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May 25, 2017

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Auschwitz 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign stolen: police

WARSAW, Poland -- The infamous iron sign bearing the Nazis' cynical slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" that spanned the main entrance to the former Auschwitz death camp was stolen before dawn Friday, Polish police said.

The sign — with the German words for "Work Sets You Free" — is believed to have been stolen from the gates of the Auschwitz memorial between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., when museum guards noticed it was missing and alerted authorities, police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said.

The wide iron sign — across a gate at the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland where more than 1 million people died during World War II — was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other, Padlo said.

Police have launched an intensive hunt, with criminal investigators and search dogs sent to the grounds of the vast former death camp, whose barracks, watchtowers and ruins of gas chambers still stand as testament to the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany on Jews, Gypsies and others.

Padlo said there are currently no suspects but police are pursuing several theories.

The slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" was also used at the entrances to other Nazi camps, including Dachau and Sachensenhausen. The long curving sign at Auschwitz, is, however, perhaps the best known.

Between 1940-45, more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed or died of starvation and disease while carrying out forced labor at the camp, which the Nazis built in occupied Poland.

Today the site is one of the main draws in the region for visitors from abroad and Polish students, with more than 1 million visitors per year.

However, the barracks and other structures, which were not built to last many decades, are in a state of massive disrepair and Polish authorities have been struggling to find funds to carry out conservation work. This week, Germany pledged euro60 million to a new endowment that will fund long-term preservation work — half the estimated amount that officials with the Auschwitz memorial museum say is needed.

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