Prisoner shoes stolen from Nazi death camp museum in Poland

WARSAW (AFP) - Eight shoes belonging to prisoners at a former Nazi death camp have been stolen from a museum at the site in Poland, a museum official said on Tuesday.

Police have launched an investigation into the weekend theft from the State Museum at the former World War II camp in Majdanek, museum spokeswoman Agnieszka Kowalczyk-Nowak said.

"An employee noticed shoes were missing during a routine check on Saturday. A hole was cut in the metal mesh on a display containing several hundred shoes in barrack 52," she said, adding that the motive was not known. "After counting the shoes, we found eight missing.

"It's in this barrack where all the shoes are on display so that visitors can begin to comprehend the sheer scale of Nazi crimes," she said.

The museum holds a total of 280,000 shoes belonging to victims of the camp, with several thousand on display, she said.

Nazi Germany set up the Majdanek camp on the outskirts of the then occupied eastern Polish city of Lublin in 1941 and ran it until 1944.

The camp's museum says that 78,000 prisoners, including 60,000 Jews, died there - around half of those who passed through the notorious World War II-era camp.

Last year, a prisoner's cap stolen from the museum two decades ago was pulled from an eBay auction in the United States where it was valued at US$1,750 (S$).

In 1989, Swedish artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff stole the ashes of Holocaust victims from a Nazi-era crematorium at Majdanek.

He triggered outrage in 2012 when a water-colour painting he claims to have created using the ashes went on display at a gallery in Sweden.

The painting was eventually removed but Polish and Swedish justice officials dropped an investigation without pressing charges because of a statute of limitations on the case.