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Theresienstadt Robbery: Concentration Camp Hit by Scrap Metal Thieves

Scrap metal thieves are becoming increasingly audacious, with some even stealing from cemeteries and memorials. Now some 1,000 bronze plaques have gone missing from the former concentration camp at Theresienstadt.

Jan Munk, director of the Theresienstadt memorial site, with one of the damaged monuments.
AP

Jan Munk, director of the Theresienstadt memorial site, with one of the damaged monuments.

Semi-precious metal, as it happens, is everywhere. It can be found on church roofs; copper pipes run through many a house wall; and wiring is almost ubiquitous. Scrap metal thieves, though, have recently discovered a valuable new source of copper: Cemeteries and memorials.

This week, a particularly audacious bandit apparently made off with over 1,000 bronze plaques from the Holocaust memorial Theresienstadt just outside of Prague. The plaques were emblazoned with the names of prisoners who died at the Nazi concentration camp there -- and Czech police said this week that many of them had been discovered at a scrap yard in northern Czech Republic.

The theft, said Czech Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka, "has disgraced the memory of World War II victims irrespective of whether it was committed on the basis of a pervert ideology or purely for gain of money." Damage is estimated to be about 1 million koruna, or about €40,000 ($63,600).

Jehlicka said that the plaques would be replaced, but that the new tablets would be made of resin instead of bronze, a copper alloy. The remaining bronze plates, he said, would likewise be replaced at a cost of several million koruna.

The theft comes at a time when rising scrap metal prices have resulted in a spate of scrap metal thefts, with copper being high on the list. One hundred kilograms of copper brings in €430 on the scrap market, leading to a number of churches in Germany and Europe having their roofs and gutters stolen. A number of bronze vases and candelabras went missing from a Berlin graveyard recently and a Cologne cemetery lost 16 Madonna statues made of metal.

Indeed, Canada is considering doing away with its penny, partially as a result of the high scrap metal prices. The coins are worth more as scrap than their face value. And in Cleveland, according to the New York Times, a number of homes have been gutted of copper fittings recently, leading to homebuilders and remodelers to put signs in front of building sites indicating that only PVC plastic piping is being used instead of copper.

Theresienstadt, known as Terezin in Czech, has indicated that the plaques are not likely to be replaced before the May 18 annual commemoration of Nazi victims there. During World War II, the camp at Theresienstadt served as a collection point for Jews from where they were deported to death camps further east. A fortress nearby served as a Gestapo prison.

cgh/ap

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