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Foreign ‘Trophy Hunters’ Suspected in Auschwitz Theft

Foreign trophy hunters,” possibly from Sweden, are suspected as being behind the theft of the infamous “Work Will Make You Free” sign at Auschwitz.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 12/23/2009, 12:54 PM / Last Update: 12/23/2009, 1:09 PM

Israel news photo

Foreign trophy hunters,” possibly from Sweden, are suspected as being behind the theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" (“Work Will Make You Free”) sign at Auschwitz. Polish police recovered the sign after a citizen responded to a reward offer and reported on suspicious moves by neighbors.

All five men arrested for the theft of the sign are professional criminals but not connected with neo-Nazis or terrorists, authorities said. The thieves cut the 16-foot metal sign into three pieces and hid them in one of the arrested men’s homes.

Police arrested part of the gang in Poland’s major port container town, where many boats head for Sweden.

“There is a huge market on the Internet for this kind of stuff,"  Dr. Bertrand Perz, an expert at Vienna's Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, told the London Independent. "Many of the collectors are in the United States. Even such things as faked World War II Jewish ghetto money can fetch thousands." He said the sign is “actually invaluable.”

The cynical sign had stood at the entrance to the site of the Auschwitz death camp, where more than a million Holocaust victims were murdered in gas chambers, and the sign originally was in the Dauchau concentration camp, where Jews were worked to death. It also was placed at other camps.

The thieves returned to the site of the camp several times during the night, after realizing they did not have the right tools to dismantle the 90-pound sign, clear evidence that security at the museum was not functioning property, according to Polish police.

Workers are trying to restore the sign in time for next month's 65th anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau's liberation by Soviet troops. In the meantime, a temporary replica hangs over the entrance.