Online Desk:German prosecutors said Tuesday they were seeking a two-year suspended sentence for a 97-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary in what they described as one of the last such trials.
Public prosecutor Maxi Wantzen told a court in the northern town of Itzehoe that Irmgard Furchner was guilty of complicity in the “cruel and malicious murder” of more than 10,000 people at the Stutthof camp in occupied Poland.
“This trial is of outstanding historical importance,” Wantzen said, adding that it was “potentially, due to the passage of time, the last of its kind”.
The first woman to be tried in Germany for Nazi-era crimes in decades, Furchner sat impassively in a wheelchair in the courtroom, wearing a red beret and jacket.
Furchner had fled the retirement home where she lives in September 2021 as her trial was set to begin and headed to a metro station.
She managed to evade police for several hours before being apprehended in the nearby city of Hamburg and held in custody for five days.
The defendant was a teenager when the alleged crimes were committed and is being tried in juvenile court.
– ‘Absolute hell’ –
The pensioner has declined to testify since her trial began last October but several survivors of the Stutthof camp have offered wrenching accounts of their suffering.
Wantzen thanked the witnesses, many of whom are also serving as co-plaintiffs, who she said had told of the “absolute hell” of the camp.
“They feel it is their duty, even though they had to summon the pain again and again to fulfil it,” she said.
Between June 1943 and April 1945, Furchner worked in the office of camp commander Paul Werner Hoppe. According to the case against her, she took dictation of the SS officer’s orders and handled his correspondence.
An estimated 65,000 people died at the Stutthof camp near today’s Gdansk, including “Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war”, according to the indictment read out by Wantzen at the start of proceedings.
Wantzen told the judges that the defendant’s clerical work “assured the smooth running of the camp” and gave her “knowledge of all occurrences and events at Stutthof”.
Moreover, “life-threatening conditions” such as food and water shortages and the spread of deadly diseases including typhus were intentionally maintained and immediately apparent, she said.
Wantzen said that despite the defendant’s advanced age, it was “still important today to hold such a trial”, also to maintain the historical record as survivors die off.
Hitler’s killing machine –
Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II, time is running out to bring alleged criminals linked to the Holocaust to justice.
In recent years, several cases have been abandoned as the accused died or were physically unable to stand trial.
The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several trials.
Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.
In June, a court in the eastern city of Brandenburg an der Havel sentenced a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.
Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.
He was sentenced to five years in prison.