Arbeit Macht Frei: Inter. Greek Scholar

John Reynolds (
Fri, 02 Aug 1996 08:15:04

>Date: Thu, 01 Aug 96 23:15:00 EDT
>From: Edward Kent <>
>To: "Laskkowski (Joan)" <>,
> "Renate Bridenthal (CUNYVM)"Subject: Arbeit Macht Frei
>"Work will make you free" is an old World War II slogan that
> resonates well
>with the current American welfare reform bill which mandates work or
> you're
>out of here.
>There is a bit of a catch that goes back some time and which
> continues to the
>present. Work is not all that easy to come by these days in our
> modern
>post-industrial economy -- and is less easy for some than for others.
>If you will allow me to reminisce a bit -- back in the early l960s
> we were
>young graduate students who were invited to live in Grant Houses on
> 125th St.
>in West Harlem as part of an informal program to desegrigate what
> was then
>exclusively minority housing (Latino and African American). We
> lived in our
>apartment, 14G, 430 W. 125h St., for three years, were joined by a
> young
>German couple amongst the non-minorities and my sister-in-law and
> her Society
>of Friends husband in the next door building -- Yale, Sarah
> Lawrence,
>Haverford, Bryn Mawr were in residence!
>It did not last long, but it did teach us all a few things. Among
> these were
>the fact that many of our fellow residents were not employed -- not
> by
>choice, but because they were no longer welcomed in the labor force.
> Many
>had arrived in Harlem in the first place during WW II from the South
> or
>from Puerto Rico when jobs for minorities were readily available --
> they were
>dumped as soon as the veterans returned home to claim their jobs
> back.
>I recall one middle-aged man, who used to glower at us in the
> elevator,
>so bursting with happiness one day that he had to tell us that he
> had just
>been offered a job as a sweeper at Macy's -- unhappily he was fired
> two weeks
>Another fellow resident, an African American who had married a
> German wife
>while in the military, lost his job as a security guard and we
> watched him
>fall apart in a few weeks time -- baseball in the local playgrounds,
> then
>drinking, and then leaving his family. The early sixties were not a
> time
>when minorities could get post-high school education, if that, and
> were in
>demand for any sort of work apart from politically connected jobs.
> I recall
>Jaime Brugueras, an elderly Latino man whom we were assist getting
> one of
>these, who fainted on his first day pushing corpses around at the
> morgue and
>was laid off.
>Move ahead some thiry years to the hiring and firing policies of my
> Upper
>West Side Manhattan co-op.
>Two years ago we had an African American superintendent; he has now
> retired
>and been replaced by a very able Roumanian (also a good friend) with
> a
>college degree. Two African Americans have been replaced by two
> Eastern
>Two years ago a substitute appointment of an African American was
> made to our
>staff on short notice. It turned out by his admission on his
> application
>papers that he had served two years in prison on an assault charge.
> He had
>been employed in a factory which closed its doors, could not find
> another
>job, had started drinking and got into a bar brawl which led to his
> assault
>conviction, had lost his wife and two step-daughters in the process,
> came
>highly recommended by his parole officer for his sucessful
> rehabilitation.
>He was immediately let go by our co-op board.
>Same summer I got the papers on hiring under Federally funded
> programs kids
>for the summer. Our super was happy to supervise same. Our co-op
> board and
>building agent unanimously agreed that "we don't want any of THEM"
> here.
>So you think jobs are easy to come by? One of my students whose
> family runs
>a restaurant in Brooklyn tells me that any one who want as job can
> have one
>-- his family is happy to hire people off the books for $2.00 per
> hour, but
>they have to work 80 hours a week. If they miss a day for any
> reason, they
>are dumped. They get free food, no benefits.
>So, if any one asks you about the new welfare legislation, you can
> tell them
>that there is a good German slogan that is relevant -- "Arbeit Macht
> Frei" --
>any of the Holocaust suvivors can tell you about it.
>Ed Kent