- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009

WARSAW | The three pieces of the infamous sign proclaiming “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”) will be welded together and restored to the main gate at the former Auschwitz death camp after an improved security system is put in place to guard against another theft.

Officials at the Auschwitz memorial museum said Monday that the new system should better protect not only the recovered sign but also many other objects testifying to Nazi crimes - from 2 tons of human hair to a trove of written documents to the ruins of gas chambers now sinking into the earth.

“The location of the sign is its only authentic one, above the gate of the former Auschwitz I camp,” museum Director Piotr Cywinski said. “The sign will return there as soon as possible, after ensuring the protection of its site against damage and burglary.”

Surveillance cameras and round-the-clock foot patrols already protect the vast 940-acre site where the sign was stolen and nearby Birkenau. But museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said it’s now clear that isn’t enough and “the future security system will have to be better.”

Polish police recovered the infamous Nazi sign cut into three pieces.

Five men were arrested late Sunday after the damaged sign was found near one of their homes in a snowy forest outside Czernikowo, a village near the northern Polish city of Torun, across the country from the memorial site.

The brazen pre-dawn theft Friday of one of the Holocaust’s most chilling symbols provoked outrage around the world. Polish leaders launched an intensive search for the 16-foot sign, which spanned the main gate of the camp in southern Poland where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.

The men’s arrest came after more than 100 tips, said Andrzej Rokita, the chief police investigator in the case.

Police said it was too soon to say what the motive for the theft was but they are investigating whether the Nazi memorabilia market may have played a part. The suspects do not have known neo-Nazi or other far-right links, Mr. Rokita said.

“Robbery and material gain are considered one of the main possible motives, but whether that was done on someone’s order will be determined in the process of the investigation,” added deputy investigator Marek Wozniczka.

“They are ordinary thieves,” Mr. Rokita said.

Last week, Germany pledged $87 million to help preserve the site, calling it an expression of the nation’s historical responsibility. But that was still only half of what Auschwitz officials say is needed.

After occupying Poland in 1939, the Nazis established the Auschwitz I camp, which initially housed German political prisoners and Polish prisoners. The sign was made in 1940 and placed above the main gate there.

Two years later, hundreds of thousands of Jews began arriving by cattle trains to the wooden barracks of nearby Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, where they were systematically killed in gas chambers.

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