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97-year-old former Nazi camp secretary found guilty of complicity in over 10,000 murders

Defendant Irmgard Furchner, a former secretary for the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is brought to a courtroom in Itzehoe, northern Germany, where her verdict was spoken on December 20, 2022. Getty Images

Berlin — A 97-year-old woman in Germany was found guilty on Tuesday of aiding and abetting the murders of over 10,500 people at a Nazi concentration camp and given a two-year suspended jail sentence. The verdict came over a year after the trial — which could be the last in Germany for Nazi crimes — began.

According to the court's criminal chamber, Irmgard Furchner worked as a civilian typist in the commandant's office at the Stutthof concentration camp near the town of Gdańsk, in Nazi-occupied Poland, from June 1943 to April 1945. She was convicted of assisting those in charge of the camp with the systematic killing of thousands of inmates.

The Nazi's Stutthof concentration camp in Poland is seen in a 1941 file photo provided by the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo, Poland. Stutthof Museum

During World War II, the Nazis imprisoned more than 100,000, mainly Jews, in deplorable conditions at the Stutthof camp. Around 65,000 people died there, according to historians.

The camp was notorious for its deliberate lack of care for the prisoners, and while most people who perished did so from disease, debilitation or mistreatment, there was also a gas chamber and a neck-shooting facility.

Furchner worked directly for the commander of Stutthof, Paul-Werner Hoppe. He was imprisoned in 1955 for being an accessory to murder, though he was released five years after that.

When her trial began in September last year, Furchner, then 96, went on the run, disappearing from her retirement home. After a warrant was issued for her arrest, she was picked up by police in Hamburg and spent five days in custody.

Furchner is one of only a few women in decades to be tried for Nazi crimes. Because she was around 18 when she worked at the Stutthof camp, her trial took place in a juvenile court. Over the 40 days of the proceedings, her defense team argued she should be acquitted, because it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she had known about systematic killings at Stutthof.

The court heard testimony from a number of survivors of the camp, some of whom died during the course of the trial.

Josef Salomonovic, a survivor who was 6 years old when his father was shot and killed at Stutthof, told journalists outside the court that Furchner was "indirectly guilty," CBS News partner network BBC News reported. "Even if she just sat in the office and put her stamp on my father's death certificate."

Another important witness was historian Stefan Hördler, who traveled with judges to the Stutthof site to see that some of the worst conditions of the camp were visible from the commander's office. Hördler told the court that 27 transports carrying 48,000 people arrived at the came between June and October 1944, when the Nazi's decided to expand and speed up their killings by using gas. He described the commander's office as the "nerve center" of the camp, BBC News reported.

At the end of the proceedings, in her only statement in court, Furchner said: "I am sorry for everything that happened, and I regret that I was in Stutthof at the time. That's all I can say."

Another Stutthof survivor, Manfred Goldberg, spoke out against the suspended jail sentence handed down to Furchner, which means she will not actually serve the prison time.

"No one in their right mind would send a 97-year-old to prison, but the sentence should reflect the severity of the crimes," Goldberg told journalists, according to the BBC.

"If a shoplifter is sentenced to two years, how can it be that someone convicted for complicity in 10,000 murders is given the same sentence?"

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