Posts tagged ‘himmler’

December 18, 2009

Iconic sign stolen from Auschwitz death camp memorial

THE THIEVES CAME BETWEEN 3:30 and 5:00 this morning. Somehow they cut a gap through the fence and circumvented the guards without being seen or heard. The four meter long sign was impossible to miss – it spelled out the words Arbeit macht frei and could be seen from a considerable distance. Working fast, they unscrewed it from above the gate where it had hung for nearly seventy years, loaded it onto a waiting vehicle and made off with it before anyone knew what had hit them. Now the theft of a sign is always trouble, but it becomes an international incident when the place from which it was stolen is called Oswiecim – better known to the outside world as Auschwitz.

World reaction has been fierce. Poland’s deputy foreign minister Andrzej Kremer spoke of a “shocking act,” since the sign “is the key symbol of this concentration camp.” Israel’s vice prime minister Silvan Schalom spoke of “an appalling deed” that represented a “desecration” of this historic site. Avner Schalev, president of the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, called the theft an attack on memory and “an escalation of those elements that would like to lead us back to darker days.” However, former president Lech Walesa has suggested that the theft is “a criminal act” rather than a political action. But so far, the police have no leads. The Polish state has posted a reward of 5,000 Zloty (1,200 Euros) for information that could lead to the apprehension of the perpetrators.

But why did the Nazis install such a bizarre sign in the first place instead of a more honest statement, such as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”? In fact, the sign’s striking irony drives home both the horror and the perverted idealism of the Nazis’ reign of terror in Europe from 1933 to 1945…