Arbeit Mach Frei in Detroit


February 5, 2013 by Benji

It was reported this morning on that someone put up an Arbeit Mach Frei sign.

As the grandson of Holocaust Survivors and specifically Auschwitz survivors, its painful to even see this happening in Detroit.

As more information comes to light, I will be posting it. so please stick around to find out more.

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

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

Arbeit Mach Frei’ — Homemade Packard Plant Sign Replicates Slogan At Auchwitz : Niraj Warikoo

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 intend 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

6 thoughts on “Arbeit Mach Frei in Detroit

  1. Robert says:


  2. Hannah says:

    The upside down B was put there by Jewish iron workers who made the sign, as a subtle act of defiance. I look forward to learning more about this very large and atrocious act in Detroit. If this is art, I assume the artists are equating Detroit’s economic decline with a holocaust of sorts. The methodical placement of the sign shows the deliberate and purposeful nature of the message. The word holocaust has been overused and will always be linked to the actual event.

    The sign was a macabre joke for the Nazis to dupe the (often) unsuspecting prisoners into thinking they were there to work, when really, they were there to be tortured and die. The perpetrators should be sent to Poland on March of the Living to walk under the actual sign and see the utter desolation and destruction of Eastern Europe. It was a very proud and holy moment to walk under the sign myself, the descendants of Auschwitz survivors. Thanks for posting this Benji.

  3. pam says:

    horrible! I can’t believe this still exists today!

  4. Dave says:

    A neighbor commented that her child will be going to the Holocaust Museum next month and that it should “be fun” for her. After my initial shock, I commented that the mountain of shoes in the National Museum in Wash. DC was sobering and thought provoking. She then informed me that her oldest was told by her public school teacher that the Holocaust was a hoax. I would really like to meet this fine educator of our young….

  5. […] day people have been talking about the Arbeit Macht Frei sign that was put up on the Packard Plant in Detroit. There have people (like me) who […]

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