Image: Experts inspect the Auschwitz 'Arbeit macht frei' sign that had been stolen
Jacek Bednarczyk  /  EPA
Aldona Wojciechowicz-Bratko, left, and Magdalena Michalik, criminal lab experts  in KraKow, Poland, inspect the Auschwitz sign, which was stolen in December.
updated 1/6/2010 6:37:25 PM ET 2010-01-06T23:37:25

A Swedish citizen suspected of ordering the theft of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from the Auschwitz memorial cased the site before the theft along with Poles who carried out the crime, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Krakow prosecutor Artur Wrona said officials have evidence the Swedish suspect visited the memorial in Poland with two Poles last spring, probably in March.

The Swede told the pair he wanted them to steal the infamous sign, which means "Work Sets You Free" in German. It is one of the world's iconic symbols of Nazi Germany's atrocities during World War II and the Holocaust.

Wrona said prosecutors don't know what could have motivated the Swedish suspect but that media speculation the person is a neo-Nazi has not been confirmed.

Prosecutors have said the two Poles told police they removed the sign on Dec. 18, aided by three others who also have confessed. All five Poles remain in detention in Krakow, 50 miles from the Auschwitz museum.

Wrona did not identify the Swedish suspect, but said that officials in Stockholm have been asked to confirm his identity and that of another Swedish citizen suspected of providing the thieves with a getaway car.

"We would like these two persons to be questioned in Poland, but first we need to fully confirm their identities," Wrona said.

Cut in pieces
The sign was found in a wooded area of northern Poland on Dec. 20 cut into three pieces. Wrona said it is now undergoing forensic examination and that it could be returned to the memorial site before the 65th anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation on Jan. 27.

A separate investigation has been opened into suspected negligence on the part of the museum for lax security, Wrona said, but he provided no detail.

Between 1940 and 45 more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau or died of starvation or disease while forced to perform hard physical labor at the camp.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments