WARSAW, Poland - A Swedish man was sentenced Thursday to two years and eight months in prison for instigating the theft a year ago of the notorious "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free") sign from the former Auschwitz death camp.
A judge at a regional court in Krakow approved a settlement that Anders Hogstrom, 35, had reached with prosecutors, court spokesman Rafal Lisak said.
Hogstrom had confessed to involvement in the December 2009 theft and was convicted of instigating it. He is expected to be transferred to Sweden in the coming weeks to serve his term, Lisak said.
Experts on Sweden's far right say Hogstrom founded and led the Swedish neo-Nazi group National Socialist Front in the 1990s. However, he left the group in 1999 after two of its members were convicted of a high-profile police murder, and he became an active opponent of the extreme right, according to Expo, a research foundation.
Prosecutor Robert Parys said the main motive of the group of six that carried out the theft was financial.
Hogstrom maintains that another Swedish man talked him into organizing the heist, but Polish prosecutors have been unable to find evidence to support that, Parys said.
Judge Jaroslaw Gaberle also approved plea deals Thursday for two Polish men, Marcin Auguscinski and Andrzej Strychalski, who were involved in stealing the sign. Auguscinski was sentenced to 21/2 years and Strychalski to two years and four months. Three other Poles were convicted of secondary roles in the theft and drew prison terms in March.
"For Holocaust survivors, the theft at Auschwitz was not just about stealing a sign but about stealing our collective memory and pain," the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said in an e-mailed statement. It added, "We commend Poland for not allowing this to happen."
The theft occurred before dawn Dec. 18, 2009. Acting on tips, police tracked down the sign less than three days after it was stolen, finding it cut into three pieces, hidden in a northern Poland forest.
The cynical slogan at the camp's entrance has become a potent symbol of Nazi Germany's atrocities. From 1940 to 1945 more than one million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau or died of starvation, disease, and hard labor at the camp.