Page last updated at 20:54 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Auschwitz sign theft 'ordered from abroad'


Stolen Auschwitz sign unveiled

A Polish prosecutor says the theft of the "Arbeit macht frei" sign from Auschwitz was commissioned from abroad.

Police found the metal sign cut into three pieces on Sunday and arrested five men in northern Poland.

District prosecutor Artur Wrona said the theft was ordered by a foreigner and that Polish police were seeking assistance from Interpol.

But investigators have refused to comment on media reports that the sign was on its way to Sweden.

The 5m (16ft) wrought iron sign - the words on which translate as "Work sets you free" - symbolises for many the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

The theory that it might have been destined for Sweden arose because two of the suspects were detained in Poland's main port of Gdynia, where ferries to Sweden depart.

The five arrested men - all Polish - have no neo-Nazi links but police have not ruled out that whoever ordered the theft does.

Gaps in security

Parts of the Auschwitz sign are exhibited by police during a press conference in Krakow, Poland, 22 December 2009
The 5m (16ft) wrought iron sign was cut into three pieces

Three of the suspects were taken back to Auschwitz on Tuesday to re-enact the theft.

Mr Wrona said the re-enactment highlighted glaring gaps in the security at Auschwitz.

"Our investigation showed the thieves returned to the scene several times during the night... the security was not working properly," he said.

It emerged that when they first tried to steal the sign they realised they did not have the correct tools. So they left the camp to buy a spanner from a local shop.

The 40kg (90lb) sign was half-unscrewed, half-torn off from above the death camp's gate in the early hours of Friday morning.

If charged with theft and damage, the suspects face up to 10 years in prison.

The theft caused outrage in Israel, Poland and around the world.

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

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

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