30 September 2021

Former Nazi camp secretary in German trial, 96, on the run

30 September 2021

An arrest warrant has been issued for the former secretary of an SS commander in charge of a concentration camp after she skipped the planned start of her trial in Germany on more than 11,000 counts of accessory to murder, officials have said.

The 96-year-old woman left the home where she lives in a taxi on Thursday morning, heading for an underground station on the outskirts of Hamburg, German news agency dpa quoted Itzehoe state court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer as saying.

Her destination was not known.

Presiding judge Dominik Gross said the court had issued an arrest warrant, and it remained to be seen whether she would be caught.

The defendant’s seat in the courtroom remained empty (Markus Schreiber, Pool/AP) (AP)

Prosecutors argue that the woman was part of the apparatus that helped the Nazi Stutthof concentration camp function during the Second World War more than 75 years ago.

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”.

Despite being elderly, the German woman was to be tried in juvenile court because she was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes.

German media identified her as Irmgard Furchner.

Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s office in Jerusalem, said the defendant had claimed in a recent letter to the court that she was too frail to appear for trial.

The main gate leading into the former Nazi Stutthof concentration camp (Czarek Sokolowski/AP) (AP)

“Apparently, that’s not exactly the case,” he said.

“If she is healthy enough to flee, she is healthy enough to be incarcerated,” Mr Zuroff told The Associated Press.

He added that her fleeing “should also affect the punishment”.

The case against Ms 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.

A defence lawyer told Der Spiegel magazine that the trial would centre on whether the 96-year-old had knowledge of the atrocities that happened at the camp.

“My client worked in the midst of SS men who were experienced in violence – however, does that mean she shared their state of knowledge? That is not necessarily obvious,” lawyer Wolf Molkentin said.

The court issued an arrest warrant for the woman (Markus Schreiber, Pool/AP) (AP)

According to other media reports, Ms Furchner was questioned as a witness during past Nazi trials and said at the time that the former SS commandant of Stutthof, Paul Werner Hoppe, dictated daily letters and radio messages to her.

Ms Furchner testified that she was not aware of the killings that occurred at the camp while she worked there, dpa reported.

Initially a collection point for Jews and non-Jewish Poles removed from Danzig – now the Polish city of Gdansk – Stutthof from about 1940 was used as a so-called “work education camp” where forced labourers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens, were sent to serve sentences and often died.

From mid-1944, tens of thousands of Jews from ghettos in the Baltics and from Auschwitz filled the camp, along with thousands of Polish civilians swept up in the brutal Nazi suppression of the Warsaw uprising.

Others incarcerated there included political prisoners, accused criminals, people suspected of homosexual activity and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

More than 60,000 people were killed there by being given lethal injections, or being shot or starved. Others were forced outside in winter without clothing until they died of exposure, or were put to death in a gas chamber.

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