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MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

News

Statement of Gratitude on the Recovery of the Sign — a Letter from the Museum Director

21-12-2009

On behalf of the employees of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Polish police for their thorough investigation which ended in the recovery of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign. The importance of this recovery is significant, as it is one of the most important symbols of the tragedy of World War II, not to mention the suffering of those who met their end here.

I wish to thank all those who stood with us in these most difficult days, among them were many former prisoners of Auschwitz, for whom this event was probably the most painful. I would like to thank the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński. I would also like to thank the representatives of the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk who were directly involved in this case, in particular, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Bogdan Zdrojewski, for his tremendous support and trust, as well as Tomasz Merta, the General Heritage Conservator.

The first foreign voice of support came from Avner Shalev, the Director of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. For me, his actions show we are like-minded in understanding the challenges of today's world.

There is a lot of work ahead of us. So far, the Auschwitz Memorial has been protected against everyday vandalism, the impact of a growing number of visitors, and the inevitable effects of time. In it's 60-year history, the Auschwitz Memorial has never been the object of such an attack. We do not know the motives of the perpetrators, but I personally feel that it was an assault on the very memory of those who perished within these premises.

For the last three days, we have been intensively analyzing our security system. Some of the our procedures and safety protocols will have to be seriously looked at, and most certainly revised. Our current security measures were agreed upon with the Police, but new ones may need to be put into place. In recent years, we developed methods for monitoring the grounds with electronic security systems, primarily inside the buildings where we store original camp documents and objects. CCTV has been employed for the time being, primarily in the area of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. It's size of more than 170 hectares presents a unique challenge in terms of security.

The culprits cut the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign into three parts. As soon as the police complete their tasks, we will do the necessary preservation work on it. The location of the sign is it's only authentic one, above the gate of the former Auschwitz I camp. The sign will return there as soon as possible, after ensuring the protection of it's site against damage and burglary.

The intentions of the criminals or people who commissioned this terrible act are of course also extremely important. I do hope the Police will explain the whole event thoroughly and then we will be able to find out all circumstances of the desecration of the Auschwitz Memorial.

Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński
Director of the Auschwitz Memorial