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Stolen Auschwitz Sign Returns to Museum
Conservation experts and museum director Piotr Cywinski, second right, examine part of the cynical "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at the Auschwitz museum, Thursday Jan. 21, 2010. The infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign stolen last month from Auschwitz and broken into three pieces was returned to the museum at the site of the Nazi death camp Thursday. AP Photo/Jarek Praszkiewicz.

By: Vanessa Gera, Associated Press Writer

WARSAW (AP).-The infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign stolen last month from Auschwitz and broken into three pieces was returned to the museum at the site of the Nazi death camp Thursday.

Police — who had recovered the damaged sign quickly after its theft — handed it over to museum officials at a brief ceremony in Krakow, the Polish city 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Auschwitz museum.

Five Polish suspects have confessed to stealing the sign on Dec. 18, but officials are still seeking a suspected neo-Nazi from Sweden who is believed to have ordered the theft, possibly for a collector of Nazi memorabilia, prosecutors said.

The sign has been examined by police forensic experts for evidence, and will now go to conservation experts to assess the damage and determine how best to repair it, Auschwitz spokesman Pawel Sawicki said.

"It's a very long process," Sawicki said, stressing that the sign would not be returned any time soon to its original spot above the main entrance at Auschwitz — if at all. Officials may decide instead to leave up the replica now in its place, even after the original sign is repaired, Sawicki said.

The sign, whose cynical Nazi slogan means "Work Sets You Free," is one of the first sights to confront the more than 1 million visitors per year to the former Nazi German camp in southern Poland. Most walk under it as they make their way to visit barracks, ovens where gassed bodies were cremated, underground torture chambers and other sites where atrocities were committed.

Between 1940 and 1945 more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and its satellite camp, Birkenau, or died of starvation or disease while forced to do hard labor at the camp.

The museum plans ceremonies next week to mark the 65th anniversary of the camp's liberation by the Soviet army on Jan. 27, 1945.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Auschwitz Museum | "Arbeit Macht Frei" | Pawel Sawicki |

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