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Poland police question men over stolen Auschwitz sign

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Police believe the theft was financially motivated.

The "Arbeit macht frei" sign stolen from Auschwitz in southern Poland has been found in the north and five men are being questioned by police.

The five suspects, aged in their 20s and 30s, were not members of a neo-Nazi group, Krakow police said.

The metal sign from the main gate, which symbolises for many the atrocities of Nazi Germany, had been cut into three pieces, they added.

A major search was launched after the sign was stolen before dawn on Friday.

This symbol, probably one of the most important of the past century, can be put back in its place
Pawel Sawicki
Spokesman for Auschwitz museum

Andrzej Rokita, the local police chief in Krakow - where the men were being questioned - said the theft had been financially motivated, and it remained unclear whether it was carried out to order.

"From the information we have, none of the five belong to a neo-Nazi group nor hold such ideas," Andrzej Rokita said of the suspects.

'Enormous relief'

The sign's theft had caused outrage in Israel and among Polish politicians.

Polish police unload part of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was stolen last week
The sign has been cut into three pieces, police say

More than a million people - 90% of them Jews - were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz during World War II.

Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for Auschwitz museum, said the recovery of the sign was an "enormous relief".

"We are extremely grateful to the police who have done fantastic work," he told AFP news agency.

"This symbol, probably one of the most important of the past century, can be put back in its place."

The museum is preparing to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau's liberation by Soviet troops on 27 January.

Scrap metal yards searched

Police had stepped up security checks at airports and border crossings and searched scrap metal yards over the weekend in their hunt for the 5m (16ft) sign, which translates as "Work sets you free".

The sign at the main entry to Auschwitz just after the liberation in 1945
The sign has been restored since the camp was liberated in 1945

"We have arrested five men aged from 20 to 39 in the north of Poland," said Krakow police spokesman Dariusz Nowak.

"They were picked up shortly before midnight and the sign was found in a house," he added without giving further details.

The wrought-iron sign was half-unscrewed, half-torn off from above the death camp's gate between 0330 and 0500 on Friday.

Investigators said at least two people would have been needed to steal the 40kg (90lb) sign.

Auschwitz museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said the thieves had apparently carried the sign 300m (328 yards) to an opening in a concrete wall. The opening was left intentionally to preserve a poplar tree dating back to the time of World War II.

Four metal bars that blocked the opening had been cut and footprints in the snow led from the wall opening to the nearby road, where police presume the sign was loaded on to a vehicle.



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SEE ALSO
Hunt for Auschwitz sign thieves
19 Dec 09 |  Europe
Auschwitz death camp sign stolen
18 Dec 09 |  Europe

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