Ex-Nazi death camp secretary released pending trial

Ex-Nazi death camp secretary, aged 96, released pending trial after attempting to flee
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A 96-year-old former Nazi death camp secretary, Irmgard Furchner, has been released from custody in Germany ahead of the next hearing after trying to flee before her trial.
Irmgard Furchner failed to turn up in court last Thursday [AXEL HEIMKEN/AFP/Getty]

A 96-year-old former secretary at a Nazi death camp who tried to flee before her trial has been released from custody in Germany ahead of the next hearing, a court spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Irmgard Furchner had been due in court last Thursday for the opening of her trial on charges of complicity in the murder of more than 10,000 people at Stutthof camp in occupied Poland.

But she failed to turn up after leaving her retirement home near Hamburg in a taxi, which took her to a subway station, from where she went missing.

Police detained her several hours later and she was remanded in custody before the resumption of her trial on 19 October.

On Tuesday, the court in the northern town of Itzehoe decided she could be freed under unspecified conditions.

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"The court has suspended the arrest warrant and released the accused from custody under the condition of precautionary measures," said court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer.

The spokeswoman declined to give details on the conditions but said "it is however assured that she will appear at the next appointment".

One of the first women to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, Furchner is accused of having assisted in the systematic murder of detainees while she was working at Stutthof in the office of camp commander Paul Werner Hoppe between June 1943 and April 1945.

Roughly 65,000 people died at the camp near Gdansk, among them "Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war", according to the indictment.

Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, was among those who expressed shock at the handling of the case.

He told AFP the escape attempt showed "contempt for the survivors and also for the rule of law".

Twilight justice

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 investigating another eight cases, according to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

Separate proceedings will open in Brandenburg, near Berlin, on Thursday against a 100-year-old former camp guard.

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

Among those who were brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, an SS guard at the same camp.

Both were convicted of complicity in mass murder at the age of 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.

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

Furchner spent a night in a youth detention facility before she was moved to another institution in Luebeck "because of her age and her need for care", the Bild newspaper reported.

She was then placed under quarantine for coronavirus in a medical section and allowed to spend an hour outside every day, according to the newspaper.