Auschwitz Sign Theft Former Neo-Nazi in Sweden 'Proud' of Helping Police

A former leader of a neo-Nazi group in Sweden has said he is proud of his role in helping Polish authorities find the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign, which was stolen from the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial in December. He may still be a suspect, however.

Investigators in Krakow examine the infamous Auschwitz sign after it was recovered -- in three pieces-- two days after it was stolen on Dec. 18.

Investigators in Krakow examine the infamous Auschwitz sign after it was recovered -- in three pieces-- two days after it was stolen on Dec. 18.

The sign has long since been found. But exactly who might be behind the theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Will Set You Free") wrought-iron message which hung over the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp, located near Krakow in southern Poland, remains a matter of investigation.

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Photo Gallery: Auschwitz Sign Theft Leads Investigators to Sweden
Five Poles, taken into custody in connection with the Dec. 18 theft, led investigators to suspect the involvement of the extreme right-wing scene in Sweden. Public prosecutors in Krakow have asked Swedish authorities to investigate three people in connection with the theft.

Former neo-Nazi leader Anders Högström told SPIEGEL that he had had contact with the thieves. He said that "out of humanitarian concerns" he and a "colleague" contacted police the day after the theft. "We are proud of having contributing to the return of the sign," he continued. "We don't have anything to hide."

'Willing to Pay Several Million'

Högström also spoke with the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, telling the paper that he had been asked if he would be willing to transport the sign from one location to another. "We had a person at hand who was willing to pay several million" (of Swedish kroner -- hundreds of thousands of dollars) for the sign, he told the paper.

Polish officials deny that Högström's contribution was decisive in capturing the robbers. A spokeswoman from the Krakow police told AFP that "the phone call from Sweden came as we were already in the process of arresting the thieves."

The trail is said to lead to Britain. A rich Nazi sympathizer, known as a collector of Nazi objects, allegedly was interested in acquiring the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign.

In Three Pieces

Högström was the head of a Swedish neo-Nazi group known as the "National Socialist Front" until 1999. The group stands accused of having carried out attacks against both police and leftists. Högström left his right-wing past behind with the help of the group Exit, which assists neo-Nazis who want to get out of the scene. But his life has hardly been on the straight and narrow since then. He has been prosecuted for both handling stolen goods and for smuggling antiquities since then.

Exit employees are now concerned that Högström's alleged departure from the neo-Nazi scene may have merely been simulated. Their suspicion, they say, stems from the fact that he has been threatened by the scene much less than others who turn their backs on the right wing.

Polish police recovered the sign just two days after it was stolen, but not before the thieves had cut the five-meter-long (16 feet) inscription into three pieces. Currently, a copy of the sign hangs above the gate of the Auschwitz memorial site, but officials hope that the original can be restored and replaced in time for the 65th anniversary of the camp's liberation on Jan. 27.

cgh -- SPIEGEL/wire reports


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