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Warsaw, Poland - State of Emergency Declared after 'Arbeit Macht Frei' Stolen from Auschwitz

Published on: December 18, 2009 02:10 PM
By:  Guardian
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In this photo dated Friday Dec. 18, 2009, provided by the Polish Police, showing the entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau, without the Nazi infamous iron sign inscription declaring Arbeit Macht Frei, German translated to "Work Sets You Free". The original infamous iron sign over the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau was stolen before dawn Friday and the police have launched an intensive search. In this photo dated Friday Dec. 18, 2009, provided by the Polish Police, showing the entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau, without the Nazi infamous iron sign inscription declaring Arbeit Macht Frei, German translated to "Work Sets You Free". The original infamous iron sign over the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau was stolen before dawn Friday and the police have launched an intensive search.

Warsaw, Poland - A state of emergency was announced in Poland today involving tightened border controls and random police checks as a nationwide hunt was launched for the infamous bronze sign to the former German Nazi death camp Auschwitz after it was stolen.

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The discovery on Friday morning that the sign had been wrenched from the top of the entrance gate posts, (as was reported here on VIN News), prompted international reactions of outrage from Washington to London and urgent calls for its return.

Katarzyna Padlo, spokeswoman for police in Oswieczim, (the Polish name for Auschwitz) in south-eastern Poland, said: “We believe the sign was stolen between 3.30am and 5am when museum guards first noticed it was missing and called the police.”

Scores of Polish police were put on the case to investigate the whereabouts of the sign.
Border patrol police were told to be on the lookout for the 5m-long heavy cast-iron plaque that had spanned the entrance gate, over fears that there might have been plans to take it out of the country.

The news of the sign’s disappearance triggered impassioned calls for its return.
Shimon Peres, president of Israel, discussed the theft with Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, in Copenhagen today. “The state of Israel and the Jewish people in their entirety ask that you take the necessary steps to catch the criminals and return the sign to its place,” he told Tusk. “The sign is of profound historical significance both for the Jewish people and the entire world.”

Avner Shalev, president of Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel, said: “This is an attack on the remembrance of the Holocaust,” referring to those responsible as “certain elements who want to take us back to the dark days”.

Jaroslaw Mensfeld, a historian and spokesman for Auschwitz, called the incident “shameful” and said it amounted to the “desecration of a place in which more than a million people were murdered”.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust in the UK, said she was disgusted by the robbery, which she called an “appalling act of vandalism [that showed] gross disregard to all Holocaust survivors and the families of those who lost loved ones there.

“The Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau stands as a universal symbol of the Holocaust and for millions of victims the sign represented the cynical cruelty of Nazi rule.”

Poland’s parliament said the recovery of the sign was being treated as a matter of urgency. “This is regretful and embarrassing,” said Bogdan Borusewicz, chairman of the second parliamentary chamber of the Polish senate. “I just hope they don’t destroy the plaque.”

Andrzej Przewoznik, minister with responsibility for the protection of historical monuments, said: “This is an act of vandalism that knows no equal.”

There was widespread speculation over who might have been behind the robbery, with investigators looking into suggestions that it could have been anyone from scrap metal dealers to Holocaust deniers, from rightwing collectors of Nazi memorabilia to pre-Christmas pranksters, and they are still no closer to solving the mystery.

Police believe a gang was responsible for the robbery because it had apparently been carefully carried out with the perpetrators avoiding attracting the attention of nightwatchmen or being caught on CCTV cameras.

They confirmed that the sign had been unscrewed on one side and pulled off with some force on the other. Sniffer dogs brought to the scene have led police to believe the sign was removed from the camp compound through a hole in the fence before being loaded into a van. After that any trail of the thieves has been lost.

Authorities in the region announced a state of emergency as the hunt for the sign was launched and a nationwide appeal went out urging anyone with any information to contact police. A 5,000 zloty (£1,000) reward was being offered to anyone with information that would lead to the criminals or the whereabouts of the sign. Police were today replaying hours of video footage from the CCTV cameras at the Auschwitz site, which is now a museum.

The Polish ambassador to Israel, Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, said that it was believed the robbery had been “meticulously planned, because they were not caught on security cameras”. She added: “Finding the metal sign has become a national priority.”

Approximately 1.5 million people, mainly Jews, died in Auschwitz which was built in Nazi-occupied Poland. About 500 acres of the former death camp was turned into a museum after the end of the war.

The Arbeit Macht Frei sign was erected by prisoners with metalwork skills on Nazi orders in June 1940, and was a cynical take on the title of an 1873 work by the lexicographer, linguist and novelist Lorenz Diefenbach in which gamblers and fraudsters discover the path to virtue through hard work.

Museum officials have placed a replica of the sign above the gates which was used several years ago while the original was being repaired.


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1

 Dec 18, 2009 at 02:41 PM everybody chill Says:

who cares ? this aint no state of emergency, get a life people!

2

 Dec 18, 2009 at 03:26 PM Anonymous Says:

only in poland can this happen. it has to be a prankster or denier not a collector cause it is worthless, anyone with it will be arrested.

3

 Dec 18, 2009 at 03:43 PM a little too late Says:

They shoul have declared state of emergency in 1939 when our people were murdered. ...!!!!!

4

 Dec 18, 2009 at 03:42 PM Anonymous Says:

The pride of Nazi Germany and Poland is missing ! Find it please...
Let them choke on it.

5

 Dec 18, 2009 at 04:15 PM Anonymous Says:

mistake on the caption on picture - it wasnt on the gate of Auschwitz Birkenau or known as aushwitz 2 the death camp - its was on Auschwitz 1 the work camp - i took a school group there last winter

6

 Dec 18, 2009 at 11:09 PM forgotten Says:

Reply to #3  
a little too late Says:

They shoul have declared state of emergency in 1939 when our people were murdered. ...!!!!!

Eleven million precious lives were lost during the Holocaust of World War II. Six million of these were Polish citizens. Half of these Polish citizens were non-Jews. On August 22, 1939, a few days before the official start of World War II, Hitler authorized his commanders, with these infamous words, to kill "without pity or mercy, all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space [lebensraum] we need".

Heinrich Himmler echoed Hitler's decree: "All Poles will disappear from the world.... It is essential that the great German people should consider it as its major task to destroy all Poles."

7

 Dec 19, 2009 at 02:01 AM frater Says:

Reply to #3  
a little too late Says:

They shoul have declared state of emergency in 1939 when our people were murdered. ...!!!!!

And what is the point of your remark? 1939 was a year of emergency, and until 2-3 years later when the final solution was decided, Poles were murdered pretty much as often as Jews.

8

 Dec 19, 2009 at 02:03 AM frater Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

The pride of Nazi Germany and Poland is missing ! Find it please...
Let them choke on it.

Do you know how many ethnic Poles were murdered in Auschwitz? In Poland, Auschwitz is considered as a place of suffering of the Polish people from the occupier.

9

 Dec 19, 2009 at 04:15 PM terrible Says:

Of course this is terrible! Its the symbol our grandparents passed on their way to death. The perpotrators should be caught and gassed. The symbol of the world death camp is gone.

10

 Dec 19, 2009 at 06:41 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
everybody chill Says:

who cares ? this aint no state of emergency, get a life people!

I don't know how you can say this. This is worse than any desecration of present day Menorahs.
How do we know that the guards weren't in on this? This is an awfully big thing to be able to be stolen. It couldn't have taken a short time.

11

 Dec 19, 2009 at 06:46 PM Avi Says:

Reply to #1  
everybody chill Says:

who cares ? this aint no state of emergency, get a life people!

Perhaps a "state of emergency" sounds a little overblown, but I bet you'd be one of the first to make denigrating comments about Poland if they were treating this as a run-of-the-mill theft.

Poland was a conquered nation during WWII. In fact, they were conquered while the rest of the world looked on in apathy. Their concern over this matter should be commended, not belittled.

13

 Dec 19, 2009 at 07:40 PM Anonymous Says:

if this so important to them they would have had a security camera on it

14

 Dec 19, 2009 at 09:33 PM Ahem Says:

I can't believe people think this isn't terrible. It is. Because this symbolizes that there are people out there who want this gone. It is simpler to do away with it and then, years down the road, when this doesn't exist any longer, it is easier to deny. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the government did away with it, and are pretending it's a crime. I mean, there WERE guards there.

15

 Dec 19, 2009 at 11:12 PM heart breaking Says:

My grandparents spend YEARS in those camps. Both their familys were wiped out in those camps. People seem to think they just went to Disneyland and had so much fun they decided to stay. This SHOULD be of top priority. The "people" who took it, no matter who they are or why, are evil. They have no respect for all the people who lived and died there. Every time I close my eyes I see a group of people sitting around drinking and laughing what they did. ANYONE who does not think this is a HUGE deal should start looking at photos and reading the horror stories of what my grandparents along with MILLIONS of others lived with. Even after the war ended so many could not live with the horror they survived and killed themselves. Everyone was forever changed. This is not just a joke or a prank. This is a big deal. This is an attack on everything that sign stood for!

16

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