Nonagenarian Nazi tries to flee before trial

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A 96-year-old woman who was the secretary at a Nazi concentration camp in the Second World War tried to flee her trial in Germany last week.

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The BBC reports that police detained Irmgard Furchner, due to stand trial for complicity in 11,000 murders after she failed to turn up in court. A warrant was issued for her arrest.

Furchner lives in a nursing home in the town of Quickborn but slipped away early in the morning on the day her trial was set to begin in the town of Itzehoe. Police found her and arrested her in Hamburg last Thursday.

She was detained, but the court in Itzehoe decided she could be freed ahead of her trial, which resumes Oct. 19.

Furchner was the secretary in the office of Stutthof camp commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe, near the Polish city of Danzig (now Gdansk), from June 1943 to April 1944. She was 18 when she started working for Hoppe.

The Germans constructed the camp in 1939 in a forested area near Stutthof, a town about 35 kilometres east of Danzig.

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Guards began using gas chambers there in June 1944. People at the camp died by gassing, shooting and lethal injection and many died of starvation or on death marches from the camp. Soviet troops liberated Stutthof in May 1945.

Furchner’s job included typing out deportation and execution commands as per Hoppe’s dictation; when Hoppe went on trial in 1954, she testified that she had had no idea the Nazis were murdering people at Stutthof and knew nothing about the gas chambers.

Furchner has said she was never in the camp itself. She knew executions happened there, but believed criminals were being executed for their crimes.

She claims she knew nothing about genocide until after the war.

Prosecutors began to examine Furchner’s SS record in 2016 and police questioned her a year later.

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It took four years to bring the case to trial.

Dubbed the “secretary of evil” Furchner is charged with assisting in the deaths of 11,412 prisoners at the camp — where about 100,000 people were held and 65,000 died.

She is the first woman to stand trial over Nazi crimes in many years. Another secretary at Stutthof died before charges could be brought against her.

  1. Historian Hanna Tychka explores a cave at the city sewage system where dozens of Jews were hiding from the Nazis during the Second World War in Lviv, Ukraine, Sept. 25, 2021.

    Ukrainians unearth hiding places of Jews in city sewers during Nazi Holocaust

  2. Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen visits Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland Oct. 4, 2021.

    Anti-Semitic graffiti found at Auschwitz-Birkenau site

There are still men and women accused of working in the Second World War death camps but all are elderly and some too infirm to stand trial.

This month, a 100-year-old man will go on trial over allegations that he was an SS guard at the Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin.

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Since the conviction of Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk a decade ago, staff at the camps can be held responsible for deaths where they worked even if it cannot be proved they killed anyone.

As for Irmgard Furchner’s attempt to duck her own trial, Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff  tweeted: “Healthy enough to flee, healthy enough to go to jail!”

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