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Casting of Auschwitz entrance arch


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    Brief Narrative
    Casting of the archway over the main gate to Auschwitz concentration camp (Auschwitz I) in German-occupied Poland. Auschwitz I was established in April 1940, in an abandoned Polish army barracks and was continuously expanded by forced labor. The motto on the arch came from the title of a 19th-century novel by Lorenz Diefenbach, first deployed as propaganda during the German economic and unemployment crisis of the 1920s and 1930s. Under the Nazi regime, it was also displayed in several other concentration camps around Europe, and suggested that the purpose of the camps was to reform inmates, who could earn their freedom through work. In reality, the aim of the camps was to extract the maximum amount of work from the prisoners, regardless of the cost to their health or life, and to kill all Jewish inmates through overwork, starvation, and executions. The shape of the arch was drawn on the ground by Kurt Müller, the Kapo of the camp’s metal workshop, and then fashioned using pipes from a water-expansion project. Jan Liwacz, a Polish prisoner and master artistic blacksmith, designed and made the letters. The ‘B’ was welded in place upside-down, which some prisoners interpreted as an act of resistance, though it was more likely an accident. By August 1944, Auschwitz I contained around 16,000 prisoners, the majority of whom were Jewish. The gas chambers ceased operation in October 1944, and in January 1945, the Auschwitz camp system was evacuated ahead of the arrival of Soviet forces. The Soviet army liberated 6,000 ill and dying prisoners from Auschwitz I, II, and III on January 27, 1945.
    manufacture:  after 1989 August 15-before 1991 March 18
    representation: Auschwitz (Concentration camp); Oświęcim (Poland)
    manufacture: West Sussex (England)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
    front, cast fiberglass letters : ARBEIT MACHT FREI [WORK SETS YOU FREE]
    Manufacturer: Edward Lawrence Associates (Export) Limited

    Physical Details

    Architectural Elements
    Object Type
    Arches (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Metal and fiberglass arch comprised of two long, parallel, tubular rods that curve upward from each end creating a rounded arch in the center. Attached between the rods, resembling the original welding, is a series of flat, black, uppercase, block letters forming three German words. The letter B in the first word is upside down. At each end is a hinged, c-shaped bracket, bolted to a black exhibition mount. The casting is painted in black and brown to resemble the original metal and subsequent rust from corrosion.
    overall: Height: 16.000 inches (40.64 cm) | Width: 257.000 inches (652.78 cm) | Depth: 4.000 inches (10.16 cm)
    overall : metal, fiberglass, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    Oświęcim (Poland)

    Administrative Notes

    The arch casting was acquired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1991.
    Primary Number
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:23:51
    This page:

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