After theft, Auschwitz sign won't go back to gate

June 2, 2011 - 11:58 AM
Poland Auschwitz Sign

FILE - In this May 18, 2011 file photo officials show the restored notorious

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The notorious sign that once spanned the main gate at Auschwitz will not return to its original spot after being recently repaired from the damage it suffered during a 2009 theft, an international council that oversees Auschwitz-Birkenau decided Thursday.

The sign bearing the Nazis' cynical slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Sets You Free) will instead be housed in a planned exhibition hall, said Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the memorial site.

Sawicki said the proposal to house the sign in a secure indoor center came from the Auschwitz memorial museum director Piotr Cywinski. There were no objections to that proposal by the International Auschwitz Council — a 25-member body made up of Holocaust survivors, historians and others — at a two-day meeting that ended Thursday.

Experts say the sign is best preserved in a situation of stable humidity and in temperatures ranging from 17-19 degrees Celsius (about 63-66 Fahrenheit) — conditions that require it to be indoors, a statement issued after the council meeting said.

The exhibition hall where the sign will go on permanent display is still under development and is expected to open in the coming years. It will be located at the site of the death camp that Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II.

The sign was stolen in December 2009 in a shocking heist. Police found the sign in less than three days after a countrywide search, but by then it had been cut into several pieces — damage that took many months to repair.

The sign, welded back together and otherwise restored almost to its previous state, was presented to the public last month.

A replica of the sign now hangs in its place.