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Gone are the infamous words, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which was spelled out in the same font that greeted Jews as they were ushered into the gates of Auschwitz for an almost certain death. More than 1 million people were murdered.
“I went up with a hammer and tore the god damn thing down,” Randy Wilcox, who runs the blog DetroitFunk.com, said.
“Arbeit Macht Frei” translates to “Work Will Make You Free,” which was a lie to Jews and others who died in gas chambers.
On Tuesday afternoon, the day we first reported the sign, Wilcox ripped off the letters using a claw hammer to remove about 80 strong pastic and metal ties.
“This is a straight up hate crime,” Wilcox said. “It has been up for a few days with nobody stepping up to get rid of this thing.”
On his blog, Wilcox caught some criticism for removing what some people think was art, not a message of hate.
“I like how fucking offended people get over a stupid sign,” one commenter wrote on his blog. “Ignorance is bliss.”
How is it art? That’s debatable, but the message seems clear: People who swarmed to Detroit for auto jobs in the early 20th century, especially poor black people, were promised decent pay for a family. In other words, work will make you free. Placing the letters above the Packard Plant overpass, which once welcomed people to the Motor City, seemed fitting because Jews and other victims of the Holocaust were “greeted” with the same message over a gated fence. Since auto jobs left the area, the city is one of the poorest, most segregated areas.
But Wilcox and many others are offended that anyone would try to compare the atrocities of a concentration camp to anything.
“This one is off the charts and offensive,” Wilcox said.
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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.