It wasn’t altruism that prompted the theft of the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Auschwitz. The intention, according to Swedish paper Aftonbladet, was to fund an attack on the Swedish Parliament.
The Arbeit Macht Frei sign, meanwhile, clumsily sawn into 3 pieces, has been bent in places and is looking somewhat the worse for wear.
Europe’s equally fragmented reputation isn’t looking too good, either. The global outrage at the theft of the sign, against the background of known neo Nazi robberies and other information now coming to light, is now raising a lot of questions about what appears to be a thriving neo Nazi network operating merrily in the middle of “liberal” Europe.
The Swedish connection, however, is a new element. Most of those questions seem to have been asked by Swedish paper Aftonbladet. Aftonbladet has a series of articles (use Google translations on the toolbar if this link doesn’t produce an English version) which have been based on trying to get facts out of Swedish official sources as much as finding news. Not many answers have been forthcoming. As a tale of law enforcement, it’s cryptic, to say the least.
According to Aftonbladet’s article on 30 December, the Polish government directly requested Swedish assistance in the investigation at ministerial level. The Polish request was apparently based on hard information of some kind which as yet hasn’t been disclosed. The information was obviously good, because the thieves were caught almost immediately, in Poland. Aftonbladet has been trying to flesh out this skeletal level of publicly available information.
They haven’t had much luck in that area. Swedish police agency SAPO (the equivalent of the FBI) has been refusing to comment about the theft, but claims to have been aware of the intended attack on the Swedish Parliament “for a long time”.
(Aftonbladet, ironically, seems to have been doing much of the investigative work that other agencies haven’t been doing, notably the European media.)
What they did discover, however, was very interesting indeed. There’s a neo Nazi group in Sweden, the “financial” arm of which has been specializing in these “art” robberies, helping fund their military arm. The militants are believed to have Russian weapons, explosives and machine guns and an assault group of 5 people to carry out attacks.
(A normal profile for groups of this type, except for the systematic robberies, which haven’t been seen since the 1990s.)
Aftonbladet obviously tried hard, but couldn’t get a comment out of a former neo Nazi leader, who cited legal advice. The total silence in various areas of this investigation can be considered an indication of the levels of sensitivity involved.
The Auschwitz sign was apparently an exception to the rule, a sale. The art robberies are more usually extortion, in which the owner is required to pay for the return of the stolen art. A Carl Milles sculpture was believed to have been stolen by the group.
There have been no indications that any charges can or will be laid against the neo Nazi group. Aftonbladet’s blogs are currently asking whether an actual coup was planned, or whether the Swedish government is spinning the story.