Germany: a 96-year-old former secretary of a concentration camp “on the run” before her trial

JUSTICE – A 96-year-old former secretary of a concentration camp was scheduled to appear from Thursday. Except that she is “on the run”, declared the President of the Court.

Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, German justice has not said its last word. The surviving former Nazi criminals are still wanted to stand trial, as evidenced in these days by the trial of 96-year-old Irmgard Furchner. A trial that was cut short, the defendant having fled, according to the President of the Court.

“The accused is on the run (…) an arrest warrant has been issued,” he told the Itzehoe court in northern Germany where she is to be tried for complicity in murder in more than 10,000 cases. “She left her home (for the elderly) this morning. She took a taxi,” Itzehoe court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer said. His lawyer, Wolf Molkentin, was however present in the courtroom but he did not make any statement to journalists.

“She typed the work orders”

Will the accused be promptly arrested? The only certainty: never before has Germany, which has long shown little eagerness to find its war criminals, tried such elderly former Nazis. Aged 18 to 19 at the material time, the nonagenarian Irmgard Furchner, who lives in a retirement home near Hamburg, is to be tried by a special youth court for “complicity in murder in more than 10,000 cases” , according to the prosecution.

The prosecution accuses her of having participated 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. 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.

According to lawyer Christoph Rückel, who has represented Holocaust survivors for years, “she kept all the correspondence of the camp commander”. “She also typed the execution and deportation orders and put her initials”, he assured on the regional public channel NDR.

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Any auxiliary of a camp can be sued

At the end of a long procedure, justice had estimated in February that the nonagenarian was fit to appear despite her great age. But the hearings, scheduled to last until June 2022, should be limited to a few hours per hearing day.

Despite the passing years, other trials could follow. Eight cases involving former employees of the Buchenwald and Ravensbrück camps in particular, are currently being examined by various German prosecutors. And this, thanks to the case law John Demjanjuk: this former guard of the Sobibor camp in 1943 was sentenced in 2011 to five years in prison. This now makes it possible to prosecute for complicity in tens of thousands of assassinations any auxiliary of a concentration camp, from the guard to the accountant.

The courts have looked into the cases of at least three other women employed in Nazi camps, including another secretary who worked at Stutthof but she died last year before the procedure was concluded. Some 4,000 women have served as guards in concentration camps, according to historians. But few were tried after the war.

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