Scrapbookpages Blog

November 26, 2016

The Jew who was sent to a labor camp called Theresienstadt

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 11:56 am

Was Theresienstadt really a labor camp?

According to this news article, it was.

Strictly’s Judge Rinder opens up about his Jewish grandfather’s horrifying experience during the Holocaust

The prison camp at Theresienstadt

The caption of this photo says “Moishe [a Jewish prisoner] was sent to a series of labour camps, including Theresienstadt in what was then Czechoslovakia”

Excuse me! I don’t think that Theresienstadt was classified as a “labor camp.” The photo above appears to have been taken in “the small camp” which was a prison at Theresienstadt.

I have a similar photo on my website, which you can see below:

The prison camp at Theresienstadt

My photo of the prison camp at Theresienstadt

My photo above seems to show the same prison camp that is shown in the photo in the news article.

I have written at length about Theresienstadt on my web site. I have a whole section devoted to Theresienstadt, which you can read at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/History/index.html

Start by reading my web page about the history of Theresienstadt at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/History/GhettoHistory.html

September 27, 2015

The many gates at Theresienstadt

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:49 am
Main gate into the walled town of Theresienstadt

Main gate into the walled town of Theresienstadt

This morning, I went to Wikipedia to get the facts on Music at  Theresienstadt.  On the Wikipedia page, I saw the photo below, which was purported to be the gate into the Theresienstadt camp.

The gate into the Small Fortress, NOT the gate into the Theresienstadt camp

The gate into the Small Fortress, NOT the gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto (Click on photo to enlarge)

Gate into the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt

Gate into the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, NOT the gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto

The wall around Theresienstadt fortress

The wall around the Theresienstadt fortress

When Theresienstadt was built as a military fortress in 1780, it consisted of two parts: the Main Fortress, where the Jews were later imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, and the Small Fortress which was originally built as a prison and was used as such from the time it was completed until a few years after World War II, when the last of the German war criminals, who were incarcerated here by the victorious Allies, were executed.

Old building in Theresienstadt ghetto

Old building in Theresienstadt ghetto (click on photo to enlarge)

Detail of old building at Theresienstadt

Detail of old building at Theresienstadt

The Small Fortress is on the east side of the Ohre river that divides the two parts of the old military fortress, which was named Theresienstadt. The Theresienstadt ghetto is on the west side.

The Main Fortress is now the town of Terezin, which is open to visitors, and even has a hotel where tourists can stay if they don’t mind spending the night in the exact location where Hitler’s SS soldiers once slept.

Gate into the section of the Small Fortress which has the Arbeit Macht Frei sign

Courtyard of the Small Fortress which has the gate with the Arbeit Macht Frei sign

The Small Fortress became a Gestapo prison in June 1940, even before the Main Fortress was turned into a transit camp for the Jews in November 1941.

The following quote is from a pamphlet that I obtained when I toured the Small Fortress:

Begin quote:

People were sent here [to the Small Fortress] for taking part in the democratic and communist resistance movement, for aiding parachutists sent from the west and east to help the Czech resistance, for supporting partisans, escaped prisoners-of-war and Jews, or for individual acts against the Nazi regime. They were intellectuals, workers, farmers, clericals, artists and students, men and women.

The fate of the Jewish prisoners here was particularly tragic. After arrest by the Gestapo for taking part in the resistance movement or breaking the rules established for Jews in Terezin town, they were sent here, given the hardest work and subjected to the worst terrorism by the guards.

It was actually a transit prison as most of the inmates were sent after a certain time before a Nazi court and from there to other prisons and penitentiaries or to concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Austria.

End quote

After visiting the firing range in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, tour groups go through the Gate of Death which was the gate through which condemned prisoners had to walk to reach another execution site outside the fortress.

If you don’t want to go through the tunnel to get to the execution site, you can reach the Gate of Death by walking straight ahead when you enter the Small Fortress, instead of turning left into the Administration Court. You will then enter the Fourth Courtyard which is where my tour group emerged when we came through the Gate of Death.

May 24, 2013

The Small Fortress (Malá Pevnost) in the Czech Republic

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:32 am

The subject of the “Malá pevnost” came up in a comment on my blog a couple of days ago, so I decided to write about it today.  I visited the Small Fortress in October 2000 and took some photos, which I am posting.

The main entrance into the Small Fortress

The main entrance into the Small Fortress

The Small Fortress is now a Memorial Site, located in the Czech Republic, on the east side of the Ohre river, which divides the two parts of the old military fortress, originally known as Theresienstadt. The former Theresienstadt ghetto, which was turned into a concentration camp in World War II, is on the west side of the Ohre river. The Main Fortress, where the Nazi concentration camp was formerly located, is now the town of Terezin.

When Theresienstadt was originally built as a military fortress in 1780, it consisted of two parts: the Main Fortress, where the Jews were later imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, and the Small Fortress which was originally built as a prison and was used as such from the time it was completed until a few years after World War II, when the last of the German war criminals, who were incarcerated here by the victorious Allies, were executed.

The Small Fortress was turned into a Gestapo prison in June 1940, more than a year before the Main Fortress was turned into a ghetto and a transit camp for Jews in November 1941.  My tour guide said that 90% of the inmates in the Small Fortress during the war were non-Jewish Czech Communists.

The following quote is from a pamphlet that I obtained on the my tour in October 2000:

People were sent [to the Small Fortress] for taking part in the democratic and communist resistance movement, for aiding parachutists sent from the west and east to help the Czech resistance, for supporting partisans, escaped prisoners-of-war and Jews, or for individual acts against the Nazi regime. They were intellectuals, workers, farmers, clericals, artists and students, men and women. The fate of the Jewish prisoners here was particularly tragic. After arrest by the Gestapo for taking part in the resistance movement or breaking the rules established for Jews in Terezin town, they were sent here, given the hardest work and subjected to the worst terrorism by the guards. It was actually a transit prison as most of the inmates were sent after a certain time before a Nazi court and from there to other prisons and penitentiaries or to concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Austria.

Before we got to the Small Fortress, the road went through the old walled town of Theresienstadt, which is now called by the Czech name Terezin, but at that point I didn’t know yet that this was the old ghetto because, from the road, it looks much like all the other small towns that we had passed through.

The road that goes through the town of Terezin, October 2000

The road that goes through the town of Terezin, October 2000

Suddenly I saw the zigzag brick walls of the ramparts that surround the Small Fortress. The red brick fortifications around the two fortresses are 4 kilometers long. There are double walls around the fortress with a dry moat in between them.

When the bus stopped at the Small Fortress, I was startled to see a cemetery in front of it with a large Christian cross in the middle and a much smaller Star of David behind it, placed closer to the entrance gate. I soon learned that this was not an insult to the Jews, but a representation of the truth since, contrary to what I had read in several tourist guidebooks, very few Jews had died in the Small Fortress, according to our guide.

Graves in front of Small Fortress

Graves in front of Small Fortress

Star of David marks Jewish graves at Small Fortress

Star of David marks Jewish graves near wall around the Small Fortress

I learned that the Small Fortress was used by the Nazis, beginning in 1940, as a Gestapo prison for Communists, anti-Fascist resistance fighters, partisans and guerrilla fighters who were captured during in the war. There were 27,000 men and 5,000 women sent to the Small Fortress for “interrogation.” According to our guide, there were approximately 1,500 Jews sent to the Small Fortress for fighting with the resistance movement or for breaking the rules of the Theresienstadt ghetto. The guide told us that 90% of the inmates in the Small Fortress during the war were non-Jewish Czech Communists.

According to a pamphlet that our tour group was given when we entered, there were 10,000 corpses buried at the Small Fortress between 1945 and 1958 after the bodies were exhumed from mass graves at the Small Fortress, the Theresienstadt ghetto and the nearby Litomerice concentration camp. In the two photos shown above, there are 2,386 individual graves in the cemetery in front of the Small Fortress.

Gate inside the Small Fortress

Gate inside the Small Fortress

The main gate into the Small Fortress, which is shown at the top of my blog post, was designated Number 1 on the tour of the Small Fortress. After going through the main gate, our tour group walked a few yards into the prison, then turned left to go through the Administration Court which was Number 2 on the tour. You can see the number 2 on the left side of the square archway in the foreground of the photograph above. The sight of the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” on the arch over a doorway in the background of the photo was very upsetting to the Jews on the tour because  “Arbeit Macht Frei” has now become the slogan of the Holocaust.

The “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign was only put over the gates into camps where prisons had a chance of being released.  According to a booklet that I purchased at the Small Fortress Museum, there were 5,600 prisoners released from the Small Fortress, which was a Gestapo prison for political prisoners and captured partisans, not a death camp for Jews.

Prison Cells in the Small Fortress

Prison Cells in the First Courtyard of the Small Fortress

The First Courtyard of the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, which is shown in the photograph above, was divided into Blocks A and B. There were 17 group cells and 20 small cells for solitary confinement. Up to 1,500 prisoners used this small courtyard as their exercise yard.

According to the visitor’s pamphlet that we were given, the group cells held up to 100 prisoners at one time. Cell number 1 was reserved for prisoners from the Soviet Union. Cells number 2 and number 3 were used to imprison Jews who were “arrested for political activities and violating anti-Jewish regulations.”

Notice that the photograph above shows grass growing on the roof. The prison cells were rooms between the double walls around the fort, and the roof was covered with dirt.

Door into Prison Cell in Small Fortress

Door into Prison Cell in Small Fortress

The photograph above shows the door to one of the group prison cells in the First Courtyard.  The Plaque on the right hand side, which is written in Czech, English and Hebrew, reads as follows:  “In the years 1940 to 1945 more than 1500 Jews were imprisoned in the Small Fortress. Their destiny was worst of all the groups of prisoners. About 800 from them were tortured to death here, most of others perished after the deportation to concentration camps. Dedicated to the memory of the victims by the Embassy of the State of Israel.”

There were approximately 32,000 prisoners who passed through the Small Fortress during the time that it was a Gestapo prison from June 1940 until May 8, 1945.

According to a pamphlet that tourists were given on the tour, between 2,500 and 2,600 of the prisoners died, including between 250 and 300 who were executed. However, our tour guide told us that most of the prisoners at the Small Fortress were Communist resistance fighters who were fighting against the Nazi Fascists.  (Remember that there was a war going on.)

After the arrival of the Soviet Army on May 8, 1945, the prisoners at both the Small Fortress and the Theresienstadt ghetto had to be held under quarantine until the typhus epidemic could be brought under control. In just the two months of April and May, 1945 there were approximately 1,000 deaths from typhus in the Small Fortress.

The pamphlet that we were given at the entrance of the Small Fortress has this map on which all the places of interest are numbered for easy reference. The entrance shown at the top of this page is number 1 on the map and the graveyard in front of the fortress is number 34, the last thing that visitors see as they walk toward their tour bus in the parking lot.

Entrance into the tunnel at the Small Fortress

Entrance into the tunnel at the Small Fortress

Door Number 18, shown on the far right in the photograph above, opens into the mortuary room, which I saw only from the outside on my tour. This is where corpses were stored until they could be taken to the crematorium to be burned.

Door Number 17, shown in the middle of the photo above, is the entrance to a tunnel which goes through the old fortifications on the north side of the Small Fortress to the former military firing range which, according to a pamphlet that I was given at the Small Fortress, was used by the Nazis for executions.

The tunnel is about a quarter of a mile long, although it seemed more like a mile, as I was walking through it. The tunnel is not underground, as you can easily see by looking through a few narrow slits in the wall along the way, but it feels like it is underground. The tunnel goes through the double walls of the original fortifications, but it was not used during World War II. It is shown to tourists because it is one more scary feature in this place of horror.

Exit from the tunnel in the Small Fortress

Exit from the tunnel in the Small Fortress

When you first enter the tunnel, it doesn’t seem to be very long, but just as you think you are nearing the end, the tunnel makes a turn and continues on. The exit from the tunnel is shown in the photograph above, where you can readily see that the tunnel is above ground. However, if you suffer the least bit from claustrophobia, it would be wise to let the tour leader know in advance so that arrangements can be made for you to reach the execution site through the door used by the condemned prisoners. The sandy path from the tunnel leads to the execution site which is between the ramparts.

Firing range at the Small Fortress

Firing range at the Small Fortress is at the end of the tunnel

The photograph above shows the place where prisoners were executed in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt. One of the fortification walls is in the background and the spot where the condemned prisoner stood is in the center of the picture. The concrete form in the foreground was one of three places, under a free-standing roof, from which the firing squad would shoot while in a prone position.

According to a small booklet which I purchased at the Museum, between 250 and 300 of the 32,000 prisoners, who were inmates at the Small Fortress, were executed. This included 49 men and 3 women who were shot on May 2, 1945 just before the prison was liberated. Most of members of this group were in either the Predvoj resistance or the Communist party which had been banned by the Nazis.

The first recorded execution in the Small Fortress was on May 11, 1943 when a leader of the Communist resistance, Frantisek Prokop, was shot at the firing range. On September 28, 1944, Dr. Paul Eppstein, the second Elder of the Theresienstadt Ghetto was executed here because of his resistance activities.

The "Gate of Death" at the Small Fortress

The “Gate of Death” at the Small Fortress is No. 21 on the tour

After visiting the firing range in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, our tour group went through the Gate of Death which was the gate through which condemned prisoners had to walk to reach another execution site outside the fortress. If you don’t want to go through the tunnel to get to this execution site, you can reach the Gate of Death by walking straight ahead when you enter the Small Fortress, instead of turning left into the Administration Court.

You will then enter the Fourth Courtyard which is where our tour group emerged when we came through the Gate of Death. The photograph above shows the Gate of Death, taken from inside the Fourth Courtyard. In the background, you can see the high wall of the firing range.

Continue reading Part 2.  After World War II ended, the Small Fortress was used as a prison for ethnic Germans. 

May 12, 2010

Terezin or Theresienstadt?

Every time I read about the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and the author calls it Terezin, it is like the sound of fingernails scraping across a blackboard.  Today I read this on a blog named “The Adventures of History Girl” and it was upsetting to me that a person calling herself “History Girl” used the name Terezin for Theresienstadt.

Here is a quote from her blog:

“It began as a fortress northwest of Prague built by Joseph II in 1780 and named after his mother, Maria Teresia, though it was called Terezin.”  […]

“The Gestapo turned Terezin into a Jewish Ghetto, calling it Theresienstadt.”

History Girl has it ass backwards.  The 18th century walled town in what is now the Czech Republic was originally called Theresienstadt and it was called Theresienstadt at the time that Hitler sent the Jews there.  Theresienstadt means Theresa’s city in German; the city was originally named after the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Only after the formation of the new country of Czechoslovakia, following World War I, did the town became known by the Czech name Terezin (pronounced TARA-zeen which rhymes with kerosene). When Hitler took over what was left of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the name reverted back to Theresienstadt.

At one time, the Czechs had their own dynasty, known as the Premyslides; the “Good King Wencelas” was the ruler of the Czechs in the 10th century. The Czech homeland of Bohemia, which along with Moravia, now constitutes the Czech Republic, came under the rule of the Austrian Hapsburg empire in 1526.

It was Joseph II of the Hapsburg family, the ruler of the Austrian Empire, who built the town and named it Theresienstadt, after his mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. This is the same Joseph II, in whose honor Josefov, the Jewish quarter in Prague, was originally named Josefstadt in 1850.

The history of the German people in Europe goes back 2,000 years to the early days of the Roman Empire, but Germany was not yet a united country when Theresienstadt was built; in 1780 the German people lived in a collection of small states, each separately ruled by a prince or a duke. The two most powerful German states were Prussia, ruled by the Hohenzollern family, and Austria, ruled by the Hapsburg family.

Bastion on southeast side of the old fortress, Sudeten mountains in background

In 1780, when the town of Theresienstadt was originally built as a military garrison at the junction of the Ohre and Elbe rivers, near the Sudeten mountain range in the province of Bohemia, the Czech people, who had lived in this area since the 5th century, did not have an independent country of their own. Bohemia was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1780.

It was in the middle of a territorial fight between Prussia and Austria that the Austrians thought it necessary to build a military garrison at Theresienstadt for protection against the Prussians and their powerful army, led by Frederick the Great.

Theresienstadt fortress, built in 1780

Intended to accommodate 14,500 soldiers at the most, Theresienstadt was originally built as a fortified town surrounded by two sets of brick walls and bastions jutting out on all sides, resembling the points of a star, with a wide moat between the walls. The construction of these ramparts and the barracks for the soldiers took ten years to complete.

The anticipated attack by the Prussians never came, and the fortifications were never tested; the moat was never filled, except for a little water used as a test just after the walls were built. Theresienstadt is on the west bank of the Ohre river, and on the east bank, the Emperor built a separate smaller fortress, also surrounded by brick walls, bastions at the corners, and a moat.

The Small Fortress was built as a prison and was used for this purpose throughout its history, up until recent times when it was converted into a museum.  The Small Fortress was not part of the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Gate into the Small Fortress, which was built as a prison

My photo taken inside the Small Fortress

Close-up of the Arbeit Macht Frei sign inside the Small Fortress

The two photos above show the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign inside the Small Fortress.

The most famous inmate of the Small Fortress was Gavrilo Princip, the teen-aged anarchist from Serbia, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an act that touched off World War I in 1914. Princip is today regarded as a hero by the people of the Czech Republic because they gained their independence from the Germans as a result of World War I.

Moat around the Small Fortress was never filled with water

The last prisoners to be held at the Small Fortress were German war criminals who were incarcerated there by the Allies from 1945 to 1948, awaiting trial and execution. Thus, the fortress at Theresienstadt, which had never been used for its original purpose, was nevertheless involved in two world wars.

Christian graves outside the walls of the Small Fortress

Most of the graves outside the Small Fortress are Christian graves, but the photo that is usually shown has a Star of David in the section of Jewish graves.

During the Holocaust, Theresienstadt was one of the most infamous transit centers in Hitler’s systematic plan to exterminate European Jewry. Theresienstadt is usually called a ghetto, but it was classified as a concentration camp by the Nazis. Today, the town is inhabited by Czech citizens.  The photo above shows how the town looked in the year 2000.

Near the end of World War II, the camp was turned over to the Red Cross and it was liberated by the Soviet Union in May 1945. As soon as a typhus epidemic was brought under control, the prisoners were released and the Small Fortress became a prison for German Nazis from 1945 to 1948.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Czechoslovakia became a country again, and all the ethnic Germans, except for the few who could prove that they were anti-Fascist during the war, were expelled from their homes and sent into war-torn Germany, many of them dying along the way from hunger and exhaustion.

The Czechs and the Jews exacted their revenge by attacking these refugees as they fled to Germany. Many of the refugees had to live for as long as 18 years in the former Nazi concentration camps, such as Dachau, until they could find new jobs and homes, as Germany was slowly rebuilt.

On January 1, 1993, the states of Bohemia and Moravia became the Czech Republic.

February 25, 2010

Arbeit Macht Frei – what does it stand for? (updated)

Filed under: Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , , , — furtherglory @ 5:23 am

Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Auschwitz I (main camp) Photo Credit: José Ángel López

The following quote is from an article in Live Action News, which you can read in full here:

“As abortion apologists celebrated Roe v. Wade’s 40th anniversary with Orwellian odes to “choice” and creepily cavalier videos, pro-lifers mark the occasion in a more grave fashion. Virginia Republican State Senator Dick Black took to the Senate floor and forcefully condemned the past four decades’ worth of massacre:

When I hear discussions about this, I hear very mild comments about choice and reproductive rights and things of this sort. But I recall back to the days of Nazi Germany, there was a place called Auschwitz. And over the gates of Auschwitz was a sign, and the sign said “arbeit macht frei,” which means roughly “your labors will make you free.” People who went behind those doors never returned. Their labors didn’t make them free. And I’m reminded that we refer to our clinics as “women’s health clinics” and we talk about women’s reproductive rights and so forth. And somehow in all of our discussion, we forget the fact that in each of these decisions lies the life of a little boy or a little girl. You know it’s quite easy –and from where we look back on history, we say “Why didn’t the Germans do something? Why didn’t they rise up? Why didn’t they take action?” But they were helpless before their government just as we are helpless before our government.

The words “arbeit macht frei” were on the gate into the main Auschwitz camp, but not on the gate into the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, also known as Auschwitz II.

Senator Dick Black can be forgiven for not knowing that the main Auschwitz camp was not a “death camp” where prisoners entered and were never seen again.  The words “arbeit macht frei” have been twisted into a slogan that now means that Jews were gassed during the Holocaust.

Senator Dick Black will not be reading this, but I am going to attempt to educate him anyway.

The plan to establish a concentration camp at Auschwitz was first announced by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on April 27, 1940.

The first Commandant of Auschwitz was Rudolf Hoess; he was the one who put the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign over the gate into the main Auschwitz camp. Translated into English, the words mean “Work will set you free.” In his autobiography, Hoess explained that this expression means that work liberates one in the spiritual sense, not that the prisoners literally had a chance of being released if they worked hard. However, according to Franciszek Piper, the former director of the Auschwitz Museum, the camp records show that around 1,500 prisoners were actually released from the Auschwitz main camp.

Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, the main camp, was originally opened on June 14, 1940, as just another concentration camp, in the former Polish military garrison in Zazole, a district of the town of Auschwitz.  Throughout its existence, the Nazis called the main Auschwitz camp a concentration camp, not an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager. The term “extermination camp” was coined by the Allies and initially, it applied to all the Nazi camps.

At first, the Auschwitz main camp, known as the Stammlager, was only a camp for Polish political prisoners, including some Jews, and also German common criminals, who assisted the Nazis in supervising the other prisoners. The first transport to the main Auschwitz camp consisted of 728 Polish inmates of the Gestapo prison at Tarnow, Poland. They were mostly university students, including a few Jews, who had joined the Polish Resistance. The Polish Army had never surrendered to the Germans and no Armistice had ever been signed. The Poles continued to fight during World War II, but as insurgents or illegal combatants, not as soldiers on the battlefield. When captured, the Polish resistance fighters were sent to Auschwitz or other concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Dachau.

Continue reading my original post:

The iron sign with the words “Arbeit macht Frei”  at the Auschwitz main camp was stolen on Dec. 18, 2009.  Within 70 hours, the sign had been found and five suspects were in custody.  During the 70 hours that the sign was gone, the news went around the world, as people everywhere were outraged.

“Arbeit Macht Frei” translates into English as “Work makes (one) free.”  These words have become the slogan of the Holocaust, as people the world over now interpret these words to mean that the Nazis  cruelly taunted the Jews when they entered Auschwitz  because there was no freedom for them, no matter how hard they worked.  The only way out was “through the chimney.”

In the words of Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization:

“The fact is that the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign has become the defining symbol of the Holocaust because everyone knew that this was not a place where work makes you free, but it was the place where millions of men, women, and children were brought for one purpose only — to be murdered.”

Arbeit Macht Frei gate at Auschwitz 1 with Block 24 in background

Auschwitz I  was not a death camp.  The building in the background of the photo above had a library, a museum for the artwork done by the prisoners, a concert hall, and a brothel which was called “the Puff.”

Gatehouse at Auschwiz II (Birkenau) – the death camp

The photo above shows the gate into the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) death camp.  Notice that it does not have the Arbeit Macht Frei sign. It was at Birkenau that more than a million Jews were killed, mainly in gas chambers, beginning in February 1942.

The “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign over the gate at the Auschwitz I camp was put there in 1940 by the first Commandant, Rudolf Höss. In January 1941, the Auschwitz I camp was designated a Class I camp, where prisoners had a chance to be released. According to the director of the Auschwitz Museum, there were around 1,500 political prisoners released from Auschwitz I. Only Class I camps had the “Arbeit Macht Frei” slogan over the gate.

Gross-Rosen was a Class I concentration  camp that had the sign Arbeit Macht Frei over the entrance gate

Gross-Rosen was a Class I concentration camp that had the sign Arbeit Macht Frei over the entrance gate

Other Class I camps included Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Flossenbürg and Gross-Rosen. Buchenwald was a Class II camp and Mauthausen was a Class III camp; neither of these camps had the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign. The six death camps (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek and Auschwtiz II, also known as Birkenau) did not have the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” on the gate into the camp.

“Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at the Dachau gate house

Dachau was a camp for political prisoners who had a good chance of being released.  There was a special badge for prisoners who had been released and then re-arrested, which means that there were numerous prisoners that were given their freedom after they had been “rehabilitated.”

According to Wikipedia:

“The expression (Arbeit macht Frei) comes from the title of an 1873 novel by German philologist Lorenz Diefenbach, in which gamblers and fraudsters find the path to virtue through labour. It was adopted in 1928 by the Weimar government as a slogan extolling the effects of their desired policy of large-scale public works programmes to end unemployment, and perhaps mocking the Medieval saying “Stadtluft macht frei” (“City air brings freedom”). It was continued in this usage by the NSDAP (Nazi Party) when it came to power in 1933.”

The idea of a gatehouse was not invented by the Nazis.  There were many walled German towns that had several gates into the town.  The old walled town of Dachau had three gates, each with a gatehouse. A model of one of these gates, the Freisinger Tor, is shown in the photo below.

Marker denotes former location of Freisinger Tor at Dachau

Gatehouse in Braunau am Inn (Hitler’s birthplace)

It used to be very common for houses in Germany to have writing over the door into the building.

A house in the town of Geseke in Germany has writing over the door

When the Nazis built gatehouses at the entrances to the concentration camps and put slogans on the gates, their intention was not to insult or taunt the Jews – they were just carrying on an old German tradition.

Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Theresienstadt

An interior gate in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, shown in the background of the photograph above, has black letters on a white band over the arch which read “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

I took the photo above when I was on a group tour; two Jewish members of our group, who were from Israel, were quite upset when they saw these words displayed inside the prison, but the guide explained that there were actually some prisoners who were released from the Small Fortress. According to a booklet that I purchased at the Museum, there were 5,600 prisoners released from the Small Fortress, which was a Gestapo prison for political prisoners and captured partisans.

According to Rudolf Höss, who was an adjutant at Sachsenhausen before he became the first Commandant of Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frei” means that works liberates one in the spiritual sense. Höss was himself a prisoner at one time and he complained about having to sit all alone in a prison cell without having any work to occupy his time. When the Sachsenhausen camp was turned into a Communist prison for German citizens, the Arbeit Macht Frei sign was removed and the prisoners did not work.

Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Sachsenhausen camp

Gatehouse at Dachau concentration camp

The gatehouse at Dachau was built in 1936, the same year that the gatehouse at Sachsenhausen was built.  The Arbeit Macht Frei sign was first put up at a temporary camp in an old brewery at Oranienburg, which was later rebuilt as Sachsenhausen.

Arbeit Macht Frei sign on Dachau gate

According to the staff at the Dachau Memorial Site, the Arbeit Macht Frei sign on the Dachau gate is a reproduction; the original was allegedly stolen by one of the American liberators of Dachau.  After all the prisoners were released from Dachau, the former concentration camp was used as a prison for German war criminals for 3 years and then as a refugee camp until 1965, when the sign was restored on the gate just before the Memorial Site opened.

Tours of Dachau always start at the Arbeit Macht Frei gate where the guides tell visitors that this sign was very offensive to the prisoners who had to walk through the gate twice a day on their way to and from the factories where they worked.  The guides tell visitors that the official policy at Dachau was “extermination through work.”