The main gate at the Auschwitz I main camp leads to one of the most shocking places in the history of modern Europe. It was this way where the commandos of prisoners marched to work every day. This is also where people returning from forced labor carried exhausted, sick and dead from effort or murdered colleagues. And above their heads, every day they looked at the inscription “Arbeit macht frei” attached to the gate – which means „Work makes you free”, suggesting the possibility of getting out of the camp thanks to diligent and dedicated work.
A symbol of hell, hypocrisy and cruelty.
The Auschwitz Gate was constructed on the orders of the Nazi Germans by Polish political prisoners, deported in one of the first transports arriving from Wiśnicz at the turn of 1940-1941. The inscription, on the other hand, was made in the camp locksmith’s shop. It was made by prisoners from the locksmith’s commando under the leadership of Jan Liwacz, a master of artistic blacksmithing (camp number 1010). Apparently, they consciously reverse the letter B, which was a manifestation of disobedience and an act of resistance to the slogan proclaimed on the gate. For the tormented prisoners of Auschwitz, the gate and the inscription placed on it were a symbol of hell, hypocrisy and cruelty committed by Nazi criminals. The shocking irony of this slogan, even after many years, caused terror among the survivors of the concentration camps in Oświęcim.
The inscription „Arbeit Macht Frei” was used not only in Auschwitz. On the orders of SS General Theodor Eicke, it was also placed at the entrance gates to several other German camps – Dachau, Gross-Rosen, Sachsenhausen, Theresienstadt, Flossenbürg.
Theft of the inscription
In December 2009, a board with the words „Arbeit Macht Frei” was stolen from Auschwitz. After several dozen hours, law authorities managed to recover it, and the thefts were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment. The original inscription, found in three parts, was replaced with a copy during the time of renovation.
Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau
ul. Więźniów Oświęcimia 20
33 844 8000