Friday, 13 August 2010

Polish Prosecutor: Bits of Auschwitz "not an important part of national heritage"

According to the newspaper "Dziennik Polski", two Canadians who came to Poland in late June and were caught in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp complex (scheduled monuments and also World Heritage sites) taking elements of the camp's fabric as souvenirs will not appear in court.

The museum staff were alerted to the theft by visitors who saw them at work on the railway tracks by the selection ramp (where newly-arrived prisoners were segregated into two groups, those who went into the camp to work, and those who were to go straight to the gas chambers). They were reportedly removing the railroad spikes. When stopped and questioned it was found they had two of these spikes in their knapsack wrapped in paper. It is not explained how they were extracted, did the Canadians come to the site with tools?

See also: Two Canadians held for Auschwitz rail-spike theft
Two Canadian Teachers had Stolen Nails at the Museum of Auschwitz
Canadians try to steal Auschwitz ‘mementoes’
Canadians Try to Take Auschwitz "Mementos"

The Polish police and prosecutor however did not see anything amiss in the behaviour of the Canadians. The matter was being handled by the Regional Prosecutor in Oświęcim (contact details) who has decided not to prosecute. This decision was justified by the actions involved "not having the character of the theft of property of important significance for the national culture" ("brakiem znamion przestępstwa kradzieży dobra o istotnym znaczeniu dla kultury narodowej"). The people responsible for the management of the site are dumbfounded by this decision and have appealed against this decision.

One wonders whether the matter would have been dismissed if it did not involve thieving tourists, but locals. Nevertheless, these guys must have realised that what they were doing is wrong and they should be punished. And yes, Ms Grażyna Pniak (the Prosecutor responsible), the original elements of the camp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau are indeed very important elements not only of LOCAL cultural heritage, which is why the site is on the World Heritage List. If every tourist came with a hammer and chisel and took their own piece of the selection ramp home there would soon be nothing left of the original camp to see - the remains are in a poor enough state as it is [but that is as much due to the materials it was built of - as a temporary measure only - and the fact that it is all in the open air on low-lying damp ground].

Although the area is monitored by video cameras and patrolled by guards, the area of the former camp stretches over almost 200 hectares and comprises around 150 buildings, 300 ruins, many kilometres of fencing and watch towers. Despite best efforts, it is impossible to guard everything closely 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But then again, who would be stealing from a memorial to so many deaths and so much suffering? Certainly one would have expected more from teachers (but see the post about the Torah illegally exported from Warsaw during a school trip from the USA). Let us see the thoughtless bastards named. Also one would have expected more from those responsible for law enforcement in my country to actually oversee the upholding of the law.

The lesson is clear, anyone can come to Auschwitz and take away souvenirs for e-Bay, and Ms Pniak (the name means "tree-stump") will not prosecute you for it. Bring your metal detectors too, Polish fields and forests are full of gold and archaeological material, and Ms Pniak probably does not think it is "property of important significance for the national culture" either.

This judicial dullardry deserves international condemnation. Maybe somebody would like to set up a Facebook page?

One of the links above goes to the Virtual Auschwitz site - apparently only in Polish on the Museum's webpage.

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