Two British teenagers have been arrested at the Auschwitz museum on suspicion of stealing items that belonged to prisoners held at the concentration camp during the Second World War, Polish police said.
The 17-year-old boys were spotted acting suspiciously yesterday afternoon at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in southern Poland.
A fragment of hair clippers, spoons, some buttons and two pieces of glass were found on the pair during a body search, after they were apprehended in warehouse number five – known as Canada – where the belongings of the arrivals were seized during the Holocaust.
The pair are being held in police custody, awaiting a decision. They could face up to 10 years in prison if they are found guilty.
Polish police said they were arrested for carrying out activities related to the misappropriation of objects that represent special cultural importance, to the detriment of the museum.
Holocaust Educational Trust Chief Executive Karen Pollock said: “This is absolutely shocking and shows gross disregard to the memory of the Holocaust. Every single artefact found at Auschwitz-Birkenau tells a story of the more than a million people who were ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis there and this incident serves to show why our work is crucial now more than ever.
“We have a duty to educate the next generation to prevent ignorance and hate, and in over 15 years of organising for thousands of British teenagers to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, we have never known of such an incident. We would gladly work with these young boys to ensure they understand the implications of their actions although this is now a matter for the police.”
A spokeswoman at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said: “We are in contact with the Polish authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance.”
Visitors have tried to steal artefacts as souvenirs from the museum in the past.
In 2010, a Swedish man was jailed for organising the theft of the Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free) sign from the entry gate of Auschwitz.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was founded in 1947 and has over 80,000 British visitors each year.