Nazi Secretary Irmgard Furchner convicted of involvement in 10,000 murders at Stutthof death camp

Nazi Secretary Irmgard Furchner convicted of involvement in 10,000 murders at Stutthof death camp

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A 97-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary was convicted Tuesday by a German court of her role as an accomplice in more than 10,000 murders during the Holocaust, ending what could be one of the last trials of its kind against Nazi officials.

Irmgard Furchner, a stenographer and typist for the SS commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, was accused of being a key member of a death camp that killed 10,505 people while she was there during WWII world War. Prosecutors allege that Furchner, who has been called “the secretary of evil” by the German media, “aided and abetted the camp officials in the systematic killing of prisoners there between June 1943 and April 1945 in her capacity as a stenographer and typist in the office of the camp commandant.”

She was given a two-year suspended sentence at the Itzehoe Regional Court in northern Germany, according to a court spokesman. The trial was held in a juvenile court because Furchner was 18 and 19 years old when she worked as a secretary to the SS commander.

Fürchner, who escaped hours before her trial began in 2021, remained silent throughout most of the process. Her lawyers argued that the evidence presented did not show beyond doubt that she knew about the systematic killings at Stutthof, according to German news reports. She previously claimed that she did not know details of the atrocities that took place in the camp where she worked.

“I regret what happened and I regret being in the Stutthof at that time,” she said during her closing speech, according to the German news magazine The mirror. “I can’t say more.”

The sentence, which comes during Hanukkah, unfolds as prosecutors rush to prosecute people for Nazi-era war crimes before they die. At least two cases in recent years have resulted in people being found guilty of complicity in murder in German courts: Oskar Gröning, a former accountant at Auschwitz, and John Demjanjuk, a former guard at Sobibor. Furchner’s case is based on landmark decision from 2011 in the conviction of a former Nazi guard, which paved the way for the prosecution of any staff member who ever played a role in the death camps as accomplice to murder.

More than 60,000 people died in the Stutthof camp near Gdansk, according to United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In the concentration camp, Polish and Soviet victims, including Jews, were surrounded by electric barbed wire fences in a wooded, secluded part of the Baltic coast of northern Poland. Many of the victims at Stutthof died by lethal injection or the camp’s gas chamber. Others die of starvation or disease.

The charges against Furchner stem from an investigation that began in 2016 and interviews with witnesses that spanned several states. According to public television which spoke to her last year, Furchner testified as a witness in other cases in the 1950s. At the time, she is said to have testified that she wrote commandant Paul Werner Hoppe’s execution orders and that most of his letters passed through her desk.

A 96-year-old former Nazi camp secretary was due to stand trial. Instead, she tried to run away.

Last year, before she fled, Furchner wrote a letter to the judge saying she did not want to be tried because of her age and health, according to letter sample published by Der Spiegel. She added that she did not understand why she had to go to court more than 76 years after the war.

During the trial, prosecutor Maxie Wantzen quoted Furchner’s former colleague, Ellen Stüssloff, as saying during questioning in the 1950s that it was common knowledge that Jewish prisoners were gassed at Stüthof, and anyone who claimed otherwise, not telling the truth according to German newspaper Die Welt.

Others, like Jozef Salomonovic, who was 6 years old when he entered the camp, addressed the court in December 2021 while holding a photo of his murdered father.

“It’s hard to talk about these things,” he told reporters afterward. “For me, she is indirectly guilty. Maybe she just stamped my father’s death certificate.

Wantzen also rejected Furchner’s claim that she did not know what was going on in the concentration camp.

“If the defendant had looked out the window, she could have seen the new inmates that had been selected,” Wantzen told the court during the trial. according to Die Welt. “No one can miss the smoke from the crematorium or the smell of burnt corpses.”

Tuesday’s verdict was celebrated by Ephraim Zuroff, a top Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who called the result “the best that could have been achieved, given the fact that she was tried in a juvenile court.”

“In light of Furchner’s recent statement to the court that she ‘regrets everything,’ we were concerned that the court might accept her defense attorney’s plea for acquittal,” Zuroff said in a statement to Associated Press. “Yet given her claim that she had no knowledge of the killings that took place in the camp, her remorse was far from convincing.”

Ellen Francis and Sofia Diogo Mateus contributed to this report.

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