (1920).[3] In 1922, the Deutsche Schulverein of Vienna, an ethnic nationalist “protective” organization of Germans within the Austrian empire, printed membership stamps with the phrase Arbeit macht frei. It was adopted in 1928 by the Weimar government as a slogan extolling the effects of their desired policy of large-scale public works programmes to end unemployment. This use of the phrase was continued by the Nazi Party when it came to power in 1933.”


I’ve seen a lot of people getting rather upset by the idea of work making you free and extolling the virtues of not working at all.  I’ve seen quite a few arguments on both sides, there’s even a book on the subject here http://www.whywork.org/rethinking/whywork/myths.html

I have to say though I’m utterly bemused by the idea of not working.  Yes I love my free time, I enjoy my weekends to the full knowing that they’re only a short respite from the rest of my working week.  I make sure when I take a holiday that I do something interesting and immerse myself in different cultures and cuisines, I explore new places and try things I never otherwise would.  Perhaps if I didn’t work I could do this all the time?  Maybe but on two occasions for different reasons I’ve not worked.  Once as gardening leave and once between ventures when I was much younger.  During both of those times I absolutely hated it, the reason weekends and holidays are so good is because you work, when you don’t work they simply merge.  Working gives you money to do things you want to do, it gives you a self respect of knowing that you’re contributing to society and it gives you a purpose.  I’m not suggesting that if you don’t work then you don’t contribute or you have no self respect because clearly there are many reasons people don’t work.  If you’re not able to for medical reasons, if you’re the parent raising your family while your partner works, if you simply have been unable to find work or simply you’re financially well off and don’t need to work then that’s all fine.  However if you’re able bodied and choose not to work then personally I find that rather sad, frankly you’re missing out on one of the potential joys of life.  Yes there are jobs I’m glad I don’t do and doubtless some are not pleasant but would I choose that over a life of living on benefits through choice? No question I would and I would question a society that allows people to make that lifestyle choice also.