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Survivor’s photo wrongly used as pic of the Nazi suspect she testified against

Numerous outlets publish picture of Dita Sperling, erroneously identifying her as Irmgard Furchner; in fact Sperling, 99, has testified in the case against ex-death camp secretary

99-year-old Holocaust survivor Yehudit (Dita) Sperling, who has given evidence in the case against Stutthof concentration camp secretary Irmgard Furchner. This picture of Sperling has been widely misused as purportedly showing Furchner (Courtesy)
99-year-old Holocaust survivor Yehudit (Dita) Sperling, who has given evidence in the case against Stutthof concentration camp secretary Irmgard Furchner. This picture of Sperling has been widely misused as purportedly showing Furchner (Courtesy)

A picture being widely used in media outlets as purportedly showing Irmgard Furchner, a former Nazi concentration camp secretary on trial in Germany, is actually that of a 99-year-old survivor of the camp whose testimony is part of the case against Furchner.

Yehudit (Dita) Sperling is one of several survivors of the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland who have provided testimony in the case against Furchner, who face charges of complicity in the murder of more than 10,000 people.

But in a cruel twist, numerous news outlets around the world have been using a picture of Sperling erroneously captioned as being Furchner. On Friday, the UK’s widely read Daily Mail used the picture of Sperling with the headline: “Pictured: 96-year-old Nazi ‘secretary of evil’ caught on the run.”

Relatives of Sperling said they were trying to contact media outlets that used the picture incorrectly to get the error corrected. (The Times of Israel had also embedded a tweet showing the incorrect picture. The erroneous tweet was removed, and a correction appended, when Dita Sperling’s relatives brought the error to our attention.)

Sperling, originally from Kovno, now Kaunas in Lithuania, was deported to Stutthof with her mother on July 19, 1944, after her first husband Yehuda Zupovich, a Jewish policeman in the Kovno ghetto, was executed for collaborating with partisans.

Sperling, who now lives in Tel Aviv, was later awarded the Life Savior’s Cross by Lithuania for saving the life of a Jewish child during the Holocaust, at a ceremony held at the Lithuanian Embassy in Israel in 2013.

Sperling’s lawyer Onur Özata, who also represents another Stutthof survivor, told the German paper Bild that giving evidence against Furchner, now 96, was an important historical mission.

Deputy Police Chief Yehuda Zupovich poses with his wife, Dita, in their apartment in the Kovno ghetto two weeks before his arrest. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yehudit Katz Sperling)

“These proceedings are of particular importance to my clients. It’s not about revenge for them. Rather, they want the criminal responsibility of the many helpers and accomplices in the Shoah (Holocaust) to be established,” Özata said.

Furchner was remanded in custody on Thursday after spending several hours on the run in a bid to flee her trial, where she is to face charges of complicity in the murder of more than 10,000 people.

The court in the town of Itzehoe ordered that she be held in custody pending the resumption of the trial on October 19.

One of the first women to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, Furchner is charged for her role at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland where she was secretary to the camp commandant while still a teenager.

She failed to show up on Thursday at the opening session of her trial, but was apprehended hours later.

Furchner had left her retirement home near Hamburg and taken a taxi to a subway station, said Frederike Milhoffer, a spokeswoman for the court.

Lawyer Christoph Rueckel, acting on behalf of Holocaust survivors, said Furchner had written to the court around three weeks ago to say she planned to boycott the proceedings because they would be “degrading” for her.

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.

“If someone remains silent in such a trial, or does not show up, it is rather shocking for these survivors, because after so many years they actually think that one could be more reasonable about it,” he said.

Prosecutors accuse Furchner of having assisted in the systematic murder of detainees at Stutthof, where she worked in the office of the camp commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, between June 1943 and April 1945.

The trial is taking place in a youth court as she was aged between 18 and 19 at the time.

Around 65,000 people died at the camp, not far from the city of Gdansk, among them “Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war,” according to the indictment.

The main gate leading into the former Nazi German Stutthof concentration camp in Sztutowo, Poland, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

According to Rueckel, Furchner “handled all the correspondence” for camp commander Hoppe.

“She typed out the deportation and execution commands” at his dictation and initialed each message herself, Rueckel told public broadcaster NDR.

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