The Concentration Camps
Work or Perish



Prisoners at forced labor build barracks at the Auschwitz camp. Auschwitz, Poland, 1942-1943.

One can still see upon entering the former Auschwitz concentration camp, a sign that states "Arbeit Macht Frei." In English this German phrase means "Work Makes You Free." This was not true of course, but perhaps being physically fit enough to work enabled the prisoner to live another day.

The prisoners in the camps would routinely be selected for one of two lines. If selected for the first line, if you looked like you could work, then you were told to go to the work line. If not, being chosen for the other line meant certain death, quite possibly in the dreaded gas chambers.

Photo credit: Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes in Poland, courtesy USHMM



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