Polish investigators have brought three men who confessed to involvement in the theft of the well-known sign at the gate of the notorious Auschwitz death camp back to the scene of the crime to describe how it was stolen. The sign, which had been cut into three pieces, was recovered Monday amid international outrage and pressure on local authorities to improve security at the death-camp site.
Investigators said three suspects who confessed to stealing the notorious sign "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "Work Sets You Free," were brought to Auschwitz to show how they removed it last week from the former Nazi-death camp.
The five-meter long sign, which weighs 30 kilograms, spanned the main gate of Auschwitz to confuse inmates into believing they had arrived in a labor camp. In reality, the aim of the camp was to kill as many prisoners as possible, mainly in gas chambers.
Most of the more than one million people who died in Auschwitz death camp were Jews.
In response to international outrage over the theft, authorities had offered a reward for information about the incident. Polish police on Monday announced they had recovered the metal sign.
A spokesman for the Auschwitz museum, Pawe? Sawicki, told Polish Radio the sign was found in northern Poland.
"This is a day of huge relief, not only for Poles and not only for people who work here in the office memorial, but for all the people in the world who were moved and who were angry and were sad because some people decided to desecrate the memorial, a place where more than one million men, women and children were murdered during the Second World War by the German Nazis," said Sawicki.
Officials say the sign will be welded together and restored to the main gate of the former death camp, which is now a holocaust museum.
It remained unclear why the structure was stolen.
Police spokesman Dariusz Nowak described the five suspects as "common criminals" with no known links to neo-Nazi groups.
He did not rule out the possibility that the theft was ordered.
Nowak says that although police are at the beginning of the investigation it "indeed looks like someone is behind it." But he says he can not yet confirm media reports that a person living in Sweden ordered the theft. Nowak adds the questioning of suspects continues.
Prosecutors say the suspects will be charged with "theft of an object of special cultural value" and could face up to 10 years imprisonment.
Security arrangements around the Auschwitz museum are being reviewed. The site serves as one of the main tourist draws in southern Poland, attracting more than one million visitors each year.