Infamous 'sign' stolen from Auschwitz camp

Infamous 'sign' stolen from Auschwitz camp

This picture taken in April 1945 depicts the Auschwitz concentration camp gate, with the inscription ‘Arbeit macht frei’.  AFP

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem, called the theft “an attack on the memory of the Holocaust”. Some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished in the Nazi death camp located in southern Poland during World War II. Prisoners arriving at the camp used to enter via a relatively small iron gate topped by the German-language motto.
More than 500 acres of the former death camp became a museum after the war ended.
“Early this morning (Friday) the guards patrolling the site noticed the sign was not in its place,” Jaroslaw Mensfelt, the museum’s spokesman, said. “We immediately notified the police,” he added.
Mensfelt said many cameras were installed at the site and the local police were now analysing the film. He said no further details regarding the theft were available.
“We have already installed a replica sign over the gate. It has been used in the past when the original was being repaired. I hope the original will quickly be retrieved and the thieves caught,” Mensfelt said.
“This is not only a theft but a horrible profanation in a place where more than a million people were murdered, in the biggest such site in this part of the world. This really is a disgraceful act.”
The wording of the sign became a symbol of the Nazis’ efforts to deceive their victims into a false sense of security before murdering them.
Some Jews and other groups arriving at the camp would have thought they were coming to do forced labour, not to be killed as part of a deliberate systematic policy of genocide.
“I was shocked to learn this morning of the theft of the sign, which has come to symbolise the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust,” a statement by Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem, said.
“While we don’t yet know exactly who stole the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an attack on the memory of the Holocaust and an escalation from those elements that would like to return us to darker days.”
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the museum every year, but ticket sales are not enough to maintain the open-air site with its 155 buildings —including the gas chambers —300 ruined facilities and hundreds of thousands of personal items. Auschwitz prisoners died of diseases, sub-zero temperatures, starvation and in medical experiments as well as being gassed.
In January the museum will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by the Soviet Red Army. It hopes to open a new exhibition in the former prisoners’ barracks chronicling the liberation.

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