Poland earmarks more money for Auschwitz security

AP News
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Posted: Dec 23, 2009 5:29 PM

Poland's culture minister on Wednesday promised the Auschwitz museum money to step up security after the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free") sign was stolen from the site of the former Nazi death camp.

Police found the sign Sunday, cut into three pieces and hidden beneath a layer of snow in the woods. Five men have been arrested, and police say the thieves were not driven by ideology but were likely commissioned by someone from abroad.

Polish news agency PAP, citing unnamed sources close to the investigation, reported that the thieves were to receive a commission of between 120,000 and 125,000 Swedish krona ($16,400 to $17,100). Polish media over the past two days have reported that someone in Sweden _ either an intermediary or the final customer _ commissioned the theft. Investigators, however, have refused to deny or confirm a possible Swedish connection.

PAP said that the fact that the commission price named in Swedish krona is not precise indicates that it could have been converted from yet another currency, an indication that the final destination planned for the stolen sign was a country other than Sweden.

On Wednesday, Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski said he has earmarked 400,000 zlotys ($137,000) for improving external security at the memorial site in southern Poland. It is made up of two camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau _ also known as Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II _ and sprawls nearly 500 acres (200 hectares).

He also said that guards who failed to prevent the theft last week have been suspended and other museum employees could also face consequences.

Museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said the money could buy more than 10 high-quality surveillance cameras.

The museum is constantly upgrading its security system, he said, especially inside buildings that house documents and belongings of the more that 1 million victims of the camp, including tons of hair, glasses or suitcases.

Prosecutors investigating the early Friday theft said that security at the museum was insufficient. But Mensfelt disagreed, saying that more than 50 of the museum's 250 employees were in charge of security, and that police experts were regularly consulted on security matters.

The annual budget of 10 million zlotys ($3.3 million) comes from the Polish state coffers and another 10 million zlotys it earns from guided tours, historic publications and a parking lot.

Mensfelt said management was reviewing scores of offers of funding from Poland and abroad.

Police were analyzing the damaged sign and it was not immediately clear when it could be returned to the museum. For now, a replica of the sign hangs in its place.

After occupying Poland in 1939, the Nazis established the Auschwitz I camp for 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 train in cattle cars to the wooden barracks of nearby Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, where they were systematically killed in gas chambers.

The camp was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945, by the Soviet army. The museum plans ceremonies next month marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation.

(This version CORRECTS spelling of spokesman to Mensfelt sted Mensfeldt.)