Two British boys accused of theft at Auschwitz Museum face trial

Two British boys have recently been caught stealing artifacts from Auschwitz and are to be put on trial. The two boys go to school at Perse School in Cambridge; visiting the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, they were accused of picking up items off the floor while touring the camp.

The items they were accused of taking were fragments of a spoon and some buttons. These items were stripped off of the people after they were brought to the camp. Guards said that they spotted the boys picking something off the ground and after seeing that the items were artifacts, the boys had to have a full body and bag search before leaving the camp. In the search the guards found a hair clipper and glass fragments, along with the buttons and the spoon.

In June, the boys were fined and suspended from their school, after they admitted that they took the items from the old camp. However, they have since changed their mind and now do not admit that they took the items. Due to that, they will now face a criminal trial. They could face up to 10 years in jail if they are found guilty by the Polish Court.

The boys were 17 at the time that they allegedly  took the belongings, and claimed that they did not know the fragments and buttons were of importance, seeing that they were left on the floor of the camp and had been there for years.

The chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, said that in all the years the museum has been open to school tours they have never witnessed anything like the incident with the boys. They had opened up the museum for educational and historical purposes to teach young people about the Holocaust.

The death camp known as Auschwitz-Birkenau was the site of the destruction of more than one million people, the majority of whom were Jewish. The camp, opened in 1940 and was known as one of the largest concentration camps in operation during the Holocaust.

Auschwitz was originally a detention center for political prisoners until it was turned into a network of camps where mainly Jews were kept in terrible conditions. Occasionally other enemies of the Nazis were included there. Those people were either exterminated, mainly by gas chambers, or kept alive to be used as slave labor. Others that the Nazis kept alive were used by Josef Mengele for his medical experiments.

In January 1945, the Nazis ordered that the camp be abandoned since the Soviet army was approaching the area. The Nazis ended up relocating almost 60,000 prisoners to other camps. When the Soviets did arrive at the death camp, they found emaciated detainees and piles of  of corpses left behind.

Just shortly after Hitler came to power and World War II started, Hitler came up with a policy called the “Final Solution.” This plan was to isolate all the Jews in Germany as well as in other countries that were annexed by the Nazis. This new plan would also take care to eliminate artists, educators, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals, and mentally and physically handicapped people – Hitler considered these people to be unfit for Nazi Germany.

He believed that in order to complete this large mission the use of death camps was necessary. The concentration camps had been around since 1933 but were made for political prisoners and other enemies. Once Hitler came into power, the concentration camps were solely used to terminate the Jews.

Auschwitz was opened in 1940. Its first commandant was Rudolf Höss, who had started off in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany. Auschwitz was located on an old former military base in south Poland. During the construction of the camp, people living near the camp were told to leave their homes, which were then demolished by the Nazis.

Again, the concentration camp held Jews as well as anti-Nazi activists, politicians, resistance members, and luminaries from the cultural and scientific communities. Not only was the camp the largest, but Hitler believed it was in the perfect spot, being right in the middle of all of the German-occupied countries in Europe. It was also close to the rail lines that would carry the Jews to the camps from all over Europe.

At one time, the camp held nearly 15,000 to 20,000 political prisoners. Each prisoner could read the words over the gate: “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which meant “Work Makes You Free.” The lucky ones were turned into slave labourer the unlucky ones were killed.

In 1944, it seemed that the Allied army was getting close to defeating Nazi Germany. With that in mind, the concentration camp guards started destroying all evidence of the horrors that went on in the camps. They would either blow up records or set them on fire; some buildings would even be torn down.

However, the memory of the camps have been kept alive, through museums. The boys alleged thefts are therefore very serious as the museum at Auschwitz is a reminder of the million who died there. By taking things from the museum they were acting in a very disrespectful manner.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE