WARSAW, Poland — Two British teenagers on a class trip to Poland pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of stealing objects from the historic site of the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp, a prosecutor said.
The teens were seen Monday taking objects from the site of the former camp’s warehouses, where the Nazis kept victims’ belongings during World War II, said regional police spokesman Mateusz Ciarka. Part of an old hair-cutting machine, two pieces of reinforced glass from the warehouses and some buttons were found on the teens, Ciarka told The Associated Press.
The 17-year-olds, from Hertfordshire in southern England, were questioned in the presence of an attorney and charged with theft of objects of special historic value, said deputy regional prosecutor Mariusz Slomka. The charges carry up to 10 years in prison and stiff fines.
The teens, who were released from police custody and free to return home, were seeking a settlement that would include a suspended prison term, a fine and probation, Slomka said, without providing details. A court will take up the matter within weeks and decide whether to accept the settlement proposal, or order a trial.
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The teens were held overnight in police custody in the southern town of Oswiecim, where the former death camp is located, pending questioning by prosecutors Tuesday. They were on a school history trip from the private Perse School in Cambridge, England.
Polish courts have previously handed out suspended prison terms and heavy fines to people convicted of stealing objects from Auschwitz, including to an elderly Israeli couple caught in 2011 and a German teacher caught last year.
In the most dramatic theft, the ominous “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) sign was stolen from the former death camp’s historic gate in 2009. It was found days later, cut into pieces. The Poles who stole it and the Swedish man who instigated them were sentenced to prison.
Between 1940 and 1945 the German Nazis killed more than 1.1 million people in the camp. The victims were mainly European Jews, but also Russian prisoners of war, Poles, Gypsies and others.