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Old 12-18-2009, 06:49 AM
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Default Auschwitz 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign stolen

AP


OSWIECIM, Poland – The Nazis' infamous iron sign declaring "Arbeit Macht Frei" — German for "Work Sets You Free" — was stolen Friday from the entrance of the former Auschwitz death camp, Polish police said.

The 5-meter-long (16-foot-long), 40-kilogram (90-pound) iron sign at the Holocaust memorial site in southern Poland was unscrewed on one side and torn off on the other, police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said.

The theft from the entrance to the camp — where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II — brought immediate condemnation worldwide.

"The theft of such a symbolic object is an attack on the memory of the Holocaust, and an escalation from those elements that would like to return us to darker days," Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement from Jerusalem.

"I call on all enlightened forces in the world who fight against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and the hatred of the other, to join together to combat these trends."

The sign disappeared from the Auschwitz memorial between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., Padlo said.

Police deployed 50 investigators and a search dog to the Auschwitz grounds, where barracks, watchtowers and ruins of gas chambers still stand as testament to the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany.

Police were reviewing footage from Auschwitz's surveillance cameras to see if the theft was recorded.

Auschwitz museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said the thieves carried the sign 300 meters (yards) to an opening in a barbed-wire gap in a concrete wall. That opening had been left intentionally to preserve a poplar tree dating back to the time of the war.

The sniffer dog led police to a spot outside the wall where the sign left an imprint in freshly fallen snow, then to a roadside where the sign appeared to have been loaded onto a getaway vehicle.

In Brussels, European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek appealed to the thieves to return the sign.

"Give it back out of respect for the suffering of over a million victims, murdered in this Nazi camp, the biggest cemetery of humankind," Buzek said.

An exact replica of the sign, produced when the original received restoration work years ago, was quickly hung in its place.

Padlo said police were offering a 5,000-zloty ($1,700) reward for public tipoffs about the thieves.

In Jerusalem, the International Auschwitz Committee said the theft "deeply unsettles the survivors."

"The sign has to be found," said Noach Flug, an Auschwitz survivor and president of the committee. "The slogan and the camp itself will tell what happened even when we won't be able to tell anymore."

Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said he had trouble imagining who would steal the sign.

"If they are pranksters, they'd have to be sick pranksters, or someone with a political agenda. But whoever has done it has desecrated world memory," Schudrich said.

"Auschwitz has to stand intact because without it, we are without the world's greatest reminder — physical reminder — of what we are capable of doing to each other," he said.

After occupying Poland in 1939, the Nazis established the Auschwitz I camp in the southern Polish city of Oswiecim and initially used it for German political prisoners and non-Jewish Polish prisoners, who began arriving in June 1940.

Polish inmates made the original sign shortly thereafter in the camp's iron workshop, museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki said.

Two years later, hundreds of thousands of Jews began arriving by cattle trains to the wooden barracks of nearby Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, where most were killed in gas chambers.

The slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" appeared at the entrances of other Nazi camps, including Dachau and Sachsenhausen. The long curving sign at Auschwitz is considered the best known.

Today the Auschwitz site attracts more than 1 million visitors annually.

However, the barracks and other structures were not built to last many decades and badly need repairs. This week Germany pledged euro60 million ($87 million) — half the estimated amount required — to a new endowment that will fund long-term preservation work.

This was the first major act of vandalism at the site, which previously has suffered graffiti including spray-painted swastikas.

Other Holocaust memorials have suffered neo-Nazi vandalism. Sachsenhausen on the outskirts of Berlin was attacked in 1992, when two barracks were set on fire. That crime remains unsolved.













In a Jan. 26, 2005 file photo visitors walk uhder the sign at the entrance gate of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, southern Poland.

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Old 12-19-2009, 07:50 AM
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Default Poland tightens border in hunt for Auschwitz sign

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OSWIECIM, Poland Polish authorities stepped up security checks at airports and border crossings and searched scrap metal yards Saturday as the search intensified for the infamous Nazi sign stolen from the Auschwitz death camp memorial.

The brazen overnight theft Friday of one of the Holocaust's most chilling and notorious symbols sparked outrage from around the world, and Polish leaders have declared recovering the 5-meter (16-foot) sign a national priority.

The sign bearing the German words "Arbeit Macht Frei" "work makes you free" spanned the main entrance to the Auschwitz death camp, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.

The grim Nazi slogan was so counter to the actual function of the camp that it has been etched into history. The phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" appeared at the entrances of other Nazi camps, including Dachau and Sachsenhausen, but the long curving sign at Auschwitz was the best known.

Police deployed 50 officers, including 20 detectives, and a search dog to the Auschwitz grounds, where barracks, watchtowers and rows of barbed wire stand as testament to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said police had questioned all security guards at the site and searched local scrap metal businesses for it, while Dariusz Nowak, a police spokesman in Krakow, said investigators were working around the clock on the case.

The director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum, visibly shaken by the dramatic theft, told The Associated Press he believes the theft was carried out by professionals.

"I think it was done by specialists," Piotr Cywinski said. "It was a very well-prepared action."

British historian Andrew Roberts said the sign would generate huge interest on the burgeoning market for Nazi memorabilia.

Security guards patrol the 940-acre (200-hectare) site around the clock, but due to its vast size they only pass by any one area at intervals. He said that gave thieves between 20 to 30 minutes to remove the sign and carry it off.

Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki said the sign is made of hollow steel pipes and is believed to weigh only around 30 to 40 kilograms (65 to 90 pounds).

"A single person could lift it," Sawicki said.

Sawicki said the entire Auschwitz staff was deeply shaken by the theft. He defended security at the camp but said no one could have ever imagined thieves seizing the gate's sign.

"Thieves are also able to robs banks and museums. Clearly this was well planned. It's a blow to our human heritage," Sawicki said.

An exact replica of the sign, produced when the original underwent restoration work years ago, was quickly hung in its place Friday.

Michael Pick, 47, a history teacher from Brisbane, Australia, was glad the museum had put up a replica.

"The irony of the saying is something that we talk about in the classroom," he said, standing amid snow and below-freezing temperatures. "It would be better if it (the sign) were authentic but I would be incredibly disappointed if I showed up today and there was nothing there."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights group, urged Poland to intensify its investigation and bring the thieves to justice.

"The fact is that the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign has become the defining symbol of the Holocaust, because everyone knew that this was not a place where work makes you free, but it was the place where millions of men, women, and children were brought for one purpose only to be murdered," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean.

After occupying Poland in 1939, the Nazis established the Auschwitz I camp in the southern Polish city of Oswiecim, which initially housed German political prisoners and non-Jewish Polish prisoners. The sign was made in 1940. Two years later, hundreds of thousands of Jews began arriving by cattle trains to the wooden barracks of nearby Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, where most were killed in gas chambers.

Most of the camp's victims were Jews but they also included Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and political prisoners.

The camp was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945. Polish officials plan to mark the 65th anniversary of that liberation next month with somber ceremonies at the site.













This two photo combination shows above: a Polish Police handout showing the entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau, without the Nazi infamous iron sign inscription declaring 'Arbeit Macht Frei', German translated to 'Work Sets You Free', which was stolen from the entrance of the former Auschwitz death camp, Polish police said, in Oswiecim, southern Poland, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. The photo below shows an exact replica of the sign, produced when the original received restoration work years ago, which was quickly hung in its place, Friday Dec. 18, 2009.

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Old 12-19-2009, 09:14 AM
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There are some sick, sick folks in this world.
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