Ever since the death camp was overtaken by the Red Army in January 1945, and the world was exposed to the untold horrors of Auschwitz in its task as a vast industrial enterprise centered on methodical, mass, documented killing, the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" has become synonymous with the peephole to Hell.

The theft of the defining symbol of the Holocaust by unknown thieves on Friday, December 18, has dumbfounded Polish authorities, jolted Israel, and mystified all those around the world who still insist on not forgetting. Inevitably, conspiracy theories immediately spurted in the effort to explain this act of vile effrontery to millions of victims of Nazism.

The theft as a symbolic act helps illuminate broader issues.

Anti-Semitism is again on the rise worldwide. The expressed intention of Iran and other Islamist fanatics to extinguish Israel has been acquiring more explicit, more aggressive, more focused forms. The "Zionist conspiracy," affecting apparently everything from the price of milk to rising energy costs to canceled flights to the world banking bubble, is again the not-too-veiled "argument" used by politicians, editorialists, and "opinion makers" in many countries around the globe. And acts of open hostility toward Israel by even "sensible" states, effectively questioning the right of the Jewish state to defend itself against attack, highlight a not too promising future.

Fatigued stereotypes, like the Jewish "financier," the Jewish "rentier," the Jewish "usurer," and the Jewish "dissolver of Nations," have been tightening their grip again on supposedly sophisticated debates by academics, scholars, teachers, priests, and political activists. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," one of the most elaborate and, at the same time, crudest fabrications in the history of racist propaganda, are again seriously discussed as "proof" of the ongoing "world Jewish conspiracy."

Stealing the symbol of the Holocaust above the Auschwitz gate is the starkest reminder that, whatever the motives of the unknown perpetrators, there are frighteningly many around the world who still scoff at the fate of millions butchered by the Nazis in their organized, "rational," meticulously executed operation of genocide.

The theft is not an affront against the Jews only. It is an affront against every civilized individual, who dismisses blind hatred, refuses to bend to the "historical imperative" of slaughtering Nations in order to "cleanse" the world, and opposes with all his powers of reason the slanderers of the innocent dead and their political instigators and protectors.

Our world is surreptitiously -- and, sometimes, not so surreptitiously -- sliding again toward hysteria and confusion and mass unrest so familiar to those who continue to study the history of the 20th century. These are ominous signs. We could be again entering the domain of "prophecies" that must be fulfilled. The most recent occasion of a "prophecy" in need of fulfillment, that of the "1000-year Reich," cost us a minimum 50 million dead.

Are we again beginning with the Jews?

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