97-year-old former secretary at Nazi Stutthof death camp convicted by German court

A 97-year-old woman who worked as a secretary at a Nazi concentration camp was convicted by a German court Tuesday of being an accessory to the murder of more than 11,000 people.

Irmgard Furchner was handed a two-year suspended sentence by the court in Itzehoe, in line with what prosecutors had sought. She was tried in juvenile court because she was 18 and 19 years old when she worked as a secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp during World War Two. 

Furchner was charged with “aiding those in a position of responsibility at the former Stutthof concentration camp with the systematic killing of those imprisoned there, due to her work as a shorthand typist/secretary in the Camp Commandant’s Office between June 1943 and April 1945,” according to a court press release.

It is not the first time that people who were not directly involved in killings in concentration camps have been found guilty of aiding and abetting murder. Oskar Gröning, who worked as an accountant in Auschwitz, and John Demjanjuk, who worked as a guard at Sobibor, were both found guilty of accessory to murder in German courts in previous years.

Prosecutors had called for the court in northern Germany to give Furchner a two-year suspended sentence, with survivors of the death camp and relatives of victims who appeared as joint plaintiffs in the trial supporting this. They informed the court that it was not in their interest that the 97-year-old serve any time in prison.

A 97-year-old woman charged with being an accessory to murder for her role as secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp during World War II.
The Nazi concentration camp Stutthof in Sztutowo, Poland in 1945.Stutthof Museum Archive / AP

Furchner’s defense lawyer had asked for her to be acquitted, arguing that while it was clear that thousands of people were killed in Stutthof, the evidence did not show that Furchner knew about the systematic killing at the concentration camp, according to a press release by the court. 

More than 60,000 people died in the camp, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, many by lethal injection and in the camp’s gas chamber. Others died of disease or starved. Among them were Jews, political prisoners, accused criminals, people suspected of homosexual activity, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

German tabloid Bild dubbed Furchner the ‘secretary of evil,’ a reference to ‘the banality of evil,’ a phrase famously introduced by Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt in 1963 when reporting on the trial against Adolf Eichmann, one of the primary organizers of the Holocaust.

Earlier this month, Furchner broke her silence and delivered unexpected final remarks. She said she was sorry for what had happened, she regretted that she had been at Stutthof at the time and that she had nothing left to say. Previously, Furchner had attended but remained silent throughout 14 months of court hearings.

Holocaust survivors and their representatives had begged Furchner to speak up during the trial, according to German media reports.

Furchner had skipped the start of her trial by leaving her home in a taxi on the morning itwas due to start in September 2021. She spent five days in custody but was later released from detention. The court later explained that because of the woman’s age and condition, she had not been expected to “actively evade the trial.”

The trial against Furchner could be the last against an accused Nazi war criminal in Germany, as the accused are getting older. In 2019, a similar case against a 95-year-old former guard at the Stutthof Nazi camp was closed because the defendant was considered unfit to stand trial.

Andy Eckardt contributed.

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