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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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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.

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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.

Yori Yanover

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.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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