Two Belgians acquitted in Poland of Auschwitz theft

Warsaw (AFP) –


A Polish court on Friday acquitted two Belgian citizens who had been accused of stealing parts of an electric fence from the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, local media reported.

All objects in the former Nazi death camp, including its electric fence, are the property of the state museum at the site in Oswiecim, southern Poland, that is on UNESCO's protected World Heritage list.

Identified only as 51-year-old Yann P.B. and William H., who is 48, the two men were detained in July 2016 with three porcelain electrical isolators in an area adjacent to the camp grounds.

The men testified that they came across the half-buried isolators as they were taking photographs along the fence perimeter outside the camp, Poland's PAP news agency reported.

The Krakow court said it had found no evidence that the men had intended to act illegally.

It also said that although the electrical isolators had "significant historic value" this did not necessarily mean they enjoy legal protection as objects that have "special importance for culture", the PAP said.

Prior to the trial, Polish prosecutors had said that the men had risked up to a decade behind bars if found guilty of stealing the parts from the former death camp.

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.