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Friday, December 18, 2009

Israel voices Jewish shock over Auschwitz theft

JERUSALEM — Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday expressed the Jewish people's "deepest shock" over the theft of the "Arbeit macht frei" sign from the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland.

In a special meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Peres "expressed the deepest shock of Israel's citizens and the Jewish community across the world," his office said in a statement.

"The sign holds deep historical meaning for both Jews and non-Jews alike as a symbol of the more than one million lives that perished at Auschwitz," Peres was quoted as saying.

"The State of Israel and the international Jewish community ask that you make every effort to find the criminals and return the sign to its place," he told Tusk.

The director of Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial earlier condemned the theft of the infamous sign as a "declaration of war."

"This act constitutes a true declaration of war. We don't know the identity of the perpetrators but I assume they are neo-Nazis," Avner Shalev said in a statement.

"These people want to bring Europe back 70 years to the dark years of death and destruction," he added.

"I am certain the Polish government will do everything possible to track down those criminals and put them on trial," he said, urging "the enlightened world to work together against anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms."

Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called the theft "the act of a deranged person."

And an Israeli minister branded the theft "an abominable act that amounts to profanation."

"This act demonstrates once again hatred and violence against Jews," said Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, one of Israel's two vice prime ministers.

In Poland, museum staff and police said thieves had stolen the infamous Arbeit macht frei (Work will set you free) sign earlier on Friday.

The theft of the metal sign -- which was forged by prisoners on Nazi orders, and was one of the most sinister examples of their propaganda -- sent shockwaves across Poland


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