Reconstruction or Original?

Another photo (source: Mr. Garand, USA) shows however that the inscription was later – probably by American soldiers – removed. In our opinion, this photo was taken before the “residential estate” of Dachau East was set up, i.e. in the 1940s, because the Golgotha Church on the onetime roll-call square is not visible. On photos from the Memorial Site’s early phase the inscription “Arbeit macht frei” is to be seen again.

A source found in the archive of the Memorial Site indicates that the inscription was reconstructed and inserted in the gate. After an inspection of the grounds in 1972 by the CID, the local Building Authority, and the Bavarian Department of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes, the accompanying minutes state: “The inscription ‘Arbeit macht frei’ removed from the iron entrance gate needs to be reinserted.” (Source: Protokoll der Bayerischen Schlösser und Seenverwaltung from May 15 1972 | Archiv der KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau)

Both these photos from the early phase of the Memorial Site’s archive as well as this document from 1972 were unfortunately not submitted to the architectural historian Axel Will as he compiled a report in 1999. Mr. Will therefore concludes in his expert report that the whole lattice gate was probably removed and later replaced by a reconstruction. This opinion was also influenced by a verbal statement made by the director of the Memorial Site at the time. Now able to consider the photos, Mr. Will explains it is highly likely that the inscription was reconstructed at the time of the Memorial Site’s founding, whereas the gate was not. The production of the gate including the inscription requires two different working steps; i.e. they were not made “all in one piece”. Moreover, the Americans made very few changes to the architecture of the Jourhaus, the western wing, and the bunker. In addition, they mostly gave things a new paint finish, so that other uses are only discernible through provisional fixtures. Instead of dismantling them, the Americans continued to use even the large imperial eagles adorned with swastikas affixed above the entrances to the barracks in the former SS area: they sawed off the swastikas and painted over the meter-tall eagles, turning them into bald eagles.

Based on the existing historical photos, the document from May 1972, the revised view of the architectural historian, and the general knowledge as to how the Americans dealt with the architectural legacy of the former concentration camp, the Memorial Site has come to the view that the gate is most likely original, while a reconstruction of the inscription was added in 1972.



  1. Jourhaus with gate without inscription, late 1940s (photo: Mr. Garand, USA)
  2. Jourhaus with gate and inscription “Arbeit macht frei” (photo: Franz Brückl)
Jourhaus with gate without inscription, late 1940s (photo: Mr. Garand, USA)
2. Jourhaus with gate and inscription “Arbeit macht frei” (photo: Franz Brückl)


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