STOCKHOLM – Swedish police on Thursday arrested a former neo-Nazi leader that Polish investigators suspect of involvement in the theft of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz.
Swedish Prosecutor Agneta Hilding Qvarnstrom said 34-year-old Anders Hogstrom was detained in Stockholm on a European arrest warrant.
Hilding Qvarnstrom said Hogstrom will be appointed a defense lawyer and questioned by Swedish investigators before authorities can decide on extraditing him to Poland.
Polish officials have said Hogstrom is suspected of incitement to commit theft of a cultural treasure.
The infamous sign, which means “Work Sets You Free” in German, was stolen in December from the site of the Nazis' former Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Polish police found it in the woods three days later, cut into three pieces, and charged five Polish men with its theft.
The Polish prosecutor has said he has evidence that Hogstrom visited Auschwitz together with two Poles last spring and told them to steal the sign.
Experts on Sweden’s extreme-right say Hogstrom founded and led the Swedish neo-Nazi group National Socialist Front in the 1990s. During that time he helped organize yearly celebrations of Adolf Hitler’s birthday and advocated repatriation of refugees to their home countries, according to Expo, a research foundation that has mapped right-wing extremists. However, Expo said he left National Socialist Front in 1999 after two of its members were convicted of a high-profile police murder and became an active opponent to the extreme-right.
Hogstrom has reportedly given conflicting information about his alleged role in the theft. Tabloid Aftonbladet quoted Hogstrom as saying he was acting as a middleman between the Polish thieves and an English-speaking buyer. But in a video clip posted Jan. 9 on the Web site of another tabloid, Expressen, Hogstrom said he had simply been tipped off about the theft and tried to stop it.
The Auschwitz sign is one of the most well-known slogans for Nazi Germany’s atrocities during World War II and the Holocaust.
Between 1940 and 1945 more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau or died of starvation or disease while forced to perform hard physical labor at the camp.