search

Former Nazi death camp secretary, 96, released from custody after fleeing trial

Irmgard Furchner allowed to return to her retirement home ahead of fresh hearing on charges of complicity in murder of more than 10,000 people at Stutthof camp

Judicial officers stand in the empty court room of the Langericht Itzehoe court prior to the trial of a 96-year-old former secretary of the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp in Itzehoe, Germany, September 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool). Inset shows Irmgard Furchner.
Judicial officers stand in the empty court room of the Langericht Itzehoe court prior to the trial of a 96-year-old former secretary of the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp in Itzehoe, Germany, September 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool). Inset shows Irmgard Furchner.

BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — A 96-year-old former secretary at a Nazi death camp who tried to flee before her trial has been released from custody in Germany ahead of the next hearing, a court spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Irmgard Furchner had been due in court last Thursday for the opening of her trial on charges of complicity in the murder of more than 10,000 people at Stutthof camp in occupied Poland.

But she failed to turn up after leaving her retirement home near Hamburg in a taxi, which took her to a subway station, from where she went missing.

Police detained her several hours later and she was remanded in custody before the resumption of her trial on October 19.

On Tuesday, the court in the northern town of Itzehoe decided she could be freed under unspecified conditions.

“The court has suspended the arrest warrant and released the accused from custody under the condition of precautionary measures,” said court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer.

The spokeswoman declined to give details on the conditions but said “it is however assured that she will appear at the next appointment.”

Two lawmakers stand next to an empty seat of the defendant at the courtroom, prior to a trial against Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary for the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp at the court room in Itzehoe, northern Germany, on September 30, 2021. (Markus Schreiber / POOL / AFP)

Furchner spent a night in a youth detention facility before she was moved to another institution in Luebeck “because of her age and her need for care,” Bild newspaper reported. She was then placed under quarantine for the coronavirus in a medical section and allowed to spend an hour outside every day, according to the newspaper.

One of the first women to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, Furchner is accused of having assisted in the systematic murder of detainees while she was working at Stutthof in the office of camp commander Paul Werner Hoppe between June 1943 and April 1945.

Roughly 65,000 people died at the camp near Gdansk, among them “Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war,” according to the indictment.

Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, was among those who expressed shock at the handling of the case.

He told AFP the escape attempt showed “contempt for the survivors and also for the rule of law.”

Twilight justice

Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, time is running out to bring people to justice for their role in the Nazi system.

Prosecutors are investigating another eight cases, according to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

Separate proceedings will open in Brandenburg, near Berlin, on Thursday against a 100-year-old former camp guard.

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

Among those who were brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, an SS guard at the same camp. Both were convicted of complicity in mass murder at the age of 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.

Former Nazi death camp officer Oskar Groening (center) and his lawyers Hans Holtermann (right) and Susanne Frangenberg (left) at the opening of Groening’s trial in Lueneburg, Germany, on April 21, 2015 (AFP/Ronny Hartmann, Pool)

The last guilty verdict was issued to former SS guard Bruno Dey, who was handed a two-year suspended sentence last July at the age of 93.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed