Auschwitz sign thief hunted in Sweden

By Jessica Elgot, February 2, 2010

Poland has issued a European arrest warrant for a Swedish man whom it says is behind the theft of the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz in December.

A court in Krakow issued the warrant for Swede Anders Hoegstroem, who, it is claimed, was the mastermind of the theft of the sign, which infamously read “Work Sets You Free” above the Nazi death camp.

Five Polish men aged in their 20s and 30s have been arrested by police who recovered the 16-foot wrought-iron sign cut into three pieces.

Police believed that the men did not have any political or racial motive, and that they conducted the robbery at the behest of others.

Mr Hoegstroem founded and led the Swedish neo-Nazi group National Socialist Front in the 1990s, but quit the group and has spoken out against the extreme right.

Swedish newspapers have reportd conflicting interviews with Mr Hoegstroem, one where he apparently confesses to the crime and another where he claims he was the one who tried to stop the theft.

The European arrest warrant means that member states of the EU, which includes Sweden, must hand over Mr Hoegstroem to the Polish police.

The original sign is in the process of being repaired but Auschwitz museum officials believe it may be too frail to withstand the severe weather conditions of northern Poland, and the replica which currently hangs above the gate could be made permanent.

Last week, Polish leaders, Holocaust survivors and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu marked Holocaust Memorial Day at Auschwitz.

Over a million Jews died at Auschwitz in the gas chambers and from exhaustion, disease and starvation.

Last updated: 5:48pm, February 4 2010