It’s not uncommon for tourists to want to take mementos and souvenirs home from their trips abroad, but there are just some places and some parts of history that are absolutely verboten.
The most recent case in point is the two visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum who were caught trying to take a bit of the Holocaust home with them by lifting bricks from the crematoria of the Nazi death camp.
According to the Polish language Gaeta.pl, two Hungarian tourists, a thirty-six-year-old man and a thirty-year-old woman, were nabbed after two other tourists saw them stuffing bricks into a bag and promptly told security.
They admitted their guilt and were fined 1,500 zloty, or about $400 American, and a suspended jail sentence of one year for their troubles. They attempted to excuse their actions by explaining that they wanted to bring back a souvenir and didn’t either realize nor understand the consequences of their misdeeds, police press officer Mateusz Drwal told the Polish news agency PAP.
Situated in Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the many death camps built and operated by Nazi Germany during world war two. It was here that the Nazis murdered over one million Jews between the years of 1940 and 1945, as well as 100,000 others, which included Soviet Prisoners of War and resistance fighters, Romani, homosexuals, communists, and non-Jewish Poles.
It was estimated that over 232,000 of those murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau were children. The camp has become an enduring symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews.
Auschwitz was constructed for three purposes. The first of these was the incarceration of both real and perceived enemies of the Nazi regime. The second was the provision of forced laborers for use in SS-owned construction-related enterprises. Lastly, to serve as a kill site for groups of the population determined by the SS and police authorities to be politically undesirable.
Furthermore, Auschwitz was the site of medical experiments carried out on infants, twins, and dwarfs, and also where forced sterilization and castrations of adults were performed. The most well known of the physicians working at the camp was the ‘Angel of Death’ SS Captain Doctor Josef Mengele.
The number of victims estimated to have died in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, which includes the principle murder section at Auschwitz-Birkenau, are Jews at 1,095,000 deported to the camp, and of whom 960,000 killed; Poles, with 147,000 deported and 74,000 killed.
The Roma were next with 23,000 deported and 21,000 killed, as well as Soviet prisoners of war with 15,000 deported and killed, and lastly, all other nationalities with 25,000 deported and 12,000 killed.
The estimates have it that the SS and police deported approximately 1.3 million people to the Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945. The camp authorities murdered approximately 1.1 million of these.
This isn’t the first time visitors to the site have tried to steal items from the camp. During a school visit in 2015, two British schoolboys were sentenced to a year’s probation, as well as a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of 1,000 zloty for stealing buttons, spoons, and a comb that had once belonged to former prisoners of the camp.
Before that, in 2009, someone stole the 40-kilogram sign bearing the famous statement “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work sets you free), and a replica was installed in its place. The criminal involved in that particular theft, an infamous Swedish neo-nazi, was found and sentenced to two years in prison.
Others include two Belgians who were caught stealing parts of an electric fence, but later acquitted, and an Israeli descendant of Holocaust survivors, who wanted the historical objects for an art project. In 1970, it was named a World Heritage Site, and therefore all objects on its premises are considered to be protected.