At the end of March, eleven people gathered outside the gates of Auschwitz in southern Poland to slaughter sheep, strip naked, and chain themselves to the gates at the entrance of the former Nazi-Germany concentration camp.
Investigators claim that the group are pacifists who were attempting to send an antiwar message, according to New York Times (NYT). Previously thought to be neo-Nazi extremists, the eleven people originally met online and met for the first time in person at the demonstration.
The Auschwitz complex, a now-memorial to the more than one million Jewish people who died there, is guarded by officials. Officials were stunned, according to NYT, by the demonstrators’ actions.
During World War II, the extermination camp was under German Nazi control, but was redesignated into southern Poland during the relocation of land after the war ended.
The protestors chained themselves to each other and to the main gate in an attempt to promote peace. Most of the demonstrators were between the ages of 20 and 27, with one being about 40 years old. In addition, BBC reports that a drone was used by the group to film the event.
The group was detained by police shortly after their demonstration began. The group was comprised of six Poles, four Belarusians, and one German, according to NYT. When questioned by police, the group claimed that their actions were to protest innocent people being killed.
However, their motivations made no difference to the officials. NYT reported that The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, on-site at Auschwitz, said on Twitter: “Using the symbol of Auschwitz for any kind of manifestations or happenings is disrespectful to the memory of all the victims.”
Mariusz Slomka, deputy regional prosecutor in the town of Oswiecim, where Auschwitz is located, was questioned about the group’s motives. As a part of the demonstration, the eleven people draped a white banner that read “Love” in red letters over the main gate. The banner also contained “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free” in German.
When asked how these actions, in addition to the killing of sheep and the stripping of clothes, communicated a desire for peace, Slomka replied: “I’m not even going to attempt to answer this question. That’s really not my department.”
The protesters were charged with desecrating a symbolic location commemorating historical events, according to NYT’s report. The one person who actively killed the sheep will be facing charges under an animal protection law in addition to the desecration charges. If convicted, they could be imprisoned or faced with hefty fines. However, all the protesters have been released from interrogation.