Warsaw (AFP) – Fourteen men and women in their twenties on Friday slaughtered a sheep and took their clothes off at the former Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to the museum at the site in southern Poland.
The individuals aged 20 to 27, whose identities and motives are unknown, then chained themselves together in front of the camp’s infamous “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) gate, the museum said in a statement.
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According to local media, the individuals draped a white banner with the red text “love” over the infamous gate. They also used a drone to film the incident.
Museum guards at the site in the southern city of Oswiecim immediately intervened, and police said all those involved have been detained. They include Poles and foreigners.
“The individuals have been transferred to a police station for questioning. A large group of police officers are at the scene,” local police spokeswoman Malgorzata Jurecka told AFP.
She said they plan to inform prosecutors of the incident, adding that the people involved “will likely be charged with desecrating a monument or other historical site”.
“We’re shocked and outraged by this attempt to use this memorial site for a protest and which mars the memory of thousands of victims. It’s a reprehensible act,” museum spokesman Bartosz Bartyzel told AFP.
“This is the first time something like this has happened at Auschwitz,” added museum director Piotr Cywinski.
“I have no idea what their motives were,” he told AFP.
Unconfirmed local media reports said Belarussians and Germans were involved in the incident intended as a protest against the armed conflict in Ukraine.
Nazi Germany built the Auschwitz death camp after occupying Poland during World War II.
The Holocaust site has become a symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of six million European Jews, one million of whom were killed at the camp from 1940 to 1945.
Poland’s chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said that the actions of those involved were wrong, regardless of the group’s motives.
“Any use of Auschwitz for political statements, even using Auschwitz for moral statements, is not how Auschwitz should be remembered,” he told AFP.
“The Germans used Auschwitz to try to eliminate the Jewish people. Any happenings are a desecration of the memory of all those killed at Auschwitz, Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and others,” he added.
More than 100,000 non-Jews, including Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died at the death camp, according to the museum.
An estimated 232,000 of Auschwitz’s victims were children.