Shared Stories and Warm Thoughts

Irish Businessman Using Nazi Phrase to Further Personal Agenda

Johnny Ronan, Irish property developer and businessman has been publicly criticized this week by former minister of justice Alan Shatter, after he closed his statement to the banking inquiry with “Arbeit macht frei,” or, in English, “work makes you free.”  In the statement, he says that the National Asset Management Agency has ruined his business, and he concludes by quoting the German and then translating it into Irish. This phrase was emblazoned across the gates to many Nazi-run concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Theresienstadt, and Auschwitz, as a deceptive sort of motto which gave inmates false hope and encouraged their participation in camp labor and compliance with the system in place. So, for this rich dude to repurpose it in order to make his complaint sound like it has more weight or is more urgent is disgusting.

the gate to Sachsenhausen, photo by Sally Burnette
the gate to Sachsenhausen, photo by S. Burnette

According to The Irish Times, Shatter said, “I can only presume that he did not know the origin of the phrase or its misuse…” But I think he might want to change “presume” to “hope,” because the fact that Ronan wrote the phrase first in German in his statement is pretty significant. If he had written it in Irish only, then I would be more likely to believe that it was merely an unfortunate choice of words rather than an intentional use of the Nazi phrase to make his plight feel more important.  No, I don’t think Ronan is necessarily a terrible person or that he even meant to be offensive. But the fact is, what he wrote is offensive, and he needs to formally remove it from the statement.

memorial at Płaszow, photo by S. Burnette
memorial at Płaszow, photo by S. Burnette

This situation also reminded me of comments made at the end of July by U.S. GOP presidential candidate and racist, homophobic “Christian” nightmare Mike Huckabee. In reaction to the Iran nuclear arms agreement, Huckabee said that Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” effectively comparing Obama’s support of the agreement with the Final Solution in Nazi Germany. In this case, it’s obvious Huckabee was very aware of what he was saying, flaunting his flagrant disregard for the experiences of others (in true American fashion).

Ronan is no Huckabee, that’s for sure, but their shared invocation of Nazi imagery to bolster their financial/political agendas seems to be culturally telling…

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