German Teacher Steals Auschwitz Artifacts

Guards catch would-be-thief after he defiles museum grounds.

The entrance to Auschwitz II, Birkenau. Photo by David Bañuls, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

A 47-year-old German teacher was arrested in Poland at Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp, for trying to smuggle out artifacts that had belonged to prisoners, reports the AFP.

Museum guards found a dozen stolen items on the man’s person as he attempted to leave the museum, including shards of porcelain, a pair of scissors, and a fork. Allegedly, he dug the artifacts from the ground in an area where warehouses that stored prisoner’s possessions stood during the Second World War. The structures were burned to the ground by Nazis at the war’s end.

Other Auschwitz thefts have made headlines in recent years, some of which have been successful. In 2009, Swedish neo-Nazi Anders Hoegstroem orchestrated the theft of the death camp’s entryway sign, which famously reads “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work makes you free.” The 16-foot-long, 88-pound metal sign was soon recovered, but not before it was cut into three pieces. Today, the museum displays a replica where the original once hung.

Although there is a black market for Nazi memorabilia, unlike Hoegstroem, the teacher did not appear to be motivated by pro-Nazi or antisemitic sentiments. “The man is a teacher in Berlin and said he wanted to show the objects to his students, who are doing a project on the Holocaust,” town prosecutor Mariusz Slomka told Agence France Presse.

Following his arrest, the man pleaded guilty to theft, agreeing to pay a fine and to accept a suspended prison sentence. He could have faced up to ten years in jail for stealing goods of special cultural importance.

Despite his apparently decent intentions, the man displayed remarkable insensitivity in plundering the site where more than one million people, primarily Jews, were murdered for their ethnic background or religious or political beliefs.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics