Former Nazi death camp secretary, 96, “on the run” in day-long trial due to start


A former secretary of a Nazi concentration camp, 96, is “on the run” the day her trial was due to begin, a court said on Thursday.

Irmgard Furchner, who was between 18 and 19 at the time of the facts and lives in a retirement home near Hamburg, was to be tried by a special juvenile court for “complicity in murder in more than 10,000 cases”, according to the accusation.

She is accused of participating in the murder of detainees in the Stutthof concentration camp in present-day Poland, where she worked as a typist and secretary to the camp commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, between June 1943 and April 1945.

But the president of the Itzehoe court said Thursday morning that “the accused was on the run,” adding that an arrest warrant had been issued.

“She left her (elderly) home this morning. She took a taxi,” Itzehoe court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer said.

His lawyer, Wolf Molkentin, was present in court but made no statement to reporters.

The presiding judge asked for “a little patience” as the opening of the trial on Thursday seemed doubtful.

Even if the defendant is arrested, a medical examination will still have to be done to determine if she is able to attend a hearing.

She is the only woman to be tried in Germany for involvement with the Nazis for decades.

“Complicity in murder”

Irmgard Furchner, who was between 18 and 19 at the time of the facts and lives in a retirement home near Hamburg, is to be tried by a special juvenile court for “complicity in murder in more than 10,000 cases”, according to the accusation.

The prosecution accuses her of having participated in the murder of detainees at the Stutthof concentration camp in present-day Poland, where she worked as a typist and secretary to the camp commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, between June 1943 and April 1945.

In this camp near the city of Gdansk, where 65,000 people perished, “Jewish detainees, Polish partisans and Soviet prisoners of war” were systematically murdered, according to the prosecution.

The trial in a court in Itzehoe, northern Germany, would be followed a week later by the trial of a hundred-year-old former Nazi camp guard in Sachsenhausen, near Berlin.

Never before has Germany tried such elderly former Nazis.

The case also comes on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal’s death sentences by hanging of 12 of the Third Reich’s top leaders.

Execution orders

According to lawyer Christoph Rückel, who has represented Holocaust survivors for years, Irmgard Furchner “kept all the correspondence of the camp commander”.

“She also typed the execution and expulsion orders and initialed them,” he said on regional public broadcaster NDR.

After lengthy proceedings, the court ruled in February that the nonagenarian was fit to appear in court despite her advanced age.

But the hearings, scheduled to last until June 2022, are expected to be limited to a few hours a day.

Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, German justice continues to search for former Nazi criminals who are still alive.

Eight cases involving in particular former employees of the Buchenwald and Ravensbrück camps are currently being examined by various German prosecutors, told AFP the Central Office of Investigation into the Crimes of National Socialism.

In recent years, several cases have had to be closed due to the death of suspects or their physical inability to be brought to justice.

But while Germany has convicted four former guards or accountants in the Nazi camps of Sobibor, Auschwitz and Stutthof over the past decade, it has tried very few women involved in the Nazi apparatus, historians say.

At least three other women employed in Nazi camps have been tried, including another secretary who worked at Stutthof, but she died last year before the case was over.

The Neuruppin prosecutor’s office near Berlin is examining the case of another woman who worked in the Ravensbrück camp, according to the Ludwigsburg-based central office.

Some 4,000 women served as guards in concentration camps, according to historians. But few were tried after the war.

Among those who responded to the atrocities committed under the Third Reich was Maria Mandl, warden of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, nicknamed “the ferocious beast”, who was hanged in 1948 after being sentenced to death by a court in Krakow.

Between 1946 and 1948, in Hamburg, 38 people, including 21 women, appeared before British military judges for having served in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, specially reserved for women.

The conviction in 2011 of John Demjanjuk, guard of the Sobibor camp in 1943, to five years in prison, set a precedent for prosecuting for complicity in tens of thousands of murders any aide-de-camp of concentration, from the guard to the accountant.

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