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article imageStolen Auschwitz sign found in pieces, 5 arrested

By Stephanie Sun     Dec 20, 2009 in Crime
The "Arbeit macht frei" sign, which was stolen from the main gate of Auschwitz concentration camp, has been recovered. Five men have been arrested by Polish police.
The sign, which translates to "Work sets you free" or labor liberates has been found in northern Poland.
A massive search of scrap yards, airports and border crossings was initiated after the sign was stolen on Friday morning sometime between 3:30am and 5:00am.
The 5-meter (16 feet), 90 pound wrought-iron sign had been cut into three pieces.
BBC News reported that five men in the 20s or 30s were arrested and have been undergoing questioning at Krakow. The motive for the theft has not been reported.
A spokesperson for the Auschwitz museum said the sign had been carried 300m to an opening in a wall that had been left open to preserve a poplar tree that had stood since World War II.
The opening was covered by four metal bars, which had been cut by the thieves. Footprints in the snow were found heading from the opening to a nearby road where a vehicle is thought to have been waiting.
The Auschwitz concentration camp was the largest of the Nazi camps. The famous sign spanned the main entrance of Auschwitz I, the original Auschwitz camp which served as the administrative hub for the rest of the Auschwitz camp complex.
The phrase "Arbeit macht frei" was used as early as 1872 as the title of a German novel associated with the nationalist movement. It was adopted by the Nazi party and appears above the main gates of many Nazi death camps.
UPDATE: Telegraph.co.uk has reported that the motive for the theft was likely financial gain and police have ruled out links to neo-Nazism. Given that the thieves managed to maneuver around an elaborate system of security cameras and guards while carrying the cumbersome sign, speculation has arisen that the robbers had inside information. Polish police pointed out that further arrests may yet be made. Police received more than 100 phone calls with tips on the crime.
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