Germany slams 'shameful' Auschwitz sign theft
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle blasted the theft Friday of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at the former Auschwitz death camp as a "shameful act".Berlin - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle blasted the theft Friday of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at the former Auschwitz death camp as a "shameful act".
"This is a serious, sad and above all criminal act -- it is a shameful act, an act that must be punished," he said after talks with his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski.
"We assume that the justice authorities will do everything in their power to catch the culprits and impose a just sentence."
Sikorski said he was stunned by the crime.
"I am at a loss for words," he told reporters. "We hope the culprits will be arrested soon."
The German Jewish community also expressed disgust.
"This is shocking and hurtful and dreadful and tasteless," Dieter Graumann, vice chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told AFP.
"For all survivors and for survivors' descendants and for everyone this is a great hurt and a shock."
The iconic metal sign, which means "Work Will Set You Free", was stolen just before dawn on Friday from the entrance to the former Nazi death camp in present-day Poland, a spokesman for the museum now on the site told AFP.
About 1.1 million people perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one million of them Jews from Poland and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe, some from overwork, starvation and disease, but most in the gas chambers.
It was one of a network of camps in occupied Eastern Europe during the Holocaust in World War II set up by Nazi Germany in the extermination of six million Jews and of others considered undesirable by Adolf Hitler's regime.
Germany this week donated 60 million euros (88 million dollars) to a global fund that aims to preserve Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Last year more than a million people visited the camp encompassing 200 hectares (490 acres) with 155 buildings and 300 ruins. Growing visitor numbers have placed additional pressure on the ageing site in recent years.