The theft of a key symbol at a Nazi death camp in Poland has sparked outrage in Israel.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem expressed shock over the theft of the infamous iron sign at Auschwitz, which reads "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" or "Work makes you free." Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev said the theft is "an attack on the memory of the Holocaust."

Shalev told Israel's Army Radio that the theft was apparently carried out by "Neo-Nazi anti-Semites who want to destroy democracy in Europe and return to a period of murder and chaos."

Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, including about a million at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

Christine Alkassis, deputy curator of the Auschwitz Museum, told Israel Radio that the staff at the museum is shocked and outraged by the theft of a symbol of the Holocaust.

Museum officials say the thieves entered Auschwitz before dawn and ripped the sign off its foundation. They carried it 300 meters to an opening in a barbed-wire fence. A getaway vehicle was waiting on the road nearby.

Holocaust organizations in Israel demanded that the Polish authorities apprehend and severely punish the perpetrators. They called on the nations of the world to step up the fight against anti-Semitism so the events of the Holocaust will never happen again.