“Arbeit Macht Frei” gate stolen from Dachau

In what is becoming a sickening trend, the wrought iron gate bearing the infamous Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will set you free”) at the entrance to the Dachau concentration camp was stolen in the early hours of Sunday. There are private security guards on the premises, but the camp has no surveillance system, a deliberate choice to eschew the ugly association of constant monitoring.

Gabriele Hammermann, [Director of Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial], said Monday. “We have irregular guard patrols six to seven times per night at the camp, but all of the former concentration camps in Germany have so far not installed cameras, as we do not want to make these locations once again a high-security facility in respect for the deceased.”

The theft happened while the guards were patrolling sometime between 11:45 PM Saturday and 5:30 AM Sunday. The thieves, and there had to have been at least two of them, scaled the outer gate to reach the wrought iron one, then removed the entire door that carries the slogan off its hinges. They then had the heft it back over the outer gate. Because it’s six-and-a-half-feet high, three feet wide and weighs an estimated 225 pounds, the thieves must have had a getaway vehicle.

Police and state security are investigating the theft. They have appealed to anyone who might have seen a vehicle or suspicious people in the area Sunday morning to come forward with any information. Authorities suspect it may be a politically motivated act by right-wing extremists, although a commissioned theft is certainly possible. It has happened before.

The large “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign above the entrance to Auschwitz was stolen in December of 2009 only to be recovered less than 72 hours later. The thieves were Polish men hired by Swedish neo-Nazi Anders Högström who claimed to have acted solely as a middle man but ultimately pleaded guilty to masterminding the theft and was sentenced to serve two years and eight months in a Swedish prison.

I think this theft is slightly less likely to have been a deranged collector because the sign is not actually original. Dachau was the first concentration camp opened by the Nazi government on March 22nd, 1933, less than two months after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30th. It was built on the site of an abandoned munitions factory on the outskirts of the Bavarian town of Dachau, 10 miles northwest of Munich, as a forced labour camp for political prisoners. One of those political prisoners, Communist Karl Röder, was ordered to craft the iron lettering by the SS in 1936. Röder’s sign was removed after the war. A replica was installed in its place when the memorial was created in 1965.

That does not diminish the symbolic significance of the theft. Dr. Gabriele Hammermann considers it a:

“deliberate, reprehensible attempt to deny and obliterate the memory of the crimes committed in this place. The assault on this relict of highly symbolic importance demonstrates a new dimension, since it is an attempt to demolish the memorial at its very core.”

More than 200,000 people — political prisoners, Jews, homosexuals, gyspies, clergy, reistance fighters, POWs (mainly Poles) — from all over Europe were imprisoned at Dachau in its 12 years of operation. More than 40,000 died from starvation, disease, torture, executions and death marches before US Army forces liberated the camp on April 29, 1945. Today Dachau has the most visitors of any concentration camp memorial in Germany, approximately 800,000 a year.

7 thoughts on ““Arbeit Macht Frei” gate stolen from Dachau

  1. Whenever Dachau’s role in WW2 is softened and downgraded (eg “they didn’t murder millions in the gas chambers there”), I recall Hannah Arendt. She wrote that the camp was itself a vast laboratory in which the Nazis proved that there is no limit to human depravity. Dachau’s medical experiments were not conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were conducted by professional scientists, men trained in the finest medical schools in the world.

  2. Hello Hels,

    What did you mean by this statement?

    “Dachau’s medical experiments were not conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were conducted by professional scientists, men trained in the finest medical schools in the world.”

    I would like to understand your words but got lost there at the end.

    Thank you,


  3. First of all, to ‘eschew’ wrongful stereotyping about ‘the ugly association of constant monitoring’, in particular groups like ‘gyspies’ should rather not be mentioned here.

    When Epimenides the Cretan says that ‘all the Cretans are liars’, would you believe him ? Medical testing by trained professionals may be beneficial and harmful as well, but for obvious reasons that is not holding true for all.

    According to Epimenides: ‘THEFT will probably set you unFREE, and only in some cases rich or healthy’.

  4. I don’t remember seeing the sign when I visited Dachau in 1986, which surprises me, as I was fascinated at the time by the shameless monstrousness of the phrase–so closely analogous to those oxymoronic mottos in Orwell’s 1984 (IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH and so on). Maybe I entered by another gate, or maybe I just don’t remember.

  5. I don’t mean to speak for Hels, but I think the point is that we mustn’t make the common error of imagining the perpetrators of the Holocaust as cartoon monsters, beings not like ourselves. They were in many cases the pillars of their society, considered reasonable and responsible, and not previously known to be given to sadism. That’s part of the horror of Dachau, a very pretty little town—that the camp was built right there, not far from the schools and farms and hospitals, and staffed by talented citizens in much the same way a new business might be.

  6. I am so sorry that we still deal with this. I guess as long as there are humans we will have to. It will never be over.

  7. Where you find Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity you will find antisemitism. Until these churches start to seriously address the issue among their congregations, the cancer will refuse to go into remission.

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