Auschwitz sign repaired but staying indoors

The infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign that arched over the main entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp has been repaired. It was stolen in December of 2009 and cut into three pieces by Polish thieves hired by Swedish former neo-Nazi Anders Högström. The sign was recovered less than 72 hours after the theft and conservators at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum immediately began the careful work of piecing it back together.

A replica was put in place over the entrance while they restored the original. The sign wasn’t just cleanly cut into three pieces. The thieves tore it from its place, bending, crushing and twisting the wrought iron tubes in the process. There were scratches and dents all over the surface. The “i” in “Frei” actually remained attached to the arch because the thieves weren’t able to wrench it off with the rest of the sign. Restorers therefore had to spend a great deal of time documenting and analyzing the components to fix the damage and determine how best to move forward. They hired a master blacksmith to do the final step of welding the pieces back together. On Wednesday, May 18, officials announced that the sign was intact once more.

They have decided not to return it to its original location, however. Once the sign was fully restored, Piotr Cywinski, the director of the museum, proposed to the International Auschwitz Council that the sign be kept indoors in an environment ideal for its conservation: namely, controlled humidity and a constant temperature between 17 and 19 degrees Celsius. If it were out in the open again, it would quickly degrade so that in a few years it would need to be removed for intensive conservation.

The International Auschwitz Council is a 25-member body composed of Holocaust survivors, historians, religious leaders, human rights workers and others that oversees the historical site. On Thursday they officially confirmed that the sign would be placed in a new exhibition hall inside the museum. The new space is still under development; it will be several years before it’s ready for visitors. The replica will remain outside in the original location.

Restorers unveiled repaired "Arebit Macht Frei" sign in the museum laboratory

2 thoughts on “Auschwitz sign repaired but staying indoors

  1. I am in two minds about the placement of the sign. Its power for the Jews on their way to gas chambers lay in its ironic welcome at the front gates. They were the last written words they saw on this earth.

    On the other hand, if the sign is taken inside and stored under optimal humidity and temperature conditions, it won’t fall apart.

    My sister in law, who was in a different camp, says leave the sign where it belongs, even with its scratches and dents all over the surface.

  2. Isn’t it the wish of most survivors and their descendents that the record of this tragedy be preserved for eternity in order to diminish the prospect of it being repeated? If so, this sign of brutal Nazi logic and deception ought to be preserved just like the films, photos and accounts accumulated over the past half century.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.