Damaged Auschwitz sign to go back up at main gate

Published December 21, 2009 6:46 pm
Crime » Five Polish men are in custody, suspected of stealing the artifact Friday.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The three pieces of the infamous sign proclaiming "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free)" will be welded together and restored to the main gate at the former Auschwitz death camp after an improved security system is put in place to guard against another theft.

Officials at the Auschwitz memorial museum said Monday the new system would be aimed at better protecting not just the recovered sign but many other objects testifying to Nazi crimes -- from two tons of human hair to a trove of written documents to the ruins of gas chambers now sinking into the earth.

"The location of the sign is its only authentic one, above the gate of the former Auschwitz I camp," museum director Piotr Cywinski said. "The sign will return there as soon as possible, after ensuring the protection of its site against damage and burglary."

Surveillance cameras and around-the-clock foot patrols already protect the vast 940-acre site -- which includes Auschwitz I, where the sign was stolen, and nearby Birkenau. But museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said it's now clear that isn't enough and that "the future security system will have to be better."

Mensfelt said police will return the damaged sign to the museum as early as today.

The grim slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" was so counter to the actual function of the camp that it has been etched into history, becoming one of the most recognizable slogans of the Nazi era. The phrase appeared at the entrances of other Nazi camps, including Dachau and Sachsenhausen, but the long curving sign at Auschwitz was the best known.

The sign disappeared under cover of darkness in the bitter cold early Friday. Cywinski said at the time that the brazen theft could only be the work of professional thieves.

But the thieves were unable to outfox an intense, nationwide search and less than three days later, on Sunday, police arrested five Polish men they described as common criminals who were likely seeking profit from the sign found in a snow-covered forest 250 miles from where it was stolen.

Police said they are investigating whether the Nazi memorabilia market may have played a part, but did not yet reveal a motive, saying they were still questioning the men. The suspects do not have known neo-Nazi or other far-right links.

"Robbery and material gain are considered one of the main possible motives, but whether that was done on someone's order will be determined in the process of the investigation," deputy investigator Marek Wozniczka said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said "whatever the motivation, it takes warped minds to steal the defining symbol of the Holocaust from the world's most renowned killing field."



Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
comments powered by Disqus