By Symi Rom-Rymer
Well, the mystery is solved…sort of. The infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign stolen from Auschwitz on December 18 has been recovered on the other side of the country from where it was taken. At this point, the Polish police are refusing to comment on the circumstances surrounding the theft or on its motivation, although five men have been detained. But what has been most striking throughout this whole incident is the wild rhetoric that erupted in its wake. The comment that really got my attention, was one made by Avner Shalev, director of Yad Vashem (Israel’s memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust) the day the sign was reported missing. According to reports by the BBC, he called the theft “a true declaration of war.”
To which I say: Mr. Shalev, please explain yourself. What does “a true declaration of war” mean? Who is Israel now at war with? With all of Poland? With Polish neo-Nazis (the presumed perpetrators)? With the thieves themselves? With anti-Semitism? And is it all of Israel that is now at war with one or all of these groups or is it just Yad Vashem? Or are Jews around the world at war? Will you become ‘an Army of one’? Or will I be expected to grab a weapon and fight?
Yes, I am being a little flip and perhaps it’s not appropriate, but with all due respect, your reaction completely over the top. Yes, this was a vandalization of a sacred place for Jews and for all other groups imprisoned and killed in Auschwitz. But the Polish government and police acted appropriately and after only three days, the sign was found. If these civil bodies reacted more coolly or ignored the incident all together, then it would be cause for greater outrage. But they didn’t. Moreover, while the theft of the sign is serious, it’s still less serious than if a synagogue had been torched, Jewish Poles had been killed, or any other acts of senseless violence had been perpetrated. Again, if that were the case, then it would be cause for serious concern. But it wasn’t. So please Mr. Shalev, save your declarations of war for the truly heinous acts.
Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe. She has been published in JTA, The Christian Science Monitor and Jewcy.