Friday, December 18, 2009

Auschwitz death camp sign stolen

The infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland has been stolen.

The wide metal sign was unscrewed and pulled down from its position above the gate overnight. Police are searching for the culprits.

It is the first time the sign, made by Polish prisoners, has been stolen since it was erected in 1940.

More than a million people - 90% of them Jews - were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz during World War II.

"It's a terrible thing," Auschwitz official Pawel Sawicki told the BBC.

"The sign means everything - it's a symbol of what Auschwitz stands for. But a place where hundreds of thousands of people died obviously doesn't mean anything to the thieves," he said.

Mr Sawicki said the theft was probably planned.

The missing sign, which is occasionally removed by officials for conservation work, has been replaced by a replica.

During the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of prisoners passed under the sign, whose words mean "Work Sets You Free", but the vast majority were murdered or worked to death.

The theft comes just days after the German government pledged 60m euros ($86m) to an endowment fund to help preserve the camp.

Auschwitz, which receives more than a million visitors a year, has been run as a state museum since 1947.

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