Auschwitz Suffers Wave of Vandalism and Thefts

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The entrance to Auschwitz. Even the sign was stolen a few years ago. Credit: Reuters

BERLIN – The site of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where the Nazis killed more than a million Jews in occupied Poland during World War II, has been experiencing vandalism and thefts, Polish current affairs program Fakty TVN reported this week.

Workers at the site, now a Holocaust memorial and museum, said visitors have been writing or carving messages on the camp’s walls, furnishings and even the planks on which the prisoners slept, including standards such as “so-and-so was here.”

Visitors have also been stealing from the site, including parts of the barbed-wire fence surrounding the former camp and ties from the railroad track that transported Jews there.

“They aren’t always youngsters,” Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, said of the vandals. “Sometimes even teachers or foreign tourists take things.”

Workers at the site said that because of its size and the fact that it contains many buildings, it’s very hard to thwart vandalism and theft. But officials from Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage said they oppose stationing surveillance equipment at the site.

“How would you feel if you visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and saw two cameras monitoring every item?” said Deputy Culture Minister Malgorzata Omilanowska. “How would we be able to preserve the camp’s authenticity?”

This isn’t the first time the site has suffered vandalism or thefts. The most high-profile case occurred in 2009, when vandals stole the sign at the camp’s entrance reading Arbeit macht frei (work makes you free). The Polish police recovered the sign about a month later.

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