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'Arbeit Macht Frei' Gate Stolen From Former Dachau Death Camp

German authorities say they're investigating possible neo-Nazi involvement in the theft of an iron gate at the former Dachau concentration camp bearing the infamous phrase: "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "Work Makes You Free."

Those eerie words greeted some 200,000 prisoners who arrived at Dachau, which was the first concentration camp the Nazi regime opened in Germany. Tens of thousands of people sent there died from starvation and overwork as well as from medical experiments, torture and violence between 1933 and 1945.

The theft this past weekend shocked many Germans, including Dieter Graumann, president of the country's Central Council of Jews. He told the German Bild newspaper: "This desecration is horrible and shocking. Whoever does such a thing is either sick or evil. Probably both."

A gate with the same Nazi slogan was stolen from the former Auschwitz concentration camp in late 2009 and found days later cut into pieces. A Swedish man with neo-Nazi ties and several Polish accomplices were convicted of that theft.

Dachau's police chief, Thomas Rauscher, didn't provide details on his agency's investigation of the theft of the Dachau gate, which he said was timed between the rounds of security guards. There are no surveillance cameras at the site near Munich.

But the culprits involved in a separate theft of German historical markers in recent days quickly claimed responsibility. The thieves — who say they belong to a group called Center for Political Beauty — stole a series of crosses erected in Berlin along the Spree River to commemorate East Germans who died trying to swim to freedom in the West. They say they were trying to bring attention to refugees trying to get to Europe.

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Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.