A former Nazi secretary guilty of helping kill more than 10,500 peoplewhen she worked for the head of a Nazi concentration camp. Irmgard Furchner, who is now 97, worked at Stutthof from 1943 to 1945 as a shorthand typist when she was a teenager.
Furchner was the first woman to be tried for Nazi crimes in a long time. She was given a two-year jail sentence that would be put on hold. Even though she worked as a civilian, the judge agreed that she knew everything that was going on at the camp.
Some 65,000 people are thought to have died at Stutthof, including Jewish prisoners, Poles who were not Jewish, and Soviet soldiers who had been captured. Furchner was found guilty of helping to kill 10,505 people and being a part of the plot to kill five others. She was only 18 or 19 years old at the time, so she went to a special court for teens.
In June 1944, thousands of people died in gas chambers at Stutthof, which was near the Polish city of Gdansk. People were killed there in many different ways. In the north of Germany, at Itzehoe, a court heard from people who had lived through the camp. Some of these people died during the trial.
Irmgard Furchner ran away from her retirement home when the trial started in September 2021. The police found her on a street in Hamburg. Paul-Werner Hoppe, the commandant of Stutthof, went to jail in 1955 for helping to kill someone. He got out of jail in 1960.
Since 2011, there have been a number of prosecutions in Germany. This is because the conviction of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at a Nazi death camp, set a precedent that being a guard was enough evidence to prove complicity.
This decision also meant that civilian worker Furchner could be put on trial since she worked directly for the camp commander and dealt with mail about Stutthof detainees. During the trial, she kept quiet for 40 days before she finally said, "I'm sorry about everything that happened."
"I regret that I was in Stutthof at the time - that's all I can say," she said.
Irmgard Furchner wearing a wine-colored winter jacket, a red cap, a white mask, and a black eyeglass while sitting on a chair during trial
Her lawyers said she should be freed because she was one of several typists in Hoppe's office and it wasn't clear what she knew. Furchner married Heinz Furchstam, a squad leader in the SS, after the war. She probably met him at the camp.
She went on to work in a small town in northern Germany as an office worker. Her husband died in 1972. Stefan Hordler, a historian, was a key part of the trial. He took two judges to the site of the camp, which was a very important part of the trial.
From the tour, it was clear that from the commandant's office, Furchner could see some of the worst things going on at the camp. The historian told the court that between June and October 1944, 27 trains carrying 48,000 people arrived at Stutthof. This was after the Nazis decided to expand the camp and use Zyklon B gas to kill more people faster.
Mr. Hordler said that Hoppe's office was "the nerve center" of everything at Stutthof. During his testimony, he read evidence from 1954 that was given by Furchner's husband, who said: "At the Stutthof camp people were gassed. The staff at the commandant's HQ talked about it."
The judge in charge, Dominik Gross, said it was "beyond imagination" that Furchner could not have noticed the smoke and smell of mass murder: "The defendant could have quit at any time."
Josef Salomonovic was only six years old when his father was killed at Stutthof by lethal injection in September 1944. He went to court to testify at the trial.
"She's indirectly guilty," he told reporters in court last December, "even if she just sat in the office and put her stamp on my father's death certificate."
Manfred Goldberg, who also lived through Stutthof, said that the sentence was the only thing that made him sad.
It's a foregone conclusion that a 97-year-old would not be made to serve a sentence in prison - so it could only be a symbolic sentence. But the length should be made to reflect the extraordinary barbarity of being found to be complicit in the murder of more than 10,000 people.- Manfred Goldberg, who also lived through Stutthof
Even though some crimes from the Nazi era are still being looked into, Furchner's trial could be the last one in Germany.
In the past few years, two more cases about Nazi crimes at Stutthof have gone to court. Last year, a court said that a former camp guard was not fit to stand trial, even though there was a "high degree of probability" that he was involved in crimes. Bruno Dey, an SS camp guard, was found guilty of helping kill more than 5,000 prisoners in 2020. He was given a two-year sentence that was put on hold.