THE BLOG
11/13/2014 04:16 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2015

A Bad Sign

Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

There has been much reporting about the attempt of Jewish families to reclaim works of art that had been pilfered by the Nazis. The recent discovery of 1280 works of art in the Schwabing apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt the son of Hilldebrand Gurlitt, an infamous dealer who preyed on Jewish collectors is one of the most famous examples of the phenomenon of Raubkunst or stolen Nazi art ("The Devil and the Art Dealer," Vanity Fair, 4/14). The Times recently reported on the theft of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from Dachau ("Gate Bearing Notorious Slogan Is Stolen From Dachau Site," NYT, 11/3/14) According to the Times this wasn't the first time this kind of theft had occurred. The sign which welcomed the doomed to Auschwitz-Birkenau was stolen but later recovered in 2009. Such signs are artifacts rather than art, but looting a concentration camp is a little like grave robbing to the extent that it's defacing a memorial to one of the greatest atrocities of human history. The Times stated that the earlier Auschwitz-Birkenau theft had been the work of "a Swedish neo-Nazi and two Polish accomplices." Perhaps an inquiry into the intent of the earlier theft can unearth a motive for this latest crime. If, for example, the current perpetrators were also neo-Nazis, was the intent to remove evidence of the Holocaust the way say a criminal removes the fingerprints and even a murder weapon from a crime scene? Or were they some how revisionist Nazis who didn't approve of the euphemistic sound of the words of above the camp? In the best of all possible worlds, where a sequel to the Holocaust, would someday begin again would they have preferred the words Dante placed above the Inferno, "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrata," "abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}