Former secretary of the Nazi camp is on trial for the murder of 11,000 people

Former secretary of the Nazi camp is on trial for the murder of 11,000 people

A 96-year-old former secretary of a Nazi concentration camp has been tried in Germany for alleged complicity in the murder of more than 11,000 people imprisoned there, three weeks after trying to flee the process.

Irmgard Furchner was pushed into court in Itzehoe, northern Germany, strapped into a blue ambulance wheelchair and holding a brown cloth bag. A patterned silk scarf, sunglasses and a medical mask covered her face.

Furchner, who was 18 when she started working at Stutthof camp in Nazi-occupied Poland as secretary to her commanding officer, Paul Werner Hoppe, is on trial in a juvenile court because of her age when the crimes alleged have been committed.

After trying to escape the trial at the end of September, by leaving the Quickborn nursing home where she lives and taking a taxi to the outskirts of Hamburg, she was arrested a few hours later and held in police custody for five days. before being equipped with an electronic wrist. label.

She was protected by sheets when she entered the ambulance that took her to court on Tuesday morning. The trial has been moved to a pre-fabricated warehouse on the outskirts of town to cope with the considerable interest it generates and the extensive security it entails.

When the judge asked him to do so, Furchner removed his scarf and sunglasses and patted his white hair. She only spoke to confirm her name and address and that she was a widow, but she was otherwise unwilling to answer questions from the court, according to Wolfgang Molkentin, her lawyer.

She watched the indictment read outside the crowded courtroom, appearing to be listening. Occasionally, she rubbed her face, squeezed the electronic tag on her left wrist, and gazed around the room through the glass screen erected to protect her from infection with the coronavirus.

Furchner is helped in the courtroom. Photograph: Reuters

The court heard how Furchner, née Irmgard Dirksen in 1925, worked as Hoppe’s chief secretary and, in her administrative role, “contributed to the whole killing operation” in the camp.

Transport lists of detainees destined to be sent to Auschwitz for murder as well as radio messages, Hoppe’s dictation of orders and his correspondence passed into Furchner’s hands, according to the prosecution.

The court was informed that she would have “been aware of all events” at Stutthof due to its key administrative position, as well as the relatively compact configuration of the camp.

A particularly horrific practice at Stutthof was to trick prisoners into believing their height should be measured, when in fact SS in disguise as medics positioned them to shoot them in the neck from a vantage point in a room. neighbor. This method was used to shoot around 30 prisoners within two hours. The bodies were then sprayed, washed away and burned.

Detainees were also forced into rooms filled from the roof with poisonous Zyklon B gas. The court referred to testimonies of how those trapped inside screamed in pain, grabbed their skin and squeezed their skin. ‘tearing out the hair because of the pain.

The associated noises and smells pervaded the camp and, not least due to additional sights she allegedly witnessed and verbal communications, it would have been “inevitable” for Furchner not to know what was going on, the trial has learned.

In a court statement, Molkentin said Furchner distanced herself from attempts in far-right circles to label her a hero and said that unlike some of her supporters, she was “not a denial of the Holocaust “. But he said she didn’t like to be treated the same as senior officials who were no longer alive to take responsibility for the crimes committed.

People protest with a banner reading ‘No forgiveness! No forgetting! ‘ outside the place of trial. Photographie : Christian Charisius/EPA

“Irmgard Furchner does not deny the crimes of the Holocaust [Holocaust] Molkentin said in court as the defendant rubbed her temples and gazed up at the ceiling. “She also does not deny the terrible acts that took place, as was once again made clear to us in the indictment. She simply rejects the charge around which this trial ultimately revolves, that she was personally guilty of a crime. “

Christoph Rückel, a lawyer representing five co-plaintiffs from the United States, France and Austria, who are due to testify in the coming months, asked the court to reconsider its rejection of his request to organize a visit to the memorial site of Stutthof for the public prosecutor and lawyers. “This source of knowledge cannot really be replaced by other means of proof,” he said.

“A visual inspection of the [site] by the trial participants would allow them to see that the accused would – both on her daily commute to work and from her view from the Commandant’s building, where she had her office… had to ascertain the existence of ‘a gas chamber, a crematorium, a gallows and the ubiquitous daily inhuman treatment of inmates… both acoustically and visually.

Speaking outside the courtroom, he urged the court to recognize the importance of ensuring that the trial is completed. “The people I represent here are as old as Irmgard Furchner,” he said. “They need closure. As one of them, who has since died, wrote to me: “I have not yet crossed the finish line”.

The trial is being filmed for historical purposes. The judge, Dominik Groß, stressed the importance of the unusual step to allow the recording, calling it “one of the last criminal trials in the world related to crimes of the Nazi era”.

Furchner is the first woman to stand trial for Nazi-related crimes in decades. Another trial of a hundred-year-old former concentration camp guard is taking place in Brandenburg.

The charge against Furchner is initiated following the trial of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor concentration camp, who in 2011 was convicted of aiding and abetting the murders of 28,000 people, setting a new precedent legal.

It is expected to continue over the next few months. Sessions are limited to about two hours per day, on medical advice.


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