Auschwitz 'theft' pupils apologise

The gates at the Auschwitz concentration camp
Two British teenagers who were suspected of stealing items that belonged to prisoners at Auschwitz have apologised, their school said.

The 17-year-old boys, who were on a school history trip, were spotted acting suspiciously yesterday at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in southern Poland, Polish police said.

The boys, who were found with fragments of hair clippers, spoons, some buttons and two pieces of glass, were pupils at the private Perse School in Cambridge.

Ed Elliott, the school's headmaster, said: "It is particularly sad that a situation of this kind had arisen in the course of a visit to a location such as this.

"The whole party was deeply aware of the scale of the tragedy associated with Birkenau and the other camps of the Holocaust.

"We believe that it is essential that young people growing up in today's world have a proper understanding of just what happened in that time, and these visits are an important part of that process of learning and understanding. Removal of historical artefacts is clearly wrong and a very serious matter.

"We apologise for any thoughtless and offensive behaviour by these two pupils."

A spokesman for the school said: "We understand they have explained that they picked up the items without thinking and they have apologised unreservedly for the offence they have given, and expressed real remorse for their action."

They were apprehended in warehouse number five - known as Canada - where the belongings of the Auschwitz arrivals were seized during the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Educational Trust's chief executive Karen Pollock said: "This is absolutely shocking and shows gross disregard to the memory of the Holocaust.

"Every single artefact 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.

"We have a duty to educate the next generation to prevent ignorance and hate, and in over 15 years of organising for thousands of British teenagers to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, we have never known of such an incident.

"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."

Visitors have tried to steal artefacts as souvenirs from the museum in the past.

In 2010, a Swedish man was jailed for organising the theft of the Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free) sign from the entry gate of Auschwitz.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was founded in 1947 and has over 80,000 British visitors each year.

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