(photo credit: REUTERS)
KRAKOW, Poland - Polish police said on Tuesday they had detained two British teenage boys at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp on suspicion of stealing artifacts that belonged to prisoners held there during World War Two.
The two, both aged 17, are pupils of the Perse School in Cambridge, England. They were visiting the site of the camp as part of a history trip, the school said in a statement.
The pupils were spotted on Monday afternoon acting suspiciously near a building where Nazi German guards had stored prisoners' confiscated belongings, said a spokesman for the museum which now operates on the site of the camp.
A body search revealed items which may have been stolen from the site, including a fragment of a razor, a piece of spoon, a number of buttons and two pieces of glass.
According to the school's statement, the pupils "attempted to keep some items of historical importance which they had found on the ground."
"We understand they have explained that they picked up the items without thinking, and they have apologized unreservedly for the offense they have given, and expressed real remorse for their action," the Perse School's spokesman said.
The two have already been interrogated through an interpreter, a spokesman for the regional police said, and are awaiting further decisions on their detention. If found guilty, they could face up to 10 years in prison, police said.
The pupils are cooperating fully with the authorities, the school said.
Auschwitz, located near the city of Krakow in southern Poland, has become a poignant symbol of the Nazi German Holocaust that claimed six million Jewish lives across Europe.
Around 1.5 million people, mainly European Jews, were gassed, shot, hanged or burned at Auschwitz during the war.
Museum curators say some visitors try to pilfer artifacts as souvenirs. In 2010, a Swedish man was jailed for orchestrating the theft of the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) sign from the entry gate of the Auschwitz site.