Two teens headed to trial over Auschwitz theft

After reversing pleas to not guilty, Polish prosecutors intend to file new charges against teens who stole artifacts from Nazi death camp.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Auschwitz entrance
Auschwitz entrance

Two British teenagers, fined in June on charges of stealing artifacts from the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, will now face trial for the same offense, a Polish prosecutor said Wednesday.

The two, back in England, were given a one-year probation along with the fine after pleading guilty in June, then released by Polish authorities.

But they have since reversed their plea to not guilty, prompting the new charges, said Mariusz Slomka from the prosecutor's office in Oswiecim, the southern city where the  Auschwitz camp is located.

If found guilty, they could face up to 10 years in prison for "stealing objects of historical value," said Slomka. He said the "charges were delivered Tuesday to the court in the city of Krakow", in southern Poland.

Born in 1997 and 1998, the boys - both minors - were students at the Perse School, a private facility near Cambridge in southern England.

They were detained in June near barracks where the prisoners' personal items used to be sorted, Pawel Sawicki, spokesman for a museum at the Polish site, said at the time.

"The guards saw them dig in the ground. They detained them and discovered that they were in possession of shards of glass, buttons, a hair clipper and bits of metal," he said.

After the incident, the Perse School said the two pupils admitted taking items of historical important that they "found on the ground", and said there would be a "full and thorough investigation."

The boys were fined 240 euros ($262), released and left Poland in June.

This was not the first time someone has tried to smuggle out a piece of the former death camp, which has become a symbol of the Holocaust and is visited by more than a million people from across the world each year.

Several people have tried to make off with barbed wire, while one particularly brazen gang walked out with the camp's infamous "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes you free") sign in 2009.

The mastermind of that theft, Swedish neo-Nazi Anders Hoegstroem, was jailed for two-and-a-half years.

The metal sign was eventually recovered cut up into three pieces, leading museum officials to display a replica above the entrance.

One million European Jews died at the camp set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940-1945.

More than 100,000 others including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died there, according to the museum.

AFP contributed to this report.