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Auschwitz Sign Theft Re-Enacted for Police Investigators
Police officers present parts of the retrieved inscription from the Auschwitz Birkenau entrance, during a press conference in Krakow, Poland, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009. The infamous inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" from the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau was stolen Dec. 18, 2009 and retrieved by the Polish Police three days later. AP Photo/Alik Keplicz.

Monika Scislowska, Associated Press Writer

WARSAW (AP).- Three men who confessed to the brazen theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free") sign from the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz on Tuesday re-enacted the event for investigators who said the crime might have been commissioned.

Polish media have reported, without citing any sources, that a person living in Sweden could be under suspicion.

Krakow police spokesman Dariusz Nowak did not say why investigators were looking at the possibility of the theft being organized, but said Tuesday that "indeed it looks like someone is behind it."

Nowak said foreign police have been notified and were working on the case but refused to elaborate. Krakow is 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Auschwitz museum.

Police found the sign Sunday — cut into three pieces and hidden under snow in the woods — and arrested five suspects in northern Poland. Officials said three of the five men have confessed to Friday's pre-dawn theft of the sign, which is a symbol of Nazi Germany atrocities during World War II.

Prosecutor Piotr Kosmaty said the three who had confessed were taken back to Auschwitz to show investigators how they unscrewed and tore the sign, which weighs 66 pounds (30 kilograms), and is 16 feet (five meters) long, from the gateposts.

Kosmaty said later that the re-enactment gave police some insights, but did not elaborate.

He said the two other men had denied any involvement and, further, denied being at Auschwitz.

In Krakow, police displayed the broken sign for journalists. It was cut into three parts, with each part bearing one of the words. Some of the steel pipe that formed its outline was bent and the letter "i'' was missing from the word "Frei" because it had been left behind during the theft. It was recovered at the scene.

Police forensics expert Lidia Puchacz said that cutting and sawing tools used in the theft were found at the home of one of the suspects.

She said experts will be analyzing the sign "millimeter by millimeter" for clues as to how it was cut up and by whom.

Krakow police spokesman Dariusz Nowak said the 115,000 zlotys ($40,000) reward for helping find the sign may be paid out to a number of people.

Prosecutors will decide when the sign could be returned to the museum and whether it will be back in time for the Jan. 27 ceremonies to mark Auschwitz's liberation by Soviet troops in 1945.

For now, an exact replica of the sign hangs in its place.

After occupying Poland in 1939, the Nazis established the Auschwitz I camp, which initially housed German political prisoners and Polish prisoners. The sign was made in 1940 and placed above the main gate there.

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 they were systematically killed in gas chambers.



Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Auschwitz | "Arbeit Macht Frei" | Nazi Germany |


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