Rome's Jewish leader, others trigger alarm at Auschwitz

The incident began late Tuesday after commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp.

Alik Keplicz/AP
Holocaust survivors walk outside the gate of the of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.

The head of Rome's Jewish community and four other Italians were questioned by police after triggering an alarm at the visitor's center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

Riccardo Pacifici, whose grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz, and the others were questioned for several hours at a police station before being released.

The incident began late Tuesday after commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp. Pacifici and a TV crew broadcast from the site.

Museum director Piotr Cywinski said the group had received permission to film after hours, when the camp's gates are locked, and had an appointment to be let out by guards at 11:30 p.m. However, they finished early, went to leave by the main gate and saw that the guards had not yet arrived. They then tried to let themselves out by pushing through a window and entering into the visitor's center. There they opened a door, activating an alarm.

Security guards came and asked to see their identification documents. They refused and the security guards then called police, who arrived and took them to a police station for questioning, police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said.

Sokolowski said security guards at Auschwitz should have been more attentive to the needs of the Italians, but that the Italians also should have used their phones to call for help when they realized they were trapped inside.

Pacifici tweeted throughout the hours-long incident, saying that their "only crime ... was to try to leave by a window!!!!"

The spokesman for the Rome Jewish community, Fabio Perugia, who was one of the five who were questioned, complained that "they treated us like real criminals."

However, police and museum officials said normal security procedures had to be followed. The visitor's center contains a post office, a shop, a donation box and an ATM, with money on site.

Sokolowski said the questioning took several hours because the Italian consulate was called and all the documentation was translated into Italian. He said the group was taken to a police station simply so that the bureaucratic procedures could be carried out in a more comfortable place.

The entire incident lasted more than six hours, from 11 p.m. to after 5 a.m. the next morning, according to Polish officials and Perugia.

Security at the site has been tightened in recent years after a number of attacks by vandals. The most dramatic occurred in 2009 when Swedish neo-Nazis stole the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign over the main gate and cut it into pieces. The sign was retrieved and repaired and a replica was put in its place.

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