A 97-year-old former secretary at a Nazi concentration camp has been convicted by a German court for her role as an accessory to more than 10,000 murders during the Holocaust, concluding what could be one of the last trials of its kind against Nazi staff.
Irmgard Furchner, a stenographer and typist to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, was accused of being a key member of a death camp that murdered 10,505 people while she was there during World War II. Prosecutors alleged that Furchner, who has been dubbed “the secretary of evil” by German media, “aided and abetted those in charge of the camp in the systematic killing of those imprisoned there between June 1943 and April 1945 in her function as a stenographer and typist in the camp commandant’s office.”
On Tuesday (Germany time), she was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence at the Regional Court of Itzehoe in northern Germany, according to a court spokesman. The trial was held in juvenile court because Furchner was 18 and 19 when she worked as a secretary for the SS commander.
Furchner, who fled hours before the start of her trial in 2021, remained silent for most of the trial. Her attorneys argued that the evidence presented had not shown beyond doubt that she knew about the systematic killings at Stutthof, according to German news reports. She has previously claimed that she did not know the details of the atrocities that unfolded in the camp where she worked.
“I’m sorry for what happened, and I regret that I was at Stutthof at the time,” she said during her closing statement, according to the German news magazine Der Spiegel. “I can’t say any more.”
The conviction, which comes during Hanukkah, unfolds as prosecutors continue to rush to prosecute people for Nazi-era war crimes before they die. At least two cases in recent years resulted in people being found guilty of accessory to murder in German courts: Oskar Gröning, an accountant in Auschwitz, and John Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor. Furchner’s case draws on the landmark 2011 ruling in the conviction of an ex-Nazi guard, which paved the way for prosecuting any staff member who once played a role in the death camps as an accessory to murder.
More than 60,000 people total died at the Stutthof camp near Gdansk, according to data from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At the concentration camp, Polish and Soviet victims including Jews were encircled by electric barbed-wire fences in a wooded, secluded part of northern Poland’s Baltic coast. Many of the victims at Stutthof died by lethal injection or by the camp’s gas chamber. Others died of starvation or disease.
The charges against Furchner stemmed from an investigation that started in 2016 and interviews with witnesses that spanned several countries. According to the public broadcaster that spoke to her last year, Furchner gave her testimony as a witness in other cases in the 1950s. At the time, it said, she testified that she used to type out execution orders for the commandant, Paul Werner Hoppe, and that most of his letters crossed her desk.
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