The half-day escape attempt of a 96-year-old former Nazi secretary at the Stutthof concentration camp, who was to face trial on Thursday but fled from authorities, ended at noon when the police brought her before a judge.
It was set to be the first of many hearings until June next year. But Irmgard Furchner did not show up Thursday morning, and the court announced she had run away from her nursing home near Hamburg, taking a cab to a subway station.
Furchner is charged with being an accessory to 11,000 counts of murder in the Stutthof Nazi camp, according to a statement released by Itzehoe Regional Court.
She worked in the camp as a stenographer and secretary between June 1943 and July 1945, thus allegedly aiding those responsible for the camp in the systematic killing of prisoners.
Nazi camp secretary arrested after attempting to flee
Police arrested the defendant a few hours later. The officers will take her to a court that will decide whether to jail her, despite her old age, for fleeing the hearing, Itzehoe court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer said.
“Dear judge,” Furchtner wrote in a September 8 letter to the court, “Due to my age and physical limitations, I will not attend the court dates and ask my defense counsel to represent me. I would like to spare myself this embarrassment and not make a laughing stock of myself.”
The former Nazi camp secretary, who usually resides in her home in Quickborn, in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, began her escape in the early hours of Thursday morning. “She took a taxi,” said a court spokesperson.
Her destination was the Norderstedt subway station, just outside Hamburg, but after that, her trail was lost. Furchner did not get very far, though, and was detained by police at the outskirts of Norderstedt — roughly 10 kilometers (six miles) from her home.
While she was on the run, over 50 journalists and spectators, as well as 12 representatives of the joint plaintiffs, defense attorneys, state prosecutors and others sat perplexed in the courtroom. It was announced that Furchner had failed to be picked up by police that morning.
German courts after Nazi guards and assistants
German courts have tried Nazi camp guards and accountants, but the former secretary is the first woman to face charges for many years. Prosecutors accused Furchner this year of aiding “the systematic killing of prisoners” between 1943 and 1945.
During that time, she was the stenographer and typist of the commandant of the Stutthof Nazi camp in Poland. A juvenile court will hear the case because she was between 18 and 19 years old at the time of the alleged crimes.
Law enforcement officials seeking to pursue Holocaust cases and bring closure for survivors face a race against time. More and more alleged Nazi staff, and their victims, die from old age before they can get to court.
An estimated 65,000 prisoners died in the Stutthof Nazi camp during World War II. Polish and Soviet victims, including Jews, were encircled by electric barbed-wire fences in a wooded, secluded part of northern Poland’s Baltic coast.
Furchner is considered a typical “desk criminal,” whose work enabled the Nazis’ destructive regime in the camp. In an earlier letter to the judge, she claimed she “Didn’t do anything as an 18/19-year-old to answer for as a 96-year-old.”
The camp’s ex-typist gave her testimony as a witness in other cases in the 1950s. At the time she testified that she used to type out execution orders for the commandant, Paul Werner Hoppe, and that most of his letters crossed her desk.