Police release two British teenagers arrested for 'taking artefacts' from Auschwitz

The boys were found with objects taken from prisoners at the death camp

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two British teenagers who were arrested on suspicion of stealing items that belonged to prisoners at Auschwitz have been released with suspended sentences.

The 17-year-olds - who are students at the private The Perse School in Cambridge - were visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on a history field trip on Monday, when they were spotted acting suspiciously.

Police apprehended the teenagers in warehouse number five – known as Canada – where the belongings of the Auschwitz arrivals were seized during the Holocaust.

Officers found the pair with fragments of hair clippers, spoons, some buttons and two pieces of glass.

The pair were released on Tuesday afternoon. They denied any wrongdoing, and escaped a fine because they are not working, police officers said.

If found guilty, the teenagers could have spent up to a decade behind bars.

The teenagers have been heavily criticised for their actions, and accused of showing “gross disregard” to the history of the camp where more than a million people were systematically murdered.

Karen Pollock, the Holocaust Educational Trust's chief executive, said: "This is absolutely shocking and shows gross disregard to the memory of the Holocaust.

"Every single artefact found at Auschwitz-Birkenau tells a story of the more than a million people who were ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis there and this incident serves to show why our work is crucial now more than ever.

"We have a duty to educate the next generation to prevent ignorance and hate, and in over 15 years of organising for thousands of British teenagers to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, we have never known of such an incident.

"We would gladly work with these young boys to ensure they understand the implications of their actions although this is now a matter for the police."

 

A Perse School spokesman said before the boys were released:  The pupils ”attempted to keep some items of historical importance which they had found on the ground.“

“We understand they have explained that they picked up the items without thinking, and they have apologised unreservedly for the offence they have given, and expressed real remorse for their action,” he added.

Headmaster Ed Elliott added: “There will be a full and thorough investigation into what occurred. I want to hear directly from the boys as to what led them to take these items. I want to ensure that all necessary lessons are learnt. The opportunity to be able to visit Holocaust sites carries with it the duty to treat those sites with the utmost respect and sensitivity.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are in contact with the Polish authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance."

This is not the first instance visitors to the death camp have attempted to steal artefacts.

In 2010, a Swedish man was jailed for organising the theft of the Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free) sign from the entry gate of Auschwitz.