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CRIME

Ex-Nazi death camp secretary who fled trial to face court in Germany

A 96-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary who absconded before her trial was set to begin is due to appear in court in Germany on Tuesday.

Visitors walk past the entrance to the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo, Poland.
Visitors walk past the entrance to the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo, Poland. The 96-year-old is believed to have worked as a secretary at this camp. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PAP | Piotr Wittman

The first woman to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, Irmgard Furchner is charged with complicity in the murder of more than 11,000 people at Stutthof camp in occupied Poland.

A bailiff brought the pensioner into the regional court in the northern town of Itzehoe seated in a wheelchair, with her head covered by a scarf and her face by a coronavirus mask.

It was the second attempt to start proceedings against Furchner after she fled the retirement home where she lives on September 30th, as her trial was set to begin, and headed to a metro station.

The pensioner managed to evade police for several hours before being apprehended in the nearby city of Hamburg and temporarily held in custody by authorities.

Furchner was released five days later “under the condition of precautionary measures”, said court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer, adding that it was “assured that she (Furchner) will appear at the next appointment”.

According to media reports, the accused has been fitted with an electronic tag to monitor her whereabouts.

READ ALSO: Former Nazi concentration camp secretary, 96, caught after escape bid

Victims’ cries ‘clearly audible’

Between June 1943 and April 1945, the accused worked in the office of camp commander Paul Werner Hoppe. Prosecutors say she took dictation of the SS officer’s orders and handled his correspondence.

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

A teenager at the time the alleged crimes were committed, Furchner’s trial is being held in juvenile court.

Wantzen said the defendant’s clerical work at Stutthof “assured the smooth running of the camp” and gave her “knowledge of all occurrences and events at Stutthof”, including mass killings.

The prosecutor said that the suffering of victims sent to the camp’s gas chambers including cries and jostling at the bolted doors were “clearly audible” to all at the camp.

Moreover, the “life-threatening conditions” with food and water shortages and the spread of deadly diseases including typhus were intentionally maintained and immediately apparent.

‘Healthy enough’

In a letter sent ahead of her first scheduled hearing, the defendant told the presiding judge of the court that she did not want to appear in person in the dock.

Her ultimate failure to present herself showed “contempt for the survivors and also for the rule of law”, the vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee Christoph Heubner told AFP at the time.

“Healthy enough to flee, healthy enough to go to jail!,” tweeted Efraim Zuroff, an American-Israeli “Nazi hunter” who has played a key role in bringing former Nazi war criminals to trial.

Delayed justice

Around the same time Furchner fled her trial, a 100-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard appeared before judges at a court in Neuruppin, northwest of Berlin.

Josef Schuetz, who stands accused of assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1942 and 1945, told the court he was “innocent” and “knows nothing” about what happened at the camp.

Along with Furchner, the two are among the oldest defendants to stand trial for their alleged role in the Nazi system.

READ ALSO: 

Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, time is running out to bring people to justice.

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

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

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

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GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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