Polish police say five men arrested for the theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was bolted atop the gate at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp have criminal pasts.
Investigators announced some details of the recovery of the sign at a news conference Monday, but said it was too soon to say what the motive behind theft may have been. The sign was found cut into three pieces near the home of one of the five men.
The 16-foot (5-meter) sign was stolen before dawn on Friday from the Auschwitz memorial museum site in the southern Polish town of Oswiecim.
Two of the suspects were tracked down in the northern city of Gdynia, the other three near Wloclawek, The Associated Press reports.
Polish police detained five men on Monday for stealing the metal sign that hung over the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, and said they were common thieves, not neo-Nazis. Last Friday's theft triggered widespread outrage, especially from Israel and Jewish groups, amid fears of a political motive.
The sign, which carries the German motto "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes you free"), is a powerful symbol of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis against the Jews. The police said it had been cut into three pieces,
Police said the suspects, aged between 20 and 39, had previous convictions for various crimes including robbery and physical assault. One of them ran his own construction firm.
Authorities had made recovering the sign a national priority and the museum that runs Auschwitz offered a reward worth nearly $40,000. Police said they had received more than 100 calls offering information.
Some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished at the death camp during Nazi Germany's occupation of Poland in World War Two. Arriving prisoners used to enter via a small iron gate topped by the sign, Reuters informs.
Andrzej Rokita, the local police chief in Krakow - where the men were being questioned - said the theft had been financially motivated, and it remained unclear whether it was carried out to order.
"From the information we have, none of the five belong to a neo-Nazi group nor hold such ideas," Andrzej Rokita said of the suspects, BBC News informs.