Auschwitz sign was 'stolen for trophy hunters'

Arrested men were professional criminals 'without links to extremists'

Police and Holocaust experts have said that Nazi memorabilia collectors were behind the theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that has been recovered three days after it was stolen from the entrance of the former Auschwitz death camp.

Five men, aged between 20 and 39, were arrested late on Sunday after the sign, with the cynical inscription that means "Work sets you free", was torn from its mountings at the camp early on Friday prompting international outrage, a major police investigation and the tightening of controls at Poland's borders

Police said the sign, which had been cut into three sections, was found in woods near one of the arrested men's homes outside the northern city of Torun. They ruled out that any of the suspects had neo-Nazi connections. "They are all ordinary thieves with past convictions, some for robbery, others for violence," said Andrzej Rokita, the deputy head of Krakow police, who is leading the investigation.

Mr Rokita said that police were following leads that suggested the theft could have been commissioned by Nazi memorabilia hunters. "This will be determined in the process of the investigation," he said. Four of the men were said to be unemployed. One owned a small construction company.

The police said they had been tipped off about the sign's whereabouts by neighbours of one of the suspects following the offer of a reward. One element pointing to a commissioned theft was that two of the men were picked up in the Baltic harbour town of Gdynia, which is Poland's main container port.

Speculation about the involvement of memorabilia hunters was backed by Dr Bertrand Perz, an expert at Vienna's Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies. "There is a huge market on the internet for this kind of stuff," he said. "Many of the collectors are in the United States. Even such things as faked World War Two Jewish ghetto money can fetch thousands."

Dr Perz said it was impossible to put a value on something like the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign. "It is one of the most important symbols of the Nazi Holocaust. It is actually invaluable," he said.

Several Polish MPs have demanded that more reliable surveillance cameras be installed at Auschwitz – the world's best preserved and most chilling Nazi death camp that is now a museum attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year. Police revealed yesterday that the existing cameras at the camp had picked up images of the thieves, but that they were too poor to have been of any use to them as it had been too dark.

The sign's swift recovery was nevertheless welcomed by Auschwitz museum staff and Holocaust survivors' groups. "It is an enormous relief," said Pawel Sawicki, a museum spokesman. "We are extremely grateful to the police who have done fantastic work. This sign is probably one of the most important symbols of the past century and now it can be put back where it belongs," he added.

Avner Shalev, chairman of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial also expressed relief. Echoing the outrage felt by many at the sign's theft, he said the incident had given "pain to Holocaust survivors and people of conscience everywhere".

The Nazi slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" was first put up at the Dachau concentration map, where inmates were often worked to death, and became the cynical welcome to at least four other camps. Auschwitz started operating as an extermination camp in 1942 and more than a million people were murdered in its gas chambers and those of nearby Birkenau.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home