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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Arbeit macht Frei

Above the gates of Auschwitz wrought in iron stands this promise or threat "Work makes man Free." It is a vague enough statement that left to interpretation is a promise to the workers. "If you do your duty, put your backs to the grindstone you will find freedom." implied in prosperity. Work is paid for. Auschwitz, never told the truth about itself. It was called a work camp. It was a place to find redemption for the condition of being undesirable. Gypsies would learn to work rather than galavant about the countryside doing what gypsies do in an affront to common folk. Jews would work for their wages instead of stealing it as the common misconceptions about Hebrew bankers stated. In rehabilitating undesirables, the camps could be seen as a virtue to the folks of Germany. And honestly, with the "Jewish Problem" and the "Gypsy Problem" taken care of, most the rest of Europe would have been content to ignore Auschwitz forever.

It was only upon entering the camp that those interred would come to understand just how to interpret the words "Arbeit macht Frei". They would learn what British and American coal miners learned in the early days of industrialization. They only freedom from the company store, as Ernie Ford called it, was Death. Where one convinced one's self of release upon completion of work, they all knew the only way out was Death. As in all matters of the human existence, the only Freedom that one truly has from the trials and tribulations of life is to no longer be here to suffer. The Afterlife is the only way out.

Left to interpretation for bureaucratic purposes, the Nazi's told those entering Auschwitz exactly how to get out and exactly what the conditions of their experience would be until they decided to assume that glorious position at the foot of God. The people of Auschwitz were worked to death as was the Horse in Animal Farm. The Horse worked not for the Pigs, not for his fellow animals, the Horse worked because he must work for his spirit. Man also works because man must. We are not built for hours upon hours of idleness. We each are called to produce something and given the gifts and skills to cultivate in order to make our calling tangible. Not all work is equal.

The horse is considered a noble creature. In part, I suspect, it is due to the incredible weights and loads that the animal can bear. It's prowess in strength of work has given it mythic proportions and has given a value scale to the work that men do. The more one sweats and toils the more the work is valued... for the lesser classes. The least one sweats and toils while collection abundant reward in the higher classes the more we seem to value that work. Working to the point of death is seen as heroic or a duty to some. But sweat seems to be an obligation. It was this obligation to sweat the Nazi's forced out of the Jews and Gypsies; sweat to punish them for circumstances of birth and economics to serve a political purpose. Sweat extracted from a half truth.

It is not work that makes man free. Rather it is the ability to choose one's work that makes man free.

There was truly no freedom offered in Auschwitz. The choice of work did not belong to the inmates. Their skills were not applied in such a way to suit the spirit. In fact the work was chosen to break spirits and speed Death's arrival. When men can not chose for themselves, when the kind of work one does is imposed, when the kind of work one is good at is valued only on the amount of sweat it produces rather than in the satisfaction of the soul that work is demeaning. Arbeit macht Frei only when it allows the Soul to soar in its production. However, as at Auschwitz, we use work to reduce men rather than elevate them.

There are bloated men with equally bloated egos sitting behind desks all day calling for men they deem lazy to build walls to the South. These are the kinds of people who do not value the work of others, who would suppress worker wages while complaining that American wages are too high. Still others sit from their positions of comfort and decide that other work isn't valuable because it isn't hard, it doesn't break the back or produce sweat. Work must be in accord with one's spirit and strength. Sweating for the sake of sweating is no reward for anything. Work for work's sake is not freedom.

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