Man Charged With Attempted Theft Of Part Of Auschwitz

Auschwitz Memorial
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

An American tourist visiting the internationally infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp has been charged with attempted theft, officials from the site said Sunday, according to The Associated Press. The man allegedly attempted to steal part of the historic train tracks where prisoners were unloaded upon arrival to the camp.

The man, who is 37-years-old, and whose name has not been released, is charged with attempted theft of an item of cultural importance, according to Malgorzata Jurecka. Jurecka is a police spokesperson in the Polish town of Oswiecim, which was occupied by Germany during World War II.

According to Jurecka, the man has already admitted guilt and was released pending further legal proceedings. The crime carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, described, in detail, what took place. The museum’s staff security realized that the man was attempting to steal part of the tracks and alerted local police, who responded quickly to the man’s attempt to unfasten the metal piece from the longstanding tracks at the site.

The museum and site, in general, are no stranger to criminal activity of this variety and it has been hit with numbers of attempts of theft and vandalism over the years. In 2009, a sign with the Nazi slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Will Set You Free”) was stolen from its place at the camp’s main gate. Though the sign was eventually located, it had been cut into pieces and has now been repaired, with a replica now standing in its place for security reasons.

This isn’t the first time that Auschwitz-Birkenau officials have had to work to keep visitors in line at the somber site. Earlier in March, they took to social media to implore visitors to show the appropriate respect to the site by refraining from walking on the tracks like a balance beam or taking selfies unreflective of the surroundings.

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“When you come to @AuschwitzMuseum remember you are at the site where over 1 million people were killed,” the museum said on Twitter. “Respect their memory. There are better places to learn how to walk on a balance beam than the site which symbolizes deportation of hundreds of thousands to their deaths.”

The accompanying photo included tourists wobbling along the tracks, arms outstretched, with little obvious appreciation or respect for the gravity of what happened in their surroundings.

Approximately 1.1 million people were killed during World War II at the site, which had been the most notorious of Nazi Germany’s death camps.