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Workers hold an iron gate from Dachau concentration camp with the notorious "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work sets you free") which was returned to Dachau, Germany, February 22, 2017, after it was stolen in 2014. REUTERS/Ralph Brock


BERLIN (Reuters) - A wrought iron gate with the chilling inscription "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work sets you free") was returned to Germany's Dachau concentration camp on Wednesday, more than two years after it was stolen.

The theft in 2014 of the symbol of suffering inflicted by Hitler's Nazis on Jews and others caused outrage around the world. Police in Norway found it in December after an anonymous tipoff.

More than 41,000 people died at Dachau, and more than 200,000 people had been imprisoned at the camp by the time it was liberated at the end of World War Two.

Bavaria's culture minister said the theft had been an attack on the integrity of the memorial site at the camp.

"This gate was deliberately taken. Dachau has global symbolic significance. This is the healing of the wound," minister Ludwig Spaenle said at the official ceremony to bring it back and place it in the camp's permanent exhibition.

A replica of the gate, 1.87 metres (6.14 feet) high and weighing 108 kg (238 lbs), was installed in 2015 in time to mark the 70th anniversary of Dachau's liberation by U.S. soldiers in April 1945. The replica will remain in place.

Police in Norway found the stolen gate in a wooded area near the city of Bergen, partly covered with branches. Forensic experts examined it, but it had been outdoors too long to retain evidence such as fingerprints, a spokesman said.

"There were no technical clues to follow up. The case has been closed," Paal Duley, a senior police officer in Bergen, west Norway, told Reuters.

The Nazis set up the camp in Dachau, outside Munich, just weeks after Hitler took power in 1933. Initially designed to incarcerate political foes, it became the prototype for a network of concentration camps at which some 6 million Jews were murdered.

Television footage showing piles of bodies and starved inmates from the camp were among the first images the world saw of the Holocaust.

A sign bearing the same slogan at the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland was stolen in 2009, but was also later recovered.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo and Reuters TV; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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