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UPDATE: Former Nazi concentration camp secretary, 96, caught after escape bid

A 96-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary who fled hours before the opening of her trial in Germany has been found, a court said Thursday in a dramatic start to the proceedings.

A judicial officer checks his watch in the courtroom before the trial of a 96-year-old former Nazi camp secretary. The accused did not turn up to court on Thursday.
A judicial officer checks his watch in the courtroom before the trial of a 96-year-old former Nazi camp secretary. The accused did not turn up to court on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP-POOL | Markus Schreiber

The court in the northern town of Itzehoe, Schleswig-Holstein, had 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.

She left the retirement home where she was residing in a taxi on Thursday morning, heading to a subway station, said Milhoffer. But she did not turn up at the trial. 

The suspect, who is charged with complicity in the murders of more than 10,000 people at the Stutthof concentration camp in occupied Poland, had written a letter to the court to say that she would not be attending, Milhoffer said.

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

Amid the chaos, judge Dominik Gross said the hearing has been suspended until October 19th.

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.

Worked in office of camp

The planned opening of the trial in Itzehoe came one day before the 75th anniversary of the sentencing of 12 senior members of the Nazi establishment to death by hanging at the first Nuremberg trial.

READ ALSO: Germany charges Nazi camp secretary with complicity in murders

It also comes a week before separate proceedings in Neuruppin, near Berlin, against a 100-year-old former camp guard.

Aged between 18 and 19 when she worked at the camp, Furchner, who now lives in a retirement home near Hamburg, is being tried in youth court.

The prosecutors accuse the pensioner of having assisted in the systematic murder of detainees at Stutthof, where she worked in the office of the camp commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, between June 1943 and April 1945.

Around 65,000 people died at the camp, not far from the city of Gdansk, among them “Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war”, according to the indictment.

After long reflection, the court decided in February that Furchner was fit to stand trial.

Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, time is running out to bring people to justice for their role in the Nazi system.

Prosecutors are currently handling a further eight cases, including former employees at the Buchenwald and Ravensbrueck camps, according to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

In recent years, several cases have been abandoned as the accused died or were physically unable to stand trial.

The last guilty verdict was issued to former SS guard Bruno Dey, who was handed a two-year suspended sentence in July at the age of 93.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Nazi hunters in final straight of race against time

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POLICE

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”

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