(photo credit: kkl)
Polish police said overnight Sunday that they found the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was stolen on Friday from the gate of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.
Police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said that police also detained five young men and were planning to question them.
Padlo said the sign which symbolizes to the world the atrocities and cruelty of Nazi Germany had been cut into three pieces.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning expressed his shock at the weekend theft of the infamous iron sign hung decades ago above the gate of the Auschwitz death camp.
Speaking at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, "I call on the Polish government to track down these twisted criminals who desecrated a place where more than a million Jews were murdered."
"It is important to preserve the memory of the crime and therefore it is important to preserve the crime scene of the worst incident in the history of the Jewish People and of all humanity," he added.
On Saturday, Reuters reported that Poland was offering a reward of about $39,000 for any information which will lead to the return of the sign, which carries the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" - German for "Work Sets You Free."
The Polish government also tightened security at border crossings as searches intensified for sign.
Polish Interior Ministry spokeswoman Wioletta Paprocka said Saturday afternoon that border guards at Poland's eastern border with Ukraine and Belarus - which is also the European Union's eastern frontier - stepped up checks of goods out of Poland in efforts to locate the sign. Checks have also been tightened at airports.
Interior Minister Jerzy Miller ordered police to increase vigilance and question all possible witnesses and suspects in a nationwide effort to find the sign that stands as one of Nazi Germany's most chilling symbols.
Police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said police believe it was stolen between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friday morning, when museum guards noticed that it was missing and alerted police.
Padlo also said that the iron sign, which spanned a gate at the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland, was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other.
Police deployed 50 investigators and a search dog to the Auschwitz grounds, where barracks, watchtowers and ruins of gas chambers still stand as testament to the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany.
Police were reviewing footage from Auschwitz's surveillance cameras to see if the theft was recorded.
In Copenhagen, President Shimon Peres met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and told him that Israeli citizens and Jews throughout the world were "deeply shocked" by the incident.
"The State of Israel and the entire Jewish people ask that you take the necessary steps in order to catch the criminals and return the sign to its place," Peres said. "The sign has an extremely deep historical meaning for the Jewish people and for the whole world and it serves as a memorial monument to more than 1 million Jews who were murdered in the camp."
Tusk told Peres that he could "rest assured that we are doing everything in order to capture the criminals. Since the morning I have instructed the public security minister, who is responsible for the police and the special security forces in Poland, to make this issue their top priority."
The Polish premier went on to tell Peres that "The sign's theft is very grave and is as painful for us as it is for you."
An exact replica of the sign, produced when the original underwent restoration work years ago, was quickly hung in its place.