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A 96-year-old German woman who was about to be tried for her role as a secretary in a concentration camp during World War II was arrested Thursday after fleeing briefly.
Court officials in the northern German city of Itzehoe said the woman, identified only as Irmgard F, had taken a taxi from her retirement home north of Hamburg on Thursday and fled “to an unknown destination.” . An arrest warrant was issued and hours later she was detained.
The woman’s flight “showed incredible disregard for the rule of law and survivors” of the Holocaust, said Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the Auschwitz International Committee.
Prosecutors accuse Irmgard F of being an accessory to the murder of 11,412 people. She worked as a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp headquarters, not far from the then German city of Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland, from June 1, 1943 to April 1, 1945.
Approximately 65,000 people died in the field and its satellites, and in death marches carried out towards the end of the war. The prisoners were hanged, tortured and gassed with Zyklon B. Many of them froze or starved or worked themselves to death.
Media reports said that camp commander SS-Sturmbannführer Paul-Werner Hoppe was alleged to have issued execution orders for Irmgard F, as well as shifts for concentration camp guards and lists of prisoners to be deported in train to Auschwitz.
The proceedings against him, which have now been postponed until October 19, are likely to be the last Nazi trial in Germany. Prosecutors are still preparing charges against other accused of participating in Nazi-era crimes, but most of them are now too old or ill to stand trial.
More than 50 journalists and spectators, 12 representatives of the joint plaintiffs and other participants had gathered to attend the first day of Irmgard F’s trial at an industrial building in Itzehoe, the city court did not have sufficient capacity.
The news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the defendant, who was between 18 and 19 years old when working at Stutthof, wrote to the presiding judge, Dominik Gross, telling him that she did not want to participate in the trial due to her age and health. He also said that he did not understand why he should be held accountable now, more than 70 years after the war.
However, as a defendant, you are required by German law to be continuously present at your trial. An assessment of her ability to stand trial determined that she could attend one to two hours a day for the proceedings.
In her letter to the judge, cited by Spiegel, Irmgard F denied that correspondence about prisoner gassing had passed through her hands. “I did not see such orders, nor did Hoppe dictate such letters to me,” he wrote.
He said that staff knew that prisoners were being executed, but that the killings “did not occur so frequently as to get the impression that people were being executed in the camp on a daily basis.”
The prosecution against Irmgard F was only possible after a groundbreaking trial in 2011 against John Demjanjuk, a former camp guard, who was convicted of being an accessory to the killing of 28,000 people at the Sobibor death camp during the war.
The Munich court verdict said that anyone who participated in “the extermination machine” was an accomplice and should face justice.
The sentence led to several prosecutions of former guards, as well as Oskar Gröning, who had worked as an accountant in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In July of last year, Bruno dey, a 94-year-old man who had served as a guard in Stutthof during the war, received a two-year suspended sentence after being found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 5,230 people.