A 37-year-old American man has been arrested for attempted theft in Poland after trying to steal part of the train tracks at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to Polish officials.
Malgorzata Jurecka, a police spokeswoman in the nearby town of Oswiecim told ABC News the man, who is from Texas, was “charged with attempted theft of an item of cultural importance from the Holocaust memorial site.” She added that he originally faced 10 years in prison, “but since he has admitted his guilt, the sentence will be lighter, likely two years on probation.”
The man, who has not been identified, has been released from police custody and is allowed to leave the country. He does not need to be in Poland when his case goes to court, but he will have to hire a lawyer to represent him,according to Jurecka.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told ABC News the agency was aware of the reports, and that when a U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, the department provides all appropriate consular assistance.
More than one million people died at the Auschwitz concentration camp, the largest of its kind, during World War II. The victims were mainly Jews, but also included Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma, homosexuals, and people with disabilities.
The Soviet Red Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.
The American tourist was part of a larger guided tour group visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, when he was spotted by a woman from another visiting group trying to steal a metal piece of train tracks that Nazi Germans used to unload the prisoners. The woman alerted museum security, who then called the police.
“Unfortunately, these kind of incidents happen from time to time and it’s always terribly emotional to us,” Bartosz Bartyzel, a spokesman at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which encompasses the sites of the original concentration camp as well as Auschwitz II-Birkenau where Saturday’s incident happened, told ABC News.
Several weeks earlier, visitors to Auschwitz were asked to stop posing for selfies while balancing on its infamous railway tracks.
"There are better places to learn how to walk on a balance beam than the site which symbolizes deportation of hundreds of thousands to their deaths," the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum tweeted on March 20.
When you come to @AuschwitzMuseum remember you are at the site where over 1 million people were killed. Respect their memory. There are better places to learn how to walk on a balance beam than the site which symbolizes deportation of hundreds of thousands to their deaths. pic.twitter.com/TxJk9FgxWl— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) March 20, 2019
In 2009, the infamous Nazi slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work makes you free) sign at the camp’s entrance was stolen. It was later found cut into three pieces, and a former Swedish neo-Nazi was jailed for more than two years for the theft. Eventually, the sign was repaired, but a replica was installed at the camp.
Large numbers of tourists visit Auschwitz every year. Of the 2.1 million visitors to the concentration camp in 2018, 136,000 were from the U.S.