Poland recovers Auschwitz sign

 

Polish police found the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was stolen from the gate of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.

Police confirmed this morning they have arrested five suspects, following discovery of the sign, which was found cut into three pieces.

Police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said the sign was found last night in northern Poland, the other end of the country from the southern Polish town where the Auschwitz memorial museum is located and where it disappeared before dawn on Friday.

Police said it was too soon to say what the motive for the theft was but they are investigating whether the Nazi memorabilia market may have played a part. The suspects do not have known neo-Nazi or other far-right links, Andrzej Rokita, the chief police investigator in the case said.

"Robbery and material gain are considered one of the main possible motives, but whether that was done on someone's order will be determined in the process of the investigation," added deputy investigator Marek Wozniczka.

"They are ordinary thieves," he said.

Police detained five men between the ages of 25 and 39 and took them for questioning to Krakow, which is the regional command of the area that includes the Auschwitz museum.

Another police spokesman said the five-metre sign, made of hollow steel, was found cut into three pieces, each containing one of the words. The cruelly ironic phrase means "Work Sets You Free" and ran completely counter to the purpose of Auschwitz, which began as a concentration camp for political prisoners during the Nazi occupation of Poland and evolved into an extermination camp where Jews were gassed to death in factory-like fashion.

The police refused to divulge any details of the circumstances in which the sign was found or to speculate on the motive of the perpetrators.

The sign was stolen early last Friday, setting off an international outcry at the disappearance of one of the most chilling and best known symbols of the Holocaust. State authorities made finding it a priority and appealed to all Poles for assistance.

Museum authorities welcomed the news with huge relief despite the damage done to the sign. Spokesman Pawel Sawicki said conservation experts will have to determine how best to repair it and that the museum authorities hope to restore it to its place as soon as possible.

More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, but also Gypsies, Poles and others, died in the gas chambers or from starvation and disease while performing forced labour at Auschwitz, which Nazi Germany built in occupied Poland during World War II. The camp was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27th, 1945.

AP