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February 1, 2015 / 12 Shevat, 5775
 
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DEPT. OF BAD TASTE

‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – in Detroit Packard Plant

No one knows if the sign is an ironic comment on the company's treatment of its employees.
Someone hung a sign that says "Arbeit Macht Frei" over a Packard Plant in Detroit.

Someone hung a sign that says "Arbeit Macht Frei" over a Packard Plant in Detroit.
Photo Credit: Yori Yanover, based on image by Niraj Warikoo/DFP

Jewish groups are outraged over a sign hanging at the Packard Plant in Detroit imitating the infamous sign above the entrance to the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz. The sign, in the original German, promises “Arbeit Macht Frei”—”Work will make you Free.”

“This graffiti is offensive to Jews and particularly to Holocaust survivors,” Heidi Budaj, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Detroit Free Press.

Stephen Goldman, executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills, said: “This message is offensive on so many levels. It … needs to be taken down.” He noted that many Holocaust survivors live in Michigan.

John Bologna, an attorney for the owner of the site, said on Monday the company was going to remove it, but as of Tuesday afternoon, the sign still there.

“I was distressed to hear of the” sign, Budaj told DFP. “The prominent display of this quote at a historic Detroit landmark is disturbing and deeply offensive to victims of the Holocaust and to those who fought valiantly in World War II.”

Niraj Warikoo, writing for DFP, noted that the style of the lettering in the Packard sign “has specific similarities to the Nazi sign at Auschwitz that made it unique: for example, the upper half of the letter ‘B’ in “Arbeit” (“Work”) is bigger than the lower half, just like it is in Auschwitz.”

No one knows who put up the sign and whether it is meant to be an ironic comment on the company’s treatment of its employees.

Regardless of the intent, Goldman said the sign is deeply offensive.

“As an artist, you should know better,” Goldman said. “I see no value to seeing this as a message, … That’s a poor image to use.”

Budaj said: “This message strikes at the very memory of a symbol representing the cruel cynicism of Nazism. This sign greeted more than one million prisoners as they were herded into the Auschwitz nightmare with the duplicitous message that ‘work sets you free.’”

“It’s a form of hate speech,” David Schulman, a Huntington Woods resident, told the Free Press on Monday.

The FBI in Detroit would not comment on whether it is investigating the sign as a hate crime.

It looks to me like this is an expression of a few Packard employees’ deep resentment toward Packard, which must be pretty heated if they went for such a harsh metaphor.

For future references, if you are an employee angry at your company, I recommend “Me ne frego” (“I don’t give a damn!”), which was the Italian Fascist movement’s slogan. It’s just as poignant if you’re a student of history, and it won’t upset the ADL.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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14 Responses to “‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – in Detroit Packard Plant”

  1. It is impossible to know what was going through the minds of the makers of the sign. They assuredly saw the iconic picture posted on the Internet of the gates of Auswitz Concentration Camp. Many Gentiles have no idea how deeply it is burned into the Jewish soul as the antithesis of the words themselves. Perhaps it is their own way of protesting the behavior of the owners and management of the company. Until we know more, we should proceed with caution. We do not want to become the "nazis" who condemn on the basis of our own prejudices. The sign must come down, but the reasonoing of the perpetrators should be open to honest question before we condemn the individuals as racists or bigots.

  2. James Sorrell says:

    Disgruntled Packard employees? Do they understand that Packard went out of business in 1958? Can you see some 100+ y/o former Packard employee you there hanging these signs, if indeed any former Packard employees still live. Looks like young Neo-Nazi's to me!

  3. James Sorrell says:

    Disgruntled Packard employees? Do they understand that Packard went out of business in 1958? Can you see some 100+ y/o former Packard employee you there hanging these signs, if indeed any former Packard employees still live. Looks like young Neo-Nazi's to me!

  4. James Sorrell says:

    Disgruntled Packard employees? Do they understand that Packard went out of business in 1958? Can you see some 100+ y/o former Packard employee you there hanging these signs, if indeed any former Packard employees still live. Looks like young Neo-Nazi's to me!

  5. Vladimir Weissman says:

    Disgusting, for sure. It is unthinkable that the author, and those who allowed the "thing" to be hanged over the gate, did not know what it meant.
    FYI: Mussolini is known to have said "Chì se ne frega?" ("Who gives a damn?"). It was not a Fascist slogan, and it still very much in use in Italy. No parallel to the sinister "Arbeit macht frei", which is only connected to one thing: the NAZI HOLOCAUST.

  6. there is little to say about this abomination or the anti semitic scum who put up that "sign". beating their heads in with a brick might suffice. there is much to say, however, about the silence from the FBI.

  7. Alan Kardon says:

    Not only Jews who died in these camps. Every American should be offended. If people are not aware we should inform them. A sign should hang right under it that states 'NEVER AGAIN'.

  8. I agree that the appropriate sign to put under it is : "never again". Other than that, it was put up by ignorant youth who can't get a job. Maybe it was a protest against our decimated economy and not necessarily anti Semitic…

  9. It needs to come down NOW! Those responsible need to be fired! Not a single worker there faces extermination as the Jews suffered during the war! I'm sick this can go on in MY COUNTRY!

  10. Mona Boeger says:

    This is an abandoned auto plant in Detroit , no one has worked there for many years. Also, they should have reported that someone else went there this morning and tore it down since the city and the property owners didn't. All these articles are a little late to the party. I live in a suburb outside of Detroit and these articles are being posted after the sign has already been removed.

  11. James Sorrell says:

    Thank you for the update.

  12. James Sorrell says:

    Thank you for the update.

  13. I see this as hate speech, when made aware, but having grown up in an area where.
    we didn't have Jewish people around us, but I have seen liberals use this actual slogan during apartheid South Africa.

  14. Those words are very personal to me. My father was a Holocaust survivor. He lost his first wife and first son…the half brother I never knew…in Bergen Belsen.

    Just as disgusting is this https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1044511757366&set=a.1030112797401.2005964.1362789408&type=1&permPage=1.

    Facebook will not remove it.

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