US Army Commander Suspended After Notorious Auschwitz Death Camp Motto Used To Encourage Recruitment

A United States Army commander has been suspended pending an investigation into a memo sent out to Army recruiters that used Auschwitz's infamous Nazi slogan in official correspondence.

An estimated 1.3 million people were deported to the Nazi death camp near the industrial town of Oświęcim in southern Poland between 1940 and 1945. The camp is the graveyard of over 1.1 million men, women, and children.

Those sent to the Main Camp, known as Auschwitz I, would pass under a large iron gate bearing the words "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work sets you free." In 2019, U.S. Army recruiters in Houston, Texas, passed by the displayed motto after their commander included the infamous Nazi phrase as part of an incentive program to encourage Army recruiters to complete more enlistment contracts of new recruits.

"Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Will Set You Free) NO CHANGE," the memo said in official correspondence to subordinates. "1 Contract=No Saturday work days for the remainder of the PL [phase line]."

"If you write 6 contracts or more in a PL you are a god and I make a shrine to you in the CCG [Company Command Group]," another line said.

The official correspondence was posted by "Truth of Army Recruiting," a Facebook page aimed at scrutinizing U.S. Army Recruiting Command. The page also provides a forum for Army recruiters to vent, anonymously, about the struggles of being a military recruiter.

Contacted by Newsweek, the administrator of Truth of Army Recruiting said the screenshot was sent in by a U.S. Army recruiter in the Houston area, according to screenshots provided to this publication between the Army recruiter and the administrator.

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The memo was pinned to the company bulletin board and had been there since at least January, said the administrator of Truth of Army Recruiting, who asked not to be named.

When asked if Truth of Army Recruiting added the image showing the front gate of Auschwitz, the administrator told Newsweek the photograph was a part of the memo that was pinned to the company bulletin board.

Contacted by Newsweek on Thursday, U.S. Army Recruiting Command said they were aware of the memo sent out by a recruiting company commander in the Houston area.

"The commander has been suspended pending the outcome of our current investigation into the situation," said Kelli Bland, the director of public affairs for U.S. Army Recruiting Command, in a statement. "Army recruiting leaders will take appropriate action once the investigation is complete and all facts are known. When an individual enters into the military, they are held to high moral and ethical standards — Soldiers who choose not to live up to our values will be held accountable for their actions."

In a follow-on email to Newsweek from U.S. Army Recruiting Command on Thursday, officials said they would look into the memo with the Auschwitz image being hung on the company bulletin board.

"The memo was distributed digitally and did not contain any images. We have no evidence or reason to believe that the company commander distributed a photograph of the fence, but this will be looked into as part of the investigation," said a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

"Arbeit macht frei" was a false, cynical illusion the SS gave to prisoners of the camp. Those words became one of the icons of human capability to hate and do evil. It's painful to see them in such context, especially as someone knew the German phrase. Hard to understand why.

— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) August 22, 2019

The statement did not identify the recruiting company commander by name. The administrator of Truth of Army Recruiting said the recruiters in Houston had achieved their recruiting goals not long ago, but area commanders were still pushing them to work late into the evenings—a problem that has plagued the Pentagon's recruiting community.

Back in 2009, the U.S. Army investigated a collection of suicides in the Houston Recruiting Battalion, NPR reported. The Army concluded that the four suicides stemmed from "the command climate, stress, personal matters, and medical problems."

Yet, despite the grueling hours and never-ending paperwork, the administrator of Truth of Army Recruiting told Newsweek: "There are some things you just don't joke about."

In a statement to Newsweek on Thursday from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, a spokesman said, a U.S. Army commander using the Nazi phrase was, "offensive to the legacy of the U.S. military which played a decisive role in defeating Nazi tyranny and liberating Nazi camps."

"Auschwitz has come to symbolize the Nazi camp system that was used to perpetrate genocide against Europe's Jews and persecute and murder many others. Arbeit Macht Frei was a cruel, cynical, and deceptive slogan at the gate of Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. Misusing Nazi phrases is demeaning to Holocaust victims and survivors," said Andrew Hollinger, the director of communications for the Washington memorial and museum.

Update: 8/22, 3:40 p.m.: This article has been updated with a statement from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and additional information from U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

James LaPorta reports on national security and the Defense Department for Newsweek. He is a former U.S Marine infantryman and intelligence cell chief. You can follow him on Twitter @JimLaPorta.

This picture taken on December 18, 2009 shows a replica of the "Arbeit macht frei" sign at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. A U.S. Army recruiting commander is under investigation for using the slogan as apart of an incentive program to keep military recruiters working hard in exchange for days off work. JACEK BEDNARCZYK/Getty