I broke the story this week of the infamous Auschwitz sign being placed at the Packard Plant in Detroit.
It’s since been removed.
By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Published: 9:44 PM, February 4, 2013
Big letters have been placed on the overpass at the Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit that read in German “Work will make you Free,” concerning some metro Detroiters, given the resemblance to an infamous sign at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. It’s unclear who put up the letters.
In capital red letters on a white background, the new sign at the decaying site on Detroit’s east side reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” the exact same words at the entrance to the concentration camps in Poland where Jews were forced to work and were murdered. The sign, which was used at other Nazi camps, became well known as an international symbol of cruelty.
“I found it disturbing,” said David Schulman, 53, a Huntington Woods resident who came across the Detroit sign while driving home last week from Belle Isle. His grandmother had family members killed in the Holocaust.
“It’s a form of hate speech,” Schulman said. “It really appalled me.”
An attorney who represents the owner of the plant said he wasn’t aware of the sign until contacted by the Free Press, but now intends to remove it or cover it up.
“This is a disgusting act,” said Troy attorney John Bologna, who represents the plant’s owner Dominic Cristini. Cristini is in a legal dispute with the city over the plant’s ownership.
The sign consists of separate white rectangular pieces for each letter. The style of the lettering in the Detroit 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.
The letters appear to have been hung there sometime this year, said Schulman. He didn’t notice them when driving about a month ago by the overpass, which sits across East Grand Boulevard near Concord Street.
The plant has become a symbol of Detroit’s industrial decline. Designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn, the Packard Plant used to be an auto manufacturing facility where thousands worked and was a symbol of the strength of blue-collar labor in America’s Midwest.
It’s unclear if the sign is meant to be a satirical remark on the decline of manufacturing and cities like Detroit. In recent years, artists have explored the plant, and installed or moved around objects to make commentary on urban and industrial decay.
Regardless of whether the sign is part of an art project or satire, Schulman said such a sign is quite offensive.
His grandmother and her sister were the only two members in their family to survive the Nazis, he said. Schulman has contacted the Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League about the sign at the Packard Plant.
“I can’t explain why someone would want to do something like that,” he said. “It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t make our city look well.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or firstname.lastname@example.org