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 she tried to flee the process.
Irmgard Furchner was pushed onto the court in Itzehoe, northern Germany, strapped to a blue ambulance wheelchair and clutching a brown cloth bag. A silk patterned scarf, sunglasses, and a medical mask covered her face.
Furchner, who was 18 when she began working in the Stutthof camp in Nazi-occupied Poland as a secretary to its commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, is on trial in juvenile court due to her age when the alleged crimes were committed. .
After attempting to escape trial at the end of September, leaving the Quickborn retirement home where she lives, and riding a taxi outside Hamburg, she was arrested several hours later and taken into police custody for five days before having a doll placed on her. electronics. label.
She was protected with sheets when she got into the ambulance that took her to court Tuesday morning. The trial has been moved to a prefabricated warehouse on the outskirts of the city to address the considerable interest it arouses and the great security that comes with it.
When the judge asked him to do so, Furchner removed his scarf and sunglasses and patted his white hair. She spoke only to confirm her name and address and that she was a widow, but was otherwise unwilling to answer questions from the court, according to Wolfgang Molkentin, her attorney.
He watched the indictment read in the crowded courtroom, and seemed to listen. From time to time she rubbed her face, held the electronic tag on her left wrist, and looked around the room through the glass screen erected to protect her from coronavirus infection.
The court heard how Furchner, born Irmgard Dirksen in 1925, worked as Hoppe’s chief secretary and in her administrative role “contributed to the entire killing operation” in the field.
The transport lists of the detainees destined to be sent to Auschwitz to be assassinated, as well as the radio messages, the dictation of Hoppe’s orders and their correspondence passed through the hands of Furchner, according to the prosecution.
The court was told that she “would have been aware of all the developments” in Stutthof due to her key administrative position, as well as the relatively compact layout of the field.
One particularly gruesome practice carried out at Stutthof was tricking the prisoners into believing that their height should be measured, when in fact SS men disguised as doctors were setting them up to shoot them in the neck from an observation deck in an adjoining room. This method was used to shoot about 30 prisoners within two hours. The bodies were subsequently hosed down, transported and burned.
The detainees were also forced into chambers filled from the roof with the poison gas Zyklon B. The court referred to eyewitness accounts that recounted how those trapped inside screamed in agony, scratched their skin and pulled their hair due to To pain.
The associated noises and smells invaded the camp and, mainly due to the additional sights he would have witnessed and the verbal communications, it would have been “inevitable” that Furchner did not know what was happening, as heard at trial.
In a court statement, Molkentin said Furchner distanced himself from attempts within far-right circles to label her a hero and said that, unlike some of her supporters, she “was not a Holocaust denier.” But she said it bothered her that she was treated the same as high-ranking officials who were no longer alive to take the blame for the crimes committed.
“Irmgard Furchner does not deny the crimes of the Shoah [Holocaust]”Molkentin told the court as the defendant rubbed her temples and looked up at the ceiling. “Nor does he deny the terrible acts that took place, as once again the prosecution has made clear to all of us. 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 in Stutthof to the prosecutor and the lawyers. “This source of knowledge cannot really be replaced by other means of evidence,” he said.
“A visual inspection of the [site] by the trial participants would allow them to see that the defendant would have – both on her daily route to work and from her view from the commander’s building, where she had her office … she had to observe the existence of a gas chamber, a crematorium, a gallows and the omnipresent daily inhuman treatment of detainees … both acoustically and visually ”.
Speaking outside the courtroom, he urged the court to recognize the importance of ensuring the trial was completed. “Those I represent here are the same age as Irmgard Furchner,” he said. “They need closure. As one of them, who has passed away, wrote to me: ‘I haven’t reached the finish line yet.’
The trial is being filmed for historical purposes. Judge Dominik Groß underscored the importance of the unusual step to allow the recording, calling it “one of the last global criminal trials related to Nazi-era crimes.”
Furchner is the first woman to be tried for Nazi-related crimes in decades. Another trial is underway in Brandenburg against a 100-year-old former concentration camp guard.
The prosecution against Furchner comes as a result of the trial of John Demjanjuk, a former Sobibor concentration camp guard, who in 2011 was found guilty of aiding and inciting the murder of 28,000 people, setting a new legal precedent.
It is scheduled to continue for the next few months. Sessions are limited to about two hours a day, based on medical advice.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism