Riddle of the Stolen Sign

The notorious 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign was recovered by Polish police on Sunday 20th December, two days after it was stolen from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

Five men were arrested in the city of Torun, several hundred kilometres north of the town of Oswiecim (the historical Polish name of Auschwitz). The suspects could face up to ten years in prison for the theft and damaging of the sign.

Polish authorities believe that the sign was 'stolen to order' at the request of an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia. Initially, there were suggestions that the theft might have been carried out by neo-fascists, but that theory has now been largely discounted. According to Polish police, the detained men have histories of law-breaking behind them, specifically in the realm of theft.

The disappearance of the sign in the earlier hours of Friday, 18th December caused outrage around the world. During World War II, inmates entering the Nazi death camp were taunted with the wrought iron words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free). However, although prisoners were compelled to work, the pitiful conditions and extremities of climate took their toll. More than a million perished, the majority of whom being Jews from across Europe, who were murdered in gas chambers. Polish Catholics, Russians and Gypsies counted amongst the other significant victims of the regime.

The sign was broken into three pieces during the theft, but the museum hopes to have the piece restored in time for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. The anniversary falls on 27th January.


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