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.
BY MARCUS OSCARSSON and JENNY BOOTH
The London Times
The Nazi gang that ordered the theft of the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign from the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland planned to sell it to fund violent attacks against the Swedish Prime Minister and Parliament, it was claimed today.
A spokesman for the Swedish security police confirmed that the authorities were taking seriously a threat by a militant Nazi group to disrupt national elections next year.
“We are aware of the information about the alleged attack plans,” said Patrik Peter, the security police spokesman.
“We have taken actions. We view this seriously.”
Investigators guard one of the suspects, handcuffed, left,
to the site of the theft of the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign
from the gate of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz
on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009 at Auschwitz museum, in Oswiecim,
Poland. Three of the five suspects have confessed taking part
in the theft and investigators brought them to the museum
for a re-enactment.
The wrought-iron sign, whose inscription – translated as ‘Work sets you free’ – was viewed by hundreds of thousands of Jews as they entered the Nazi death camp where they met their deaths during the Second World War. It was stolen from the camp – now a museum – last Friday, provoking worldwide expressions of dismay and revulsion.
It was recovered on Monday, hacked into three pieces and wrapped in cloth. Police suspect that it was initially hidden in woodland before being transferred to a builder’s yard where it was found.
Allegations concerning who ordered the theft, and why, have surfaced today in Swedish newspaper reports after the former leader of a Swedish Nazi group claimed that it had been stolen to order for a collector in England, France or the United States.
“We had a person who was ready to pay millions for the sign,” the unnamed source told Aftonbladet, Sweden’s biggest-selling daily newspaper.
The Nazi source said that the money would pay for an attack on the home of Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish Prime Minister who has held the rotating presidency of the European Union for the last six months, and on the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the paper reported.
A third attack allegedly involved plans to bombard Swedish MPs from the public seats of the parliament.
“The sign was to be delivered to Sweden, since it was here the deal should be made,” the source said.
“My role was to find a buyer. We had a person who was willing to pay millions but he had no political agenda. These things have a huge collector value… The biggest collectors are from England, the United States and France.”
The source allegedly said that five men were to be paid for carrying out the theft. He reportedly insisted that he personally was not guilty of any crime as the deal had not been completed. Aftonbladet reported that he had been convicted several times in connection with his Nazi affiliation, and that he had made repeated visits to Poland.
Polish television has reported that police were investigation a Swedish connection in the theft of the Auschwitz sign. Mr Peter said that no arrests had yet been made.
“A prosecutor has been informed and the Government offices have been informed,” said Mr Peter. He declined to discuss any details of the attack plans.
Five men, aged between 20 and 39, from the Torun area of northern Poland, have been arrested for the theft of the sign. The decisive tip-off came in one of 120 calls to a police hotline over the weekend. The museum had offered a £23,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the sign. The caller gave enough information for all five suspects to be rounded up within three hours.
Andrzej Rokita, the deputy commander of Cracow police, described them as non-political. All had previous convictions for theft or assault.
They are being interrogated in Cracow, the city responsible for the nearby Auschwitz camp museum. If charges are pressed, they could face up to ten years in jail for the “theft of a cultural treasure of particular significance”.
Museum authorities are urging the police to release the three portions of the sign so that they can be re-erected before the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp next month. In the meantime, a replica has been placed over the entrance.
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