Arbeit Macht Frei
13 1/2" x 18", b&w acrylic, 1994

"Schindler's List" belongs up there on my list of top movies of all time. Leonard Maltin states in his Movie Guide that "This (movie) looks and feels like nothing Hollywood has ever made before." As a moviegoer, I can honestly say that this movie looked and felt like nothing I had ever seen before. At the same time, PBS television stations were broadcasting many documentaries about the Holocaust. I happened to catch one in mid broadcast showing newsreel footage of a smiling survivor during the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. The scene of that smiling survivor left an indelible image in my mind. It was the first time I had ever seen a Holocaust survivor pose in such a dignified manner. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before.

When the documentary ended, the image of that smiling survivor crept back into my mind. Interested in seeing the documentary in its entirety, I consulted the TV Guide listings hoping PBS would repeat the program so I can record it on VHS tape. In true PBS fashion, they repeated the program a few days later. This time, I ended up viewing the documentary in its entirety. Once again, I was mesmerized by this smiling survivor. For some reason, I had to celebrate this man's fortitude by immortalizing him in a painting. In the tradition of both WWII newsreel footage and "Schindler's List",
I decided to do the painting in black & white.

I have always been fascinated by WWII Holocaust documentaries. The inhumanity displayed on such a grand scale is hard to fathom. What I find equally hard to fathom was the slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" placed at the entrances of a number of Nazi concentration camps. It is a German phrase meaning, "work brings freedom", or literally, "work makes free". Rooted in popular German culture since 1872, it had deeper significance in the form of "sacrifice through hard work brings a kind of spiritual freedom". Used by the Nazi Party in 1933 to praise the effects of hard work, the slogan was viewed by many prisoners as a mockery and insult. It's hard to disagree with them.

I don't consider this painting an "original" work of art since I copied a large part of the image from another medium (television). Because this painting was done over a decade ago, I don't remember if I copied the television image faithfully or made subtle changes to it. One thing for sure, I added a vulture in the upper left corner that wasn't in the original television image. The strange thing about this painting is that I had totally forgotten about it when I discovered it in a pile of drawings a year ago. If I hadn't found it, I would have gone to my grave unaware of ever having created such a thing.