Creator of chilling Nazi message on Packard Plant comes forward, criticizes the sign’s removal

Packard SignThe creator of a chilling message that alluded to the Auschwitz concentration camp on the windowless overpass of the abandoned Packard Plant appears to have come forward, saying he was misunderstood and criticized the removal of the sign.

“‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’ was cruelly placed at the entrances of the labor camps in irony, with the knowledge that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope, only death,” the artist, Penny Gaff, said, dismissing claims that the sign was anti-Semitic. “A parallel can be drawn with the current corporatocracy we are subjected to today. The illusion that one day we will be rich and successful is similarly misleading, but we swallow it and live in this false sense of hope. We whore our lives away day after day for corporations and the empty promises of the powers that be. We have become wage slaves, with no alternative, essentially reinstating forced labor.”

Penny Gaff most likely is a reference to popular entertainment for the lower classes in the 19th-century.

Blogger James Fassinger, of, discovered the alleged artist’s explanation for posting the sign, which was taken down a day or two later by another blogger, Randy Wilcox, who runs the blog,

The infamous German slogan – Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates to “Work Will Make you Free” – was spelled out in the same font on the Packard 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 placed the sign on the overpass, the gateway to Detroit, the heart of a once booming industrial America, full of capitalist promise and hope,” the alleged artist wrote. “Once, it employed thousands of people, but now lies in ruins and is dead, as are the dreams of those who sacrificed their lives in the form of labor. All that remains is a war torn cityscape, an economic genocide and GHETTOIZATION of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.”

Wilcox and another man 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.”

The alleged artist compared the destruction of the sign to the theft of the original sign from the Auschwitz camp in 2009.

“It is an affront to humanity, history, intellectual dialogue, art and the suffering of those who perished then and are perishing still at the hands of our oppressors,” the person wrote.

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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.