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Nazi war crimes suspect, 96, caught after fleeing trial

by Reuters
Thursday, 30 September 2021 12:44 GMT

(Adds suspect's detention)

By Thomas Escritt

BERLIN, Sept 30 (Reuters) - A 96-year-old German woman was caught hours after failing to turn up for her trial on Thursday on charges of aiding and abetting mass murder in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two, a court spokesperson said.

Irmgard Furchner is accused of having contributed as an 18-year-old to the murder of 11,412 people when she was a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp between 1943 and 1945.

But her trial in the far northern town of Itzehoe could not begin in her absence.

"The defendant left her home in the early hours of this morning and took a taxi to an unknown location," court spokesperson Frederike Milhoffer said.

The spokesperson said an arrest warrant had been issued. Itzehoe is some 100 km (60 miles) from the Danish border.

Milhoffer later confirmed that Furchner had been detained and that a doctor was now assessing whether her health would allow her to be imprisoned.

The next hearing was scheduled for Oct. 19, she said.

Lawyers milled around the makeshift courtroom that had been rigged up in a nearby industry park because of the immense media interest. But Furchner's chair, marked with her name tag, remained empty.

Charges cannot be read until Furchner, who faces trial in an adolescent court because of her young age at the time of the alleged crimes, is present in court in person.

She is the latest in a series of nonagenarians to have been charged with Holocaust crimes in what is seen as a rush by prosecutors to seize the final opportunity to enact justice for the victims of some of the worst mass killings in history.

Although prosecutors convicted major perpetrators - those who issued orders or pulled triggers - in the 1960s "Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials", the practice until the 2000s was to leave lower-level suspects alone.

According to Der Spiegel, Furchner transcribed execution orders dictated to her by camp commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe, who was convicted of accessory to murder in 1955. The magazine reported that Furchner had written to the judge asking to be tried in absentia - a legal impossibility in Germany.

Oskar Groening, known as the "accountant of Auschwitz" for his job recording valuables seized from deportees on their arrival at the extermination camp, was sentenced to four years in 2016 for accessory to murder, though he died before his sentence could start.

Bruno D., was convicted last year, aged 93, of abetting the murder of 5,230 people as a guard at Stutthof. He too was tried in a youth court despite his age because he was still a juvenile at the time of the crimes.

Some 65,000 people died in the concentration camp, near Gdansk in today's Poland, between 1939 and 1945, of starvation and disease or in the camp's gas chamber, including prisoners of war and Jews caught up in the Nazis' war of extermination. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams and William Maclean)

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