Skip to comments.Polish police probe foreign link in Auschwitz theft
Posted on 12/22/2009 11:51:28 AM PST by lizol
Polish police probe foreign link in Auschwitz theft
By Wojciech Zurawski
KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Polish police are investigating a possible international link in the theft of the metal sign that hung over the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz, they said on Tuesday.
Police recovered the German language sign, which reads "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes you free"), and detained five men early on Monday over the theft, which triggered widespread outrage, especially from Israel and Jewish groups.
"We have been cooperating with... all international agencies and institutions around the world... It is possible that a person could be detained (on a European warrant)," police spokesman Dariusz Nowak told a news conference.
He gave no further details and declined to comment on Polish media reports that a Swedish collector might have been involved in the crime.
"The question of the mysterious Swede has appeared ... I cannot confirm or deny this ... Of course they (the five suspects) didn't steal it to have it in their collection. So it looks more and more that somebody else is behind this."
At the news conference, police displayed the metal sign, which had been broken into three pieces and was somewhat twisted out of shape. When they stole the sign last Friday, the thieves had left behind the final "i" of the word "frei", Nowak said.
Police have described the five suspects as common criminals with no known links to neo-Nazi groups.
"They stole the sign in order to make money," Nowak said.
The theft had stirred fears of a possible political motive as the sign is a powerful symbol of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis against the Jews.
The men face up to 10 years in jail for stealing and cutting up the sign, which was forged by Polish prisoners at Auschwitz in 1940-41 and is on the UNESCO world heritage list.
Several people will share the reward money, worth nearly $40,000, offered by the Auschwitz museum for the recovery of the sign, Nowak added.
Some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished at the death camp of Auschwitz -- known as Oswiecim in Polish -- during Nazi Germany's occupation of Poland in World War Two. Arriving prisoners entered via a small iron gate topped by the sign.
The motto became a symbol of the Nazis' efforts to give their victims a false sense of security before murdering them.
Auschwitz prisoners died of diseases, sub-zero temperatures, starvation and in medical experiments as well as being gassed.
More than 200 hectares (500 acres) of the former death camp became a museum after the war ended.
Hundreds of thousands visit the museum every year, but ticket sales are not enough to maintain the open-air site with its 155 buildings -- including the gas chambers -- 300 ruined facilities and hundreds of thousands of personal items.
Poland has appealed for international donations and Britain and Germany, among others, have offered money.
Museum authorities have said they hope to have the sign restored and put back in place in time for celebrations planned in January to mark the 65th anniversary of the camp's liberation by the Soviet Red Army.
The men face up to 10 years in jail for stealing and cutting up the sign.
I hope the slogan is painted above their prison cells.