BERLIN – A wrought-iron gate bearing the cynical slogan "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work sets you free," that was stolen from the former Dachau concentration camp in November will soon be restored, thanks to the work of a German blacksmith tasked with making a replica of the symbol of Nazi cruelty.
Working off photos and drawings of the original gate, Bavarian blacksmith Michael Poitner, is forging the letters over a coal fire in his blacksmith shop near Dachau in southern Germany, bending them into shape and laying them into the gate.
The gate -- measuring 75 by 37 inches -- will be set into a larger iron gate shortly before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by U.S. forces on April 29, 1945.
Poitner said Thursday he first felt ambivalent about recreating the infamous Nazi slogan, but in the end decided it was important to help restore the original state of the concentration camp.
"The bottom line is that (the replica) is for a memorial site that's visited by 800,000 people every year," Poitner said. "When they visit, they're reflecting on the persecution of the people and that this mustn't be repeated ... and the cynical slogan is part of (all) that."
Memorial director Gabriele Hammermann stressed the significance of the iron gate as well, saying the slogan is a key symbol for the suffering of the inmates and that survivors of the camp had pleaded for the gate to be reconstructed true to the original.
Dachau, near Munich, was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis in 1933. More than 200,000 people from across Europe were held there and over 40,000 prisoners died there. The camp is now a memorial site.