For people the world over, few relics have come to symbolise the Nazi Holocaust more than the infamous wrought-iron sign straddling the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp, bearing the cynical words Arbeit Macht Frei – “Work sets you free”. The gate itself was constructed under German orders by Polish political prisoners who had arrived in late 1940 and early 1941.
Its construction was part of a general overhaul of the camp, which included replacing temporary barbed wire with high-voltage fencing and concrete posts. The 5m (16ft) sign was made by prisoners in the metalworking detail under Jan Liwacz, a master blacksmith. It is believed that, in an act of defiance which went unnoticed, the prisoners reversed the B in Arbeit, giving it the appearance of being upside down.
|Arbeit Macht Frei|
The phrase Arbeit Macht Frei itself was coined by the 19th Century linguist, ethnologist and author Lorenz Diefenbach. The Nazis latched on to it and a sign bearing the inscription appeared at the Dachau concentration camp, set up by Heinrich Himmler in 1933 to use dissidents as slave labour. The phrase later became part of the Nazis’ deception for the real use of the concentrations camps. Ultimately for most the freedom referred to could only be achieved in death.
Now, in an act of gross disrespect the sign was stolen, apparently for financial gain last week. The 90lb bronze sign, which topped the main entrance gate at the memorial site, has since been found in northern Poland following a nationwide hunt. It had been broken into three pieces. Five men, aged between 25 and 39, were arrested and taken to the southern city of Kraków, the nearest main city to Auschwitz, for questioning. The sign, which translates to “work sets you free” was stolen before dawn on Friday. The theft prompted international outrage.
Andrzej Rokita, the local police chief in Krakow – where the men were being questioned – said the theft had been financially motivated, and it remained unclear whether it was carried out to order. “From the information we have, none of the five belong to a neo-Nazi group nor hold such ideas,” Rokita said of the suspects.
Many people seem not to understand why the theft of this simple sign is an act of desecration. More than one million people, mostly Jews, died at the Auschwitz camp, which Nazi Germany built in occupied Poland during the Second World War. Auschwitz – Birkenau is both the grave and memorial for over a million people who were cruelly murdered by the racist Nazi State. The Nuremburg race laws of 1935 established beyond doubt the racist nature of the Nazi State and its fellow travellers. Before being murdered by industrial means in batches of up to 800 and their looted bodies being incinerated in grotesque crematoria the victims at Auschwitz were robbed of their dignity and identity, their names were not even recorded. The Auschwitz Memorial Museum cries defiance at the racists and says these people must be remembered, had names and their lives were important.
As Winston Churchill said in 1944 when the scale of the genocide at Auschwitz became clear;
“There is no doubt this is the most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world, and it has been done by scientific machinery by nominally civilised men in the name of a great State and one of the leading races of Europe.”
That is why our testament to their memory is important and every act of desecration and denial is a twisted attempt to justify the murder of the innocent; Jew, Pole, Russian, Czech, Homosexual, Gypsy, Hungarian, Socialist, Jehovah’s Witness and many more. Men, old people, women and children.
We must not allow their memory to be insulted.
Remember the Shoah and respect the memory of the victims.
For a fuller account of Auschwitz-Birkenau see;
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
For some idea of what has been lost see;
|Gate of Death, Birkenau|