British school says two pupils fined over Auschwitz theft

23rd June 2015, Comments 0 comments

Two British teenage pupils have been fined about 240 euros ($270) after they admitted stealing artefacts from the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, their school said Tuesday.

The pair were arrested after guards caught them "digging in the ground" on Monday in an area where there were once barracks used to sort the personal items of arriving prisoners, said a spokesman for the Polish site, which is now home to a museum.

"They detained them and discovered that they were in possession of shards of glass, buttons, a hair clipper and bits of metal," he told AFP.

The Perse School, near Cambridge in southeast England, confirmed that two pupils admitted taking items of historical importance that they "found on the ground" and were fined 1000 Zloty (240 euros).

They were also handed a one year probation, suspended for three years, and released by the authorities on Tuesday, according to a school spokesman.

"The boys, neither of whom is yet 18, picked up the fragments in the Canada section of the camp," added the spokesman.

"They are deeply sorry for the offence they have caused."

Headmaster Ed Elliott promised a "full and thorough investigation".

- 'Duty to respect' -

"I want to hear directly from the boys as to what led them to take these items. The opportunity to be able to visit Holocaust sites carries with it the duty to treat those sites with the utmost respect and sensitivity," he said.

A regional prosecutor in Poland told AFP that officials were yet to confirm the punishment, although the school maintains the youths were free to return home.

Regional police spokesman Mariusz Ciarka said the pair could have received up to 10 years in prison for stealing objects of historical value from the site in the southern city of Oswiecim.

The site's spokesman said the area where the teens were caught was "a place where we still find objects in the ground that once belonged to the camp's victims".

It is not the first time someone has tried to smuggle out a piece of the former death camp, which has become a symbol of the Holocaust and is visited by more than a million people from across the world each year.

Several people have tried to make off with barbed wire, while one particularly brazen gang walked out with the camp's infamous "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes you free") sign in 2009.

The mastermind of that theft, Swedish neo-Nazi Anders Hoegstroem, was jailed for two-and-a-half years.

The metal sign was eventually recovered cut up into three pieces, leading museum officials to display a replica above the entrance.

One million European Jews died at the camp set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940-1945.

More than 100,000 others including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died there, according to the museum.

© 2015 AFP

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