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Jewish groups outraged over Nazi-inspired sign at Packard Plant in Detroit

8:34 PM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
Someone hung letters to make a sign that said "Arbeit Macht Frei" -- "Work makes you free" or "Work sets you free," on the Packard Plant. Photo taken Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. A sign with the same saying is on the gate at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Niraj Warikoo/DFP
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DETROIT (Detroit Free Press) - Jewish groups are outraged over the placing of a sign at the Packard Plant in Detroit that's similar to one placed at the entrance to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz.

"This graffiti is offensive to Jews and particularly to Holocaust survivors," said Heidi Budaj, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, the leading Jewish civil rights group in the U.S.

As reported first by the Free Press on Monday, new letters placed at the Packard Plant read "Arbeit Macht Frei," the same German words at the entrance to the concentration camps in Poland where Jews were forced to work and were murdered. The phrase means: "Work will make you Free."

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.

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John Bologna, an attorney for the owner of the site, told the Free Press on Monday they intend to remove it, but as of Tuesday afternoon, the letters are still there.

"I was distressed to hear of the" sign, Budaj said. "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."

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.

It's unclear who put up the letters and if the sign is meant to be a satirical remark on the decline of manufacturing and cities like Detroit.

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.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792

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