Last Friday morning the sign ‘Arbeit Macht Frei‘ (‘Work Sets You Free’) was stolen from the gate of former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, near Krakow. It was originally made [PL] by Polish prisoners of the camp led by Jan Liwacz and is considered one of the most significant symbols of the camp and artifacts of the museum. Its disappearance caused many speculations [PL], but also serious reactions from the Polish government, museum authorities, Jewish organisations and the public online.
On a forum thread dedicated to this issue, user Lestat is saying [PL]:
Now they will have an image of a Pole. They got caught by winter, so they are ready, for a bottle of wine, to sell for scrap the sign which is not only their cultural heritage, but also a symbol of suffering and horrible death.
Mishel is responding, stressing the seriousness of this act [PL]:
Who would have thought that one could steal from such a horrid place, where so many have been murdered. When I see Auschwitz camp, it gives me shivers… Those who stole it must be insane.
Kazimierz Maciejewski, on his blog, links this act to the recent discussions around Catholic crosses in public spaces, comparing the amount of conversations on both topics [PL]:
As we speak, we are witnessing the discussion about banning of symbols from places where the young generation of citizens is educated. Only a few expressed their opinions in favor of banning the cross.
MarkD, whose grandmother was murdered in Auschwitz, in his blog post presents a different opinion [PL]:
This sign is for me 1,000 times less important than the train track stolen by the poor, who this way wanted to secure their basic existence and caused pneumonia of the old man who got a cold while sitting and waiting for the tracks to be fixed.
Today the police informed the public that five people have been arrested as the result of an investigation. The sign has been recovered, but it was found cut into three pieces. The police spokesman, when referring to the motives of the theft, mentioned this:
All leads are being examined, and we are also checking whether the motive was anti-Semitic […]
Later on, it was implied that financial gains from possession of the artifact were more likely to be a possible cause of the theft.
It is unclear how exactly the money would have been made, however. Two days ago, the Polish equivalent of Digg published a link to a site featuring copies of the sign available for sale to support the museum :
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is under financial crisis and needs support. We've come up with the idea of producing replicas of the sign that was stolen from the main entrance gates in order to help aid long-term preservation of the historical site.
Twenty percent of all proceeds will be donated to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Oświęcim, Poland.
Kajetan8 is commenting on this link [PL]:
It's strange how quickly they prepared those copies. They say that if the one to blame is unknown, in 90% of the cases it is the person who gains the most, that's the one who did it.