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Belgians face decade in prison for Auschwitz theft

2 men in their 50s on trial in Poland for stealing part of concentration camp electric fence

Pope Francis walks towards the main entrance with the lettering 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Sets You Free) at the former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Oswiecim, Poland on July 29, 2016 (AFP PHOTO/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE)
Pope Francis walks towards the main entrance with the lettering 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Sets You Free) at the former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Oswiecim, Poland on July 29, 2016 (AFP PHOTO/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE)

Two Belgians risk up to a decade behind bars in Poland if found guilty of stealing parts of an electric fence from the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, Polish prosecutors said Monday.

The trial of the two men is set to open in the southern Polish city of Krakow on February 28.

The two 50-year-olds, identified only as Yann P.-B. and William H., were detained last July as they tried to remove three porcelain electrical isolators.

Although charged, they were not arrested, prosecutors in Oswiecim, where the camp is located, told AFP on Monday.

Holocaust survivors commemorate the people killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Nazi death camp. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Holocaust survivors commemorate the people killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Nazi death camp. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

All objects at the former Nazi death camp, including its electric fence, are the property of the state museum on a site that is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Several people have tried to make off with barbed wire while one particularly brazen gang walked out with the camp’s infamous “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) sign in 2009, sparking a global outcry.

The mastermind of that theft, a Swedish neo-Nazi, was jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews, one million of whom were killed at the camp from 1940 to 1945.

More than 100,000 others including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died there, according to the museum.

An estimated 232,000 of Auschwitz’s victims were children.

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