"Arbeit Macht Frei"—"Work Sets You Free." This chilling slogan was welded into wrought iron, and suspended over the entrances of Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz and Dachau. For decades, these gates served as a lasting reminder of the Holocaust’s horrors—but in late 2014, a replica of Dachau’s infamous entry sign was stolen. Now, to the relief of historians and survivors, The New York Times reports that the marker has been recovered near Bergen, Norway.
Last week, Norwegian police received an anonymous tip regarding the gate’s location. Authorities discovered the historic ironwork outside, in a village called Gaupås, Kari Trones, a prosecutor for the Bergen police, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
"It was found in the open air," Bergen police spokeswoman Margrethe Myrmehl Gudbrandsen told AFP. “You can tell that it's been outside but it's in good condition."
It’s believed that the gate was pilfered in an organized crime effort. The 220-pound landmark was originally reported stolen in November 2014. It disappeared on a Saturday night, between security guard shifts. (At the time, Dachau had no video surveillance.) Piotr Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz Foundation, called the crime “an attack on a symbol, an attack on remembering,” in a statement quoted by the Detroit Free Press. “The history of the Nazi concentration camps began in Dachau,” he said.
No arrests have been announced, but in a gesture of support, Norwegian officials let the crime’s original investigators—the Bavarian police—announce the gate’s discovery. “We understand this gate is an important monument for Germany,” Gudbrandsen said, as quoted by The New York Times.
While symbolically important, the gate isn’t the original one that hung in Dachau’s entryway. Prisoners crafted the first gate in a labor workshop, but when the camp was liberated in May 1945, it was removed. A replica was installed in 1965, when Dachau opened as a memorial site honoring the estimated 41,500 people who died there before World War II’s end.
The gate has been returned to Germany, and once it’s restored, it will be publicly displayed in either its original location or as part of a permanent exhibition.