ITZEHOE, GERMANY (AFP) - A 96-year-old former secretary at a concentration camp will go on trial in Germany on Thursday (Sept 30), one of the first women implicated in Nazi-era crimes to be prosecuted in decades.
Irmgard Furchner is charged with complicity in the murders of more than 10,000 people at the Stutthof camp in occupied Poland. Furchner's trial in Itzehoe, northern Germany, will be followed a week later by the start of proceedings against a 100-year-old former camp guard in Neuruppin, near Berlin.
They are among the oldest individuals to be prosecuted for their role in the Third Reich, as Germany races to put on trial the last surviving suspects.
The court case in Itzehoe starts 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.
Aged between 18 and 19 when she worked at the camp, Furchner, who now lives in a retirement home near Hamburg, will be 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", says the indictment.
Little time left
After long reflection, the court decided in February that Furchner was fit to stand trial, albeit only for a few hours at a time, dragging proceedings out until June 2022.
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 given to former SS guard Bruno Dey, who was handed a two-year suspended sentence in July at the age of 93.
Furchner is the only woman to stand trial in recent years for crimes dating to the Nazi-era, as the role of women in the Third Reich has long been overlooked.
But since John Demjanjuk, a guard at a concentration camp, was convicted for serving as part of the Nazi killing machine in 2011, prosecutors have broadened the scope of their investigations beyond those directly responsible for atrocities.
According to Christoph Rueckel, a lawyer representing survivors of the Shoah who are party to the case, Furchner "handled all the correspondence" for camp commander Hoppe.
"She typed out the deportation and execution commands" at his dictation and initialled each message herself, Rueckel told public broadcaster NDR.
Furchner's lawyer, Wolf Molkentin, told the German weekly Spiegel, it was possible the secretary had been "screened off" from what was going on at Stutthof.
At least three other women have been investigated for their roles in Nazi camps, including another secretary at Stutthof, who died last year before charges could be brought.
The prosecutor's office in Neuruppin is currently looking into the case of a woman employed at the Ravensbrueck camp, according to officials at the Central Office in Ludwigsburg.
Among the women to be held to account for their actions during the Nazi era was Maria Mandl, a guard at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, who was hanged in 1948 after being sentenced to death in Krakow, Poland.
Between 1946 and 1948, in Hamburg, 21 women went on trial before a British military tribunal for their role at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women.