The 'Work will set you free' sign was taken from the German concentration camp in 2014
An wrought-iron gate stolen from the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, compete with its infamous Arbeit macht frei (‘Work will set you free’) slogan, has been returned after being stolen in 2014.
The theft of the 100-kilo gate caused uproar in November 2014, with German leader Angela Merkel describing the crime as “appalling.”
The gate was found outside the Norwegian city of Bergen last December after local police received an anonymous tip-off, though officers have struggled to turn up any leads in their ongoing investigation.
At a solemn ceremony at the concentration camp marking the gate’s return, Jean-Michel Thomas, the president of the International Dachau Committee, pressed Norwegian police to find the thieves. Thomas said he was “deeply shocked by the desecration of the site dedicated to the memory of all the victims of the camp.”
Representing the few remaining survivors of Dachau, Thomas added that the theft was an attempt to “remove a trace, a symbol of all that is represented by the inscription Arbeit macht frei on this gate of Dachau cap that some 210,000 detainees walked through from 1933 to 1945.”
Thieves nabbed the iron gate on a Saturday night, waiting for security guards to finish carrying out their rounds of the campus. German police suspected neo-Nazis had carried out the heist, but no arrests have ever been made in the case.
Gabriele Hammermann, head of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, said the gate will not be returned to its place at the site’s entrance, but will instead be placed in the museum.
“We had almost lost all hope of finding the gate. We made a replica that now replaces the original gate,” Hammermann said.
Discussing its new place in the museum display, she added: “We will tell the story of the theft as well as the important history of this door, what Arbeit macht frei meant for the prisoners who saw it every morning on their way to work and back.”
Dachau was among the earliest of the Nazi’s labour camps, opening just two months after Germany elected Adolf Hitler chancellor in 1933. Remaining in operation until US troops liberated it on April 29th, 1945, Dachau housed 200,000 political prisoners, Jews and other groups considered undesirable to the Third Reich. Forty-one thousand of them lost their lives there.
The theft of the gate is not the first time an Arbeit macht frei sign has been stolen from a Nazi death camp; in 2009, Swedish neo-Nazi Anders Högström stole the same iron words from Auschwitz in Poland, later serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.