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‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Gate Stolen From Dachau

Overnight theft of wrought-iron gate has memorial site rethinking security

Stephanie Butnick
November 03, 2014
The entrance gate of the former Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany is pictured on November 3, 2014. (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance gate of the former Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany is pictured on November 3, 2014. (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

A wrought-iron gate inscribed with the German words “Arbeit macht frei,” or “work will set you free,” was stolen from the former Dachau concentration camp near Munich over the weekend, the AP reports.

Security officials noticed early Sunday morning that the gate measuring 190 by 95 centimeters (75 by 37 inches) — set into a larger iron gate — was missing, police said in a statement. Whoever stole it during the night would have had to climb over another gate to reach it, they added.

Police reportedly found no evidence of the gate or the theft near the former camp, which operated from 1933 to 1945 and is now a memorial, and asked for tips from anyone who might have seen any suspicious activity or vehicles in the area.

Yad Vashem released a statement following the sign’s disappearance, saying, “While we do not know who is behind the theft of the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an offensive attack on the memory of the Holocaust.”

It’s not the first time concentration camp gates with the notorious Nazi slogan have been stolen. In 2009, the entrance gates to Auschwitz, also bearing those words, was stolen. It was recovered, though it had been cut into three pieces.

While stealing a large, wrought-iron gate with a Nazi slogan is likely the work of someone more motivated than a bored trouble-maker (indeed, the Auschwitz culprit was a Swedish neo-Nazi sympathizer, who was charged and imprisoned in Sweden), there has also been a troubling proliferation of lesser theft and vandalism at concentration camps this year. In April, an Italian tourist was arrested at Krakow’s John Paul II airport when it was discovered he had stolen more than two feet of barbed wire from Auschwitz. In July, a German teacher was similarly arrested at the concentration camp for stealing 10 small items—including a fork, shards of pottery, and a piece of a scissor—which he claimed he wanted to bring back to show his students, who were learning about the Holocaust. Staff at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum have been stymied by the thefts, as well as by the discovery of names of visitors etched into walls.

Administrators at Dachau now face similar questions as the staff at Auschwitz: namely, how to combat theft and vandalism without resorting to off-putting tactics like security cameras and looming guards. According to the AP, though a private security service oversees the site, memorial director Gabriele Hammermann said her team had until now objected to surveillance cameras to avoid turning the memorial in what she described as a “maximum-security unit.” That decision, she said, might be reviewed.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.