Trial Begins in Germany for 96-Year-Old Nazi War Crimes Suspect Who Fled Retirement Home to Avoid the Hearing

The charges against her could not be read until she was present. She is one of the first women to go on trial in decades for alleged crimes during the Nazi era, a report said.

The trial for a 96-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary, who was on the lam before she was caught, appeared before the judge in northern Germany on Tuesday, for allegedly being involved in war crimes during World War II, according to a published report. 

Irmgard Furchner was charged with complicity in the killing or attempted killing of more than 11,000 people at the Stutthof camp in occupied Poland, France24 reported.

Approximately 65,000 people died in the Stutthof concentration camp and its subcamps, as well as on the so-called death marches at the end of the war, according to The Central Office in Ludwigsburg, which investigates Nazi crimes, according to CNN.

Furchner, who was 18 years old when she worked as a secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp between 1943 and 1945, faced the Juvenile Court Chamber on Tuesday. Since she had been a teenager when the alleged crimes were committed, the trial was in an adolescent court. And, the charges could not be read until she was present, Reuters reported.

On Tuesday, Furchner arrived in the courtroom in a wheelchair clutching her handbag that was on her lap. Her head was covered by a scarf pulled low over her eyes, and her face was concealed by a coronavirus mask, a report said.

She sat silent as prosecutors told the court that the suffering of victims sent to the camp’s gas chambers, including cries and jostling at the bolted doors, would have been “clearly audible” to all at the camp, the news agency reported. 

Furchner's lawyer Wolf Molkentin said in a written statement that his client "does not deny the crimes of the Shoah [Hebrew for "catastrophe"], not even those terrible acts which have just been brought to our attention by the reading of the indictment. She merely confronts the accusation at the heart of this trial: that she is personally guilty of a crime," CNN reported. 

Molkentin told the presiding judge, Dominik Gross, that his client did not deny the “terrible murders” but disputed bearing criminal responsibility, according to France24.

He said the proceedings, which have been limited to two hours a day, were “unreasonable” at her advanced age. 

Molkentin said his client would “not make a statement at this time, nor answer any questions,” the agency reported. 

On Sept. 30, Furchner had fled her retirement home on the day her court proceeding was scheduled to begin. She managed to evade the authorities for several hours until she was located by police in Hamburg. She was held in custody for five days, and was reportedly fitted with an electronic tag to monitor her whereabouts, a report said. 

Furchner is the first woman to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, CNN reported. 

In July 2020, Bruno Dey, a 93-year-old former guard at Stutthof who was 17 years old at the time, faced a juvenile court and was sentenced to two years' probation by the Hamburg Regional Court, the news outlet report 

From August 1944 to April 1945, Dey oversaw prisoners at Stutthof and was charged with 5,230 counts of accessory to murder over his time as an SS guard in the camp.

Around the same time Furchner fled, Josef Schuetz, a 100-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard appeared before judges at a court in Neuruppin, northwest of Berlin, France24 reported.

Schuetz stands accused of assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1942 and 1945.

During his July trial, he told the court he was “innocent” and knew “nothing” about what happened at the camp.

Furchner and Schuetz are among the oldest defendants to stand trial for their alleged role in the Nazi system, a report said. 

According to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, prosecutors are investigating another eight cases, France24 reported. 

In recent years, several cases have been abandoned as the accused died or were physically unable to stand trial, the news outlet reported. 

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