German police have a possible lead on who was behind the theft of the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work sets you free) sign from the former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, over the weekend.
The entrance door containing the slogan was stolen under cover of darkness from the memorial site at Dachau in what looked like a carefully planned crime. The theft was discovered in the early hours of Sunday by the private security service that keeps a 24-hour watch on the site. Records suggested the theft occurred between midnight and 5:30 a.m., officials said.
Dachau police chief Thomas Rauscher said his force was investigating a possible neo-Nazi motive for the crime, while pursuing its enquiries "in all directions". Police said on Tuesday they were not able to share any "concrete information" at this point.
"This desecration is horrible and shocking," the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, told the newspaper 'Bild'. He said: "Whoever did this is either sick or evil. Probably both."
Holocaust survivor and vice president of the International Dachau Committee Max Mannheimer said he was "horrified that Nazis apparently desecrated the memorial to those murdered here and violated the reverence due to such a place." The head of the memorial center, Gabriele Hammermann, called the theft a "deliberate, reprehensible attempt to deny and obliterate the memory of the crimes committed in this place" which aimed "to demolish the memorial at its very core."
Dachau was the first camp opened by the Nazis to incarcerate their political opponents, starting shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. The letters set inside the camp's gate were a replica, dating from 1965, after the original slogan was removed from the gate after the US liberation of the camp at the end of World War II. The slogan once aimed to present the concentration camp as a "work and re-education camp."
In 2009, the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign from the former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz was stolen on the orders of a Swedish neo-Nazi by five Poles. It was found by police three days after the theft, cut into pieces.