Polish authorities stepped up security checks at airports and border crossings and searched scrap metal yards on Saturday as the search intensified for the infamous Nazi sign stolen from the Auschwitz death camp memorial.
The brazen pre-dawn theft on Friday of one of the Holocaust’s most chilling and notorious symbols sparked outrage from around the world, and Polish leaders have declared recovering the 5m sign a national priority.
The sign bearing the German phrase “Arbeit macht frei” — “work makes you free” — spanned the main entrance to the Auschwitz death camp, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.
Police deployed 50 officers, including 20 detectives, and a search dog to the Auschwitz grounds, where barracks, watchtowers and rows of barbed wire stand as testament to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
Spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said police had questioned all security guards at the site and searched local scrap metal businesses, while Dariusz Nowak, a police spokesman in Krakow, said investigators were working around the clock on the case.
The director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum, visibly shaken by the dramatic theft, said he believes the theft was carried out by professionals.
“I think it was done by specialists,” Piotr Cywinski said. “It was a very well-prepared action.”
British historian Andrew Roberts said the sign would generate huge interest on the burgeoning market for Nazi memorabilia.
Security guards patrol the 200-hectare site around the clock, but because of its vast size they only pass by any one area at intervals. Cywinski said that gave thieves between 20 to 30 minutes to remove the sign and carry it off.
Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki said the sign is made of hollow steel pipes and is believed to weigh only around 30kg to 40kg.