96-year-old former Nazi death camp secretary flees trial

Despite her advanced age, Irmgard Furchner’s trial was due to take place in a juvenile court because she was under 21 when she worked at the Stutthof concentration camp.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

A former secretary for the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp was being sought on an arrest warrant Thursday after skipping the planned start of her trial in Germany on charges of more than 11,000 counts of accessory to murder, officials said.

The 96-year-old Irmgard Furchner was seen leaving her elder care home in a taxi, apparently heading for a subway station on the outskirts of Hamburg, according to German media reports.

She was apprehended later that day and brought back to the court by police, German news agency dpa reported.

The court said in a statement before the trial that the defendant allegedly “aided and abetted those in charge of the camp in the systematic killing of those imprisoned there between June 1943 and April 1945 in her function as a stenographer and typist in the camp commandant’s office.”

The camp commandant, Paul Werner Hoppe, dictated daily letters and radio messages to Furchner. Hoppe was imprisoned for war crimes and died in 1974.

Despite her advanced age, Furchner’s trial was due to take place in a juvenile court because she was under 21 when she worked in Stutthof.

The International Auschwitz Committee, an organization of Holocaust survivors, slammed German authorities for allowing Furchner to escape.

“It shows an incredible contempt for the rule of law and for the survivors, too,” said Christoph Heubner, the executive president of the committee. “[Authorities] should have reckoned with an escape and put the care home under guard and brought the accused to the trial.”

The Stutthof concentration camp was located near Gdansk, in northern Poland. At least 63,000 people were killed there, of whom 28,000 were Jews. Many were killed by being given lethal injections of gasoline or phenol directly to their hearts. Others were shot, starved to death or killed in a gas chamber. Others were forced outside in winter without clothing until they died of exposure.

Towards the end of the World War, the Nazis forced the camp’s remaining 50,000 inmates into a death march ahead of the advancing Soviet Red Army. Half the prisoners perished.

German media reports said Furchner testified at previous Nazi trials that she wasn’t aware of the killings in Stutthof during the two-year period that she worked there.

The case against Furchner relies on German legal precedent established in cases over the past decade that anyone who helped Nazi death camps and concentration camps function can be prosecuted as an accessory to the murders committed there, even without evidence of participation in a specific crime.

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Associated Press and Tobias Siegal/WIN contributed to this report.