Furchner’s trial could be the last in Germany for Nazi-era crimes.
A former secretary who worked for the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp has been convicted of complicity in the murder of more than 10,500 people.
Irmgard Furchner, 97, was a teenager when she was hired as a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp, where she worked from 1943 to 1945.
Furchner, one of the few women tried for Nazi crimes in decades, received a two-year suspended prison term.
Although the former secretary was a civil worker, the judge considered that she was fully aware of what was happening in the field.
An estimated 65,000 people died in horrendous conditions at Stutthof, including Jewish prisoners, non-Jewish Poles, and captured Soviet soldiers.
Furchner was a teenager when she worked as a secretary in the Stutthof concentration camp.
At Stutthof, which was located near the present-day Polish city of Gdansk, a variety of methods were used to murder detainees. Thousands of people died there in gas chambers beginning in June 1944.
The defendant took 40 days to break her silence.
The Itzenhoe court in northern Germany heard from survivors of the camp, some of whom died during the trial.
When the legal process began in September 2021, Irmgard Furchner fled the retirement home where she lived and was finally found by the police on a street in Hamburg.
Stutthof commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe was jailed in 1955 for being an accessory to murder and was released five years later.
Several trials have taken place in Germany since 2011, after the conviction of former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk set the precedent that being a guard was sufficient evidence to prove complicity.
That ruling also meant that Furchner could stand trial, as she worked directly with the camp commandant, dealing with correspondence relating to the Stutthof detainees.
It took Furchner 40 days to break his silence at trial, when he told the court: “I’m sorry for everything that happened.”
As the former secretary was under 21 when she worked in the concentration camp, the trial was held in a special juvenile court.
“I’m sorry I was at Stutthof at the time, that’s all I can say,” Furchner said.
Crematoria at the former Stutthof concentration camp, where an estimated 65,000 people died.
Her defense attorneys argued that she should be acquitted due to questions about what she really knew, as she was one of several typists in Hoppe’s office.
However, historian Stefan Hordler played a key role in the trial, accompanying two judges on a visit to the camp site.
It was clear from the visit that Furchner was able to see from the commander’s office some of the worst conditions in the camp.
The historian recounted in the trial that 27 transports with 48,000 people arrived at Stutthof between June and October 1944, after the Nazis decided to expand the camp and speed up mass murders with the use of Zyklon B gas.
Hordler described Hoppe’s office as the “nerve center” for everything that happened at Stutthof.
Nazi crime cases since 2011
• John Demjanjuk: jailed in 2011 for five years for his part in the murder of more than 28,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp. He was released pending appeal and died the following year at age 91.
• Oskar Groning: the “Auschwitz Accountant”, convicted in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews. He never went to jail; he died in 2018 at age 96 during the appeals process.
• Reinhold Hanning: Former SS guard at Auschwitz, convicted of helping to commit a mass murder in June 2016, but died a year later at age 95 while appeal was still pending.
• Friedrich Karl Berger: former Neuengamme concentration camp guard, deported to Germany from the United States in February 2021 at the age of 95. German prosecutors dropped the charges against him and his current fate is unknown.
• Josef S: jailed for five years in June 2022 for assisting in the murder of more than 3,500 prisoners in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. At 101, he is the oldest person to be convicted of Nazi-era war crimes in Germany, but due to his age and poor health it is unlikely he will spend time in prison.
Furchner’s trial could be the last in Germany for Nazi-era crimes, though some cases are still being investigated.
Two other cases have come to court in recent years for crimes committed at Stutthof.
Last year, a former camp guard was found unfit to stand trial despite the court saying there was a “high degree of probability” that he was guilty of aiding and abetting.
In 2020, another SS guard, Bruno Dey, was sentenced to two years in prison for his alleged complicity in the murder of more than 5,000 prisoners.