Auschwitz I camp's signboard - Memory makes us free

Auschwitz I camp’s signboard

ARBEIT MACHT FREI, in Italian, ‘work makes you free’, is the motto that gave “welcome” to prisoners in the concentration camp. The phrase was inspired by the title of a novel (1872) written by the German writer Lorenz Diefenbach.

The signboard of Auschwitz I

It was in 1940 that the sign was placed at the entrance gate of the Auschwitz I concentration camp at the behest of Major Rudolf Höß. The order was executed by Kapo Kurt Müller, who entrusted the writing to a blacksmith, the non-Jewish Polish political dissident Jan Liwacz, prisoner n. 1010, who headed the internal workshop of the camp, “Schlosserei”.

The wrought iron sign managed to hide a secret message from the Nazis, imperceptible to their eyes for years, but now clear and obvious to everyone. The blacksmith decided to weld the letter “B” backwards, turning the small eyelet upside down from the large one, contrary to how the graphics dictate.

La lettera B capovolta
The inverted  letter “B”

The inverted “B”, which nobody noticed, was for all the prisoners a symbol of rebellion and contempt against the atrocities that took place in the camps, the depiction of courage, a sign of trust addressed to all the deportees.

Liwacz, with that little great challenge that could have cost him his life, has welded in iron an eternal and enduring cry of pain against the hatred and murders that took place daily in the fields, against the indifference that reigned supreme among the inhabitants of the surrounding countries and among the politicians of the largest nations of the world, and against the humiliation suffered by all those who were considered different from the alleged dominant race.

Insegna del campo di Auschwitz1
The signboard of Auschwitz I – Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum –

When the Red Army freed the prisoners of the camps on 27 January 1945, the Soviets decided to transport the sign to the East, but a former prisoner of the camp, Eugeniusz Nosal, well aware of its value, exchanged it for a bottle of vodka.

It remained hidden for years in the municipality of Oświêcim and later donated to the Museum of Deportation, founded on the remains of the extermination camp.

The inverted “B”, still arouses amazement and admiration, so much so that in 2014, a reproduction about two meters high was installed near the European Parliament in Bruxelles.

Riproduzione della B capovolta, installata nei pressi del parlamento europeo, a Bruxelles
The inverted “B” installed nearby the European Parliament of Bruxelles.


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