Auschwitz Sign Stolen

Tourists walk under a newly installed copy of the inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" at the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau, in Oswiecim, southern Poland, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. The original infamous iron sign over the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau was stolen before dawn Friday and the police launched an intensive search. (AP Photo) ** POLAND OUT **
AP Photo

In a place of horror and suffering, it was the infamous motto of Nazi cruelty. Arching over the entry to Auschwitz, a 16-foot-long iron sign said, "Work Sets You Free."

CBS News correspondent Richard Roth reports at dawn Friday, the sign was missing. It was stolen, according to Polish police, by thieves who entered Auschwitzthrough a gap in a wall overnight and cut through barbed wire to get away.

Auschwitz Memorial and Museum

"It is unbelievable," said a spokesman for the Auschwitz Museum. "Sad, and frustrating."

A replica of the 90-pound sign was quickly bolted into place. But the theft was condemned as sacrilege by survivors of the holocaust.

Noah Flug, a survivor of Auschwitz, said, "when we, that have been their prisoners, shall not be more, Auschwitz is a symbol you can see there what happened."

What did happen beyond the sign - with its cynical slogan promising "freedom through work" -- was the biggest mass murder in history.

More than a million prisoners, mostly Jews, died in the Nazi death camp between 1940 and 1945. Many of them exterminated in gas chambers.

With age and weather wearing on Auschwitz, there'd just been agreement on money to preserve the memorial.

Poland's chief rabbi said whoever stole the sign has vandalized world memory.