3 Auschwitz thieves are no-shows at Polish prison

Associated Press/April 21, 2010

Warsaw, Poland - The three men found guilty last month of secondary roles in the theft of the notorious Auschwitz sign failed to show up to prison this week when they were supposed to start their sentences, a judge said Wednesday.

The three, two of whom are brothers, were to have appeared at a prison in the Polish city of Wloclawek on Tuesday but didn't. Now police will try to track them down and detain them, said Rafal Lisak, a judge at a Krakow court that convicted the men in March.

Lisak indicated that judicial authorities were not expecting the no-shows.

"There were no fears that they would hide or obstruct matters in any other way," Lisak told The Associated Press.

Five Poles and a Swede have been charged with involvement in stealing the sign with the cynical slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" - or "Work Sets You Free - from the site of the former death camp in December.

The three who were to have started prison terms this week made plea bargains with the court, confessing to their involvement in return for more lenient sentences. They were given sentences ranging from 18 months to 2 1/2 years.

Lisak says it is normal procedure for those with sentences shorter than three years to be released from custody before their prison terms.

The court has identified the three only as Radoslaw M. and Lukasz M., the brothers, and Pawel S., in keeping with Polish privacy laws. Their settlements were made behind closed doors, and details of their precise roles in the heist haven't been released.

The two other Poles as well as the Swede, Anders Hogstrom, a former neo-Nazi leader suspected masterminding the theft, have not yet had their cases go to court.

The theft occurred in the night between Dec. 17 and Dec. 18, a brazen heist that shocked Holocaust survivors and many others committed to preserving the Auschwitz-Birkenau site and the memory of the atrocities that Nazis committed there.

Police tracked down sign less than three days after it was stolen, finding it cut into three pieces in a forest.

Between 1940 and 1945 more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau or died of starvation or disease while forced to perform hard physical labor at the camp, which Nazi Germany set up on occupied Polish soil.

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