Friday, December 18, 2009

Infamous "Arbeit macht frei" Sign Over Auschwitz Entrance Stolen Last Night

I had already been planning a new posting with updates on the status of historic preservation efforts at Auschwitz (including some recent good news), but events often overtake us.

The press office of the historic site and memorial announced that the infamous sign over the gate of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp disappeared in the middle of the night. According to a more detailed report from Haaretz and AP:
Polish police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said local authorities believed the sign was stolen between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., when museum guards noticed that it was missing and alerted the police.

Padlo added that the iron sign, which spanned a gate at the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp, was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other.

The daily Gazeta Wyborcza said on its website that the museum authorities had already installed a replica sign over the gate that had been used briefly a few years ago when the original was being repaired.

"This [theft] is very saddening," Gazeta Wyborcza quoted Jaroslaw Mensfelt, the museum's spokesman, as saying.

"The thieves either didn't know where they were or -- what's even worse -- they did know but that didn't prevent them from stealing."

the gate, through which visitors now enter the site:
1.1 million in 2008, when this photo was taken

Even without vandalism, the preservation of the historic resources of the site has posed a great challenge, for both the facilities and the thousands of artifacts—3,800 suitcases and 12,000 pots and pans, [accidentally omitted: and two tons of human hair,] for example—are in urgent need of conservation. At the start of the year, the Polish government, which has maintained the camp on its own, announced ambitious plans to create a foundation with an endowment of 120 million Euros, the interest of which could perpetually finance these tasks. Just this week, Germany committed to contributing half that amount .

Updates on this story and the overall struggle to preserve the site will follow.

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