Two British teenagers have been arrested by Polish police after they reportedly took personal items belonging to concentration camp victims while visiting Auschwitz.
The two boys, both 17-years-old, who have not been named but are pupils of the private The Perse School in Cambridge, were allegedly found by museum security guards with a number of items reportedly in their backpacks.
A Foreign Office spokesperson confirmed the arrest of two nationals in Poland yesterday to The Independent. They added: “We are in contact with the Polish authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance.”
Malopolska police deputy inspector Mariusz Ciarka told the Krakow Gazette that the two boys, who were interrogated with the help of translators by local police, maintain their innocence.
The Britons face up to ten years in prison if found guilty of the alleged crime.
The boys are understood have been on a school history trip. A statement from the Perse School said 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," the Perse School's spokesman added.
They remain in custody and, according to local newspapers, have been questioned in connection with misappropriation of objects that are artefacts of special cultural significance.
Hair clippers, a spoon shard, buttons and two fragments from glasses are said to be among the items missing.
It is believed that the boys found the items on the ground near the ‘Canada’ section of the camp, where items stolen from the prisoners would be housed. Following the camp’s liberation, the warehouses were torched by guards but rainfall often brings small – once buried – objects up to the surface.
Deputy inspector Ciarka claimed that neither boy appeared aware of the gravity of the alleged offence.
The chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust Karen Pollock told The Independent that the boys’ alleged actions were “absolutely shocking” and demonstrated a “gross disregard to the memory of the Holocaust.”
In a statement, Ms Pollock said: “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.”
She added that her organisation would “gladly” work with the pupils to “ensure they understand the implications of their actions”.
Auschwitz was one of the first camps established by the Nazis. It would later expand to become the extermination and concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
More than million people, mostly European Jews, were systematically murdered on the site.
Following its liberation, the site became a powerful symbol of the horrors of the Nazi regime and of the Holocaust. In later years was turned into a museum and attracted 1,400,000 visitors last year.
Additional reporting by Reuters