A 96-year-old woman who worked as a secretary in a Nazi concentration camp has been caught after attempting to flee ahead of her trial.
Irmgard Furchner is facing charges of aiding and abetting the murders of 11,412 people, and of being complicit in 18 cases of attempted murder dating back to her time working at the Stutthof camp near Gdansk in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Furchner, who was 18 when she started work at the camp, was due to begin standing trial in juvenile court today, September 30, but failed to attend after leaving her care home.
A court spokesperson confirmed that an arrest warrant had been issued for the elderly woman, who had last been seen getting into a taxi to a nearby metro station. According to The Guardian, Furchner was captured soon afterwards just a short distance away.
Several Holocaust survivors were expected to attend Furchner’s trial, which is the first to involve a female camp worker in several decades. Prosecutors are expected to argue that in her role as first secretary to the SS camp commandant between 1943 and 1945, Furchner personally signed deportation orders to Auschwitz and ‘assisted those responsible at the camp in the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war’.
In previous testimony given at trials of other officials at Stutthof, Furchner has maintained that she had no knowledge of the murders that took place in the camp.
The case against Furchner comes following a 2011 decision that set a new precedent for criminal proceedings against former concentration camp workers, with a judge having ruled that anyone could be held responsible for crimes committed in the camps if it could be proven they were a ‘cog’ in the ‘machinery of destruction’.
There are currently 10 active cases in Germany against people who worked in administrative or guard roles at various Nazi concentrations camps, though the trials are largely viewed as symbolic, with the defendants unlikely to serve prison sentences due to their age. At least three former Nazi officials convicted over the past decade have died while appealing their sentences.
Stutthof was the first Nazi concentration camp established outside Germany, and was the last to be liberated by the Allies. As many as 65,000 inmates are believed to have died in the camp, almost half of whom were Jews.
At least 70 officials and guards who worked at the camp have been found guilty of charges involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, with around two dozen sentenced to death.
A new start date for Furchner’s trial has been set for 19 October.
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