96-year-old Nazi death camp secretary goes on the run before trial in Germany

A 96-year-old woman who was due to go on trial for complicity in the murders of more than 11,000 people, and attempted murder of many others, has gone on the run, prompting German authorities to issue an arrest warrant.

On Thursday, a district court in Germany issued an arrest warrant for a 96-year-old woman who had worked as a secretary in a Nazi death camp between 1943 and 1945. The woman, Irmgard Furchner, was due to go on trial on Thursday on charges of complicity in murder at the Stutthof death camp, which sat on the Baltic coast in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. 

With the trial approaching, the elderly lady left her care home in a taxi and went to an underground station on Thursday morning, a spokeswoman for the district court said. Her whereabouts are now unknown. 

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Deutsche Welle reported that the announcement of her fleeing came as the court was preparing to start proceedings. If she is found, she will be brought to the court today and assessed to see if she is fit to stand trial, a Deutsche Welle reporter said, citing the arrest warrant.

She is charged with complicity in the deaths of 11,412 people and attempted murder of 18 others. The trial, if it goes ahead, will take place in the juvenile chamber of Itzehoe district court, close to Quickborn, north of Hamburg, as she was only 18 and 19 at the time of the alleged crimes. 

Prosecutors stated in their charge sheet that, between June 1943 and April 1945, Furchner “assisted those responsible at the camp in the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war, in her role as a stenographer and secretary to the camp commander.”

She would be the first woman to stand trial in connection to atrocities committed by the Third Reich in decades. Her trial is partially the result of a 2011 verdict against camp guard John Demjanjuk, who was sentenced for aiding and abetting the murders of 28,000 people at the Sobibor death camp in Poland. The trial set the precedent that people could be held responsible for crimes committed at such camps, regardless of how small their role was.

It is understood that Furchner’s defense will argue that she was restricted to desk work.

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