Former Nazi death camp secretary, 96, arrested after court day disappearance

Irmgard Furchner charged with complicity in murders of more than 10,000 people

A 96-year-old former Nazi death camp secretary has been arrested after fleeing before the opening of her trial in Germany in a dramatic start to the case.

The court in the northern town of Itzehoe issued an arrest warrant for Irmgard Furchner, one of the first women to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, after she failed to show up at the trial.

According to the court, Ms Furchner left her retirement home on Thursday morning and was taken by taxi to a subway station for the final part of her journey to court. Ms Furchner, however, never arrived.

The judge presiding over the case asked the court to be patient while trying to track down Ms Furchner.

The accused's lawyer was already in the courtroom, although he did not make any statements as to the whereabouts of his client.

Just hours later, the fugitive was found and the court will now decide whether to remand her in custody, said the spokeswoman.

Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said the escape attempt showed "contempt for the survivors and also for the rule of law".

It also highlighted potential shortcomings in the justice system, he said. "Even if the woman is very old, could not precautions have been taken (to prevent her from fleeing)? Where did she go? Who helped her?" he told AFP.

For Efraim Zuroff, an American-Israeli "Nazi hunter" who has played a key role in bringing former Nazi war criminals to trial, the conclusion that can be drawn was clear.

"Healthy enough to flee, healthy enough to go to jail!," he tweeted on Thursday.

Ms Furchner is charged with complicity in the murders of more than 10,000 people at the Stutthof concentration camp in occupied Poland. She is one of the first women to stand trial in decades as part of a re-examination of the role of women in the Third Reich.

Ms Furchner was 18 or 19 when she worked at the camp as a secretary and is being tried in youth court. She is accused of assisting in the systematic murder of those at Stutthof and typing out deportation and execution commands at the commander's dictation before signing each message with her initials.

The planned opening of the trial at Itzehoe district court, close to Quickborn, north of Hamburg, comes a day before the 75th anniversary of the sentencing to death by hanging of 12 senior members of the Nazi establishment at the first Nuremberg trial.

Ms Furchner's case is one of eight cases being taken to court according to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

Updated: September 30th 2021, 3:17 PM
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