Auschwitz Sign Found, Suspects Detained for Questioning

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Warsaw—Authorities in Poland have recovered a sign that had been stolen from the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, and are holding several men for questioning in the theft.

The sign, which is made of hollow steel and which reads “Arbeit Macht Frei,” translated as “Work Sets You Free,” used to hang at the top of the main entrance gate to the camp. It was stolen last Friday and had sparked a massive search effort by both Polish police and citizens. The disappearance of the sign, which is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, made headlines around the world.

According to a spokesperson for the police, the sign was located in northern Poland. Auschwitz, which was converted to a memorial museum after World War II, is in the southern part of the country. The 65- to 90-pound sign had been cut into three pieces, presumably to make it easier to transport.

Few details have emerged about the incident, but authorities have said that five men, ranging in age from 25 to 39, have been arrested and questioned. At least one of the men has a record for violent crime. Four are unemployed, and one owns a small construction company.

Conservation experts will study the sign and determine the best method of repair, in the hopes of returning it to its rightful place as soon as possible. In the meantime, officials at the museum have erected a replica of the sign, which had previously been built to stand in while the original was undergoing routine restoration.

Auschwitz was originally built as a concentration camp for political prisoners during the Nazi occupation of Poland, but devolved into an extermination camp. Jews and others, upon their arrival at the camp, were separated into groups—those healthy enough to work, and those who would be gassed right away. Nazi leaders also performed medical experiments on the prisoners, executed them, and killed them through extremely taxing forced labor.

The camp was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945, but not before millions of people were either put to death there or died from disease and starvation. More than one million Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and gay and lesbian people were killed at Auschwitz, and at other death camps in occupied Poland.

Police in Krakow say that the suspects, whom they describe as “ordinary thieves” without ties to Neo-Nazi or other extremist movements, will be charged with theft of an object of special cultural value. They could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

 

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