Three weeks after fleeing from care home to escape trial, a 96-year-old former secretary at a Nazi concentration camp has been caught and brought to trial in Germany for her alleged complicity in the murder of more than 11,000 people.
Irmgard Furchner was wheeled into the court in Itzehoe, northern Germany, clutching a brown cloth bag, wearing a pair of sunglasses and a medical mask over her face.
Furchner, who was 18 when she started working at Stutthof camp in Nazi-occupied Poland as the secretary to its commandant, Paul Werner Hoppe, is being tried in a juvenile court due to her age when the alleged crimes were committed.
After fleeing a retirement home in Quickborn where she lives and travelling by taxi to the outskirts of Hamburg, she was arrested several hours later and placed in police custody for five days before being fitted with an electronic wrist tag.
Furchner spoke only to confirm her name and address and that she was widowed, she then looked on as the indictment was read out to the packed courtroom, occasionally she rubbed her face, clasped at the electronic tag on her left wrist and cast her gaze 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 the chief secretary for Hoppe and in her administrative role “was contributory to the entire killing operation” at the camp.
Arranging transport lists of detainees destined to be sent to Auschwitz to be murdered as well as radio messages, the dictation of Hoppe’s orders and his correspondence went through Furchner’s hands, according to the prosecution.
The court was told she would have “been aware of all happenings” at Stutthof because of her key administrative position, as well as the relatively compact layout of the camp.
The trial is being filmed for historical purposes. The judge, Dominik Groß, underlined the importance of the unusual step to allow the recording, calling it “one of the worldwide last criminal trials related to crimes of the Nazi era”.
Furchner is the first woman to go on trial for Nazi-related crimes in decades. Another trial of a 100-year-old former concentration camp guard is taking place in Brandenburg.
The trial is scheduled to continue over the next few months. Sessions are limited to about two hours a day, based on medical advice.