The British Holocaust Education Trust called the recent theft of artifacts from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland “absolutely shocking” and offered to work to educate the teenage perpetrators who were caught by Polish police.
“This is absolutely shocking and shows gross disregard to the memory of the Holocaust,” said the trust’s chief executive Karen Pollack, after Polish authorities discovered stolen items from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in the bags of two British teenagers, aged 17 and 18.
“Every single artifact found at Auschwitz-Birkenau tells a story of the more than a million people who were ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis there and this incident serves to show why our work is crucial now more than ever,” Pollack said.
She called it a “duty” to provide the next generation with a Holocaust education to “prevent ignorance and hate,” adding that in 15 years of organizing trips to Auscwhitz-Birkenau, no such incident had been reported.
“We would gladly work with these young boys to ensure they understand the implications of their actions although this is now a matter for the police,” she said.
The two teenagers were on an educational trip from a school in Cambridge, England when museum guards alerted Polish authorities, who launched an interrogation. Among the items thought to have been misappropriated were fragments of hair clippers, buttons and a piece of a spoon.
Though no charges have been brought against the boys yet, Polish police said the penalty could be 10 years in prison, according to the BBC.
According to a spokesperson for the Perse School, where the boys studied, the two had apologized profusely to authorities and claimed that they “picked up the items without thinking,” the BBC reported.
In 2013, the Daily Mail uncovered listings on the web-based auction house eBay for Holocaust artifacts, including the uniform worn by prisoners at concentration camps.
British Community Service Trust communications director Mark Gardner said he would “be surprised if it [the theft] was for proper financial gain. I am guessing it’s more likely just them stealing for either the thrill of it, or to have a souvenir to their trip.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was established as a museum in 1947 and gets as many as 80,000 visitors per year. Earlier this year, the museum called on patrons to book in advance or risk being turned away at the gates as the Auschwitz museum was increasingly facing maximum capacity.
In 2010, a Swedish man was sentenced to three years in prison for masterminding a plot to lift the iconic sign above the camp gates that reads, in German, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work sets you free.”
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Germany on Tuesday as part of a four-day visit. The trip includes a stop at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the Queen’s first visit to a former concentration camp.