Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary at a Nazi concentration camp, is now on trial in Germany. She is accused of being involved in the deaths of thousands of prisoners held at the Stutthof camp in occupied Poland during the Second World War.
Furchner was due to attend court on Sept. 30, however, she failed to appear. Furchner had run away from her retirement home, calling a taxi that took her to an underground station. When officials caught Furchner six hours after her escape, she was 38 miles away from the courtroom. She was wandering around a street at the time of her capture. A doctor assessed her and declared her to be medically fit. She is now in police detention and will remain there until the next trial.
The former camp secretary had written a letter to Judge Dominik Gross in early September, stating that she will not be showing up to court. Judge Gross had warned her against such a move.
“Due to my advanced age and my physical impediments, I will not be attending the court appointment and would request that I am represented by my defense lawyer,” Furchner wrote in a letter. She went on to list her ailments and said that she wants to “spare myself these embarrassments and don’t want to make myself the laughing stock of humanity.”
During her time at the Nazi camp, Furchner worked as a typist for the camp commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe. Stutthof was the first concentration camp set up by Germany outside its borders. It began operations in Sept. 1939 and was the last camp to be liberated by the Allies in 1945. Prisoners at the camp died by gassing, lethal injections, starvation, and shooting. In addition to Jews, captured Russian soldiers and non-Jewish Poles were also prisoners at the camp.
Furchner is charged with aiding and abetting the murders of 11,412 people. She is also said to have been complicit in 18 instances of attempted murder. The trial seeks to determine how much Furchner knew about the killings at the camp. Her lawyer Wolf Molkentin told a German media outlet that Furchner might have been “screened off” from the violence that took place at the camp. However, prosecutors argue that she had an administrative role in the camp, and thus, facilitated the murders.
According to a BBC report, “For two years before the end of the war in 1945, she was said to have known key details of what went on at the concentration camp. During Hoppe’s 1954 trial she revealed how he had dictated messages to her but claimed she knew nothing of the Nazi murders at Stutthof. Some 100,000 people were held at Stutthof, which was notorious for atrocious conditions and 65,000 are estimated to have died.”
The 96-year-old is the first woman, in several years, to stand trial for Nazi war crimes. Since she was underage while working at the camp, Furchner’s trial is being held at a juvenile court. Her case also possibly marks the last Nazi trials since only a few potential defendants are alive.
Last year, a Nazi camp guard was found guilty of being complicit in the deaths of over 5,000 prisoners. In March this year, a former Stutthof camp guard who was charged with Nazi crimes was declared unfit to stand trial.