One of the most chilling reminders of the Holocaust was stolen from its place outside Auschwitz two weeks ago. After an intense manhunt by the Polish Government the sign Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Will Set You Free) was found and five people were arrested. Initial reports were that the thieves who took the sign which symbolizes to the world the atrocities and cruelty of Nazi Germany, had nothing to do with Neo-Nazis. As they got deeper into the investigation, the authorities are revealing that the thieves were actually hired by a neo-Nazi group that planned to sell the sign to fund terrorist attacks in Sweden.
But today it emerged that Swedish investigators are helping Polish detectives investigate the theft of the sign from Auschwitz, amid reports that the robbery was linked to a rightwing terror plot.
The wrought iron plaque reading Arbeit Macht Frei (work sets you free) which spanned the entrance at the former Nazi death camp was wrenched from the gate on 18 December, and recovered three days later, cut into three pieces, in a forest in northern Poland.
..The five men being held in police custody in Krakow in connection with the theft have been described by Polish prosecutors as common criminals who had apparently acted for financial gain.
But according to the Danish daily Aftonbladet, the men were contracted by a neo-Nazi group which planned to sell it on to a third party, a foreign rightwing extremist or collector of Nazi memorabilia, with the aim of using the funds to finance a string of attacks in Stockholm.
Boguslawa Marcinkowska, the spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office in krakow, said: “The evidence that we have so far points to there being links with Sweden“. Polish state television TVP1 quoted official sources saying that Swedish neo-Nazis were behind the theft.
Poland’s justice minister, Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, said: “The investigations have taken on a much broader dimension than we had initially thought”.
The Swedish justice ministry has confirmed that it is helping the Polish police with investigations after the state prosecutor’s office in Krakow lodged an official application asking for its help.
Separately, the Swedish security service Säpo, confirmed that it was investigating an alleged neo-Nazi plot to blow up the Riksdagen, the parliament building in Stockholm, as well as the foreign ministry and the home of the president, Fredrik Reinfeldt. The aim of the plot, according to Säpo, was to create as much disruption as possible ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections. It would not confirm or deny reports of a possible connection between the plot and the Auschwitz sign theft.
Polish investigators, who said from the start of the inquiry that they suspected the mastermind of the robbery operated outside Poland, would only say today that he or she “came from a European country”.