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German court convicts ex-Nazi camp secretary

December 20, 2022

In possibly Germany's last trial for Nazi crimes, a 97-year-old former secretary at the Stutthof death camp was convicted of complicity in the murder of more than 10,000 people.

Irmgard F. sitting in court in a wheelchair
Irmgard F. was charged in 2021Image: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

A court in northern Germany on Tuesday convicted Irmgard F.,  a former secretary at the Nazi Stutthof concentration camp, of complicity in murder in more than 10,000 people. She received a two-year suspended sentence as requested by prosecutors. 

From June 1943 to April 1945, she worked as a stenographer and typist  at the Stutthof death camp, near what was then Nazi-occupied Danzig and is now Gdansk.

An estimated 65,000 people died at Stutthof, including Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war.

Irmgard F. was 'aware' of atrocities at Stutthof

The prosecution had said the defendant's clerical work "assured the smooth running of the camp" and gave her "knowledge of all occurrences and events at Stutthof."

Defense attorneys had called for their client to be found not guilty, arguing she was unaware of the scope of the murder and crimes committed at the camp. 

The judges in the case had visited the former Stutthof camp to clarify which areas she could see from her office at the time. They concluded that it was "simply beyond imagination" that she had not noticed the mass killings.

"During her time at Stutthof, the defendant did not remain unaware of what was happening there," Dominik Groß, the presiding judge, said. 

Irmgard F. remained silent during much of the trial, but said toward the end: "I'm sorry for everything that happened. I regret that I was in Stutthof at the time. I can't say anything else."

Last year, she was caught after apparently attempting to escape the trial by fleeing the elderly care home where she was living.

Shoah survivor: 'The biggest fish were let go'

Juvenile court

The 97-year-old was tried in a juvenile court in Itzehoe, a small town north of Hamburg, as she was only 18 to 19 at the time of the crime. 

Prosecutors had requested a suspended juvenile sentence of two years, the longest possible without jail time.

Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel who has helped bring many Nazi war criminals to trial, told DW that while the verdict was legally the strongest ruling possible, it was still in another sense "absurd." 

"It's the best sentence that we could have gotten because she's being tried in a juvenile court. That's part of the problem here," he said.  

"In a certain respect, the suspended sentence is absolutely absurd because the suspended sentence means that sentence will only be implemented if the person repeats the crime. Obviously, she's not about to repeat the crime." 

'Any person involved in these crimes should pay for them'

Trial of 'historical importance'

"This trial is of outstanding historical importance," public prosecutor Maxi Wantzen said in a recent hearing, adding that it was "potentially, due to the passage of time, the last of its kind."

But Zuroff, who is widely referred to as the "Nazi hunter," disagreed. 

"Over 40 years ago, a book was already written about [...] the first [Holocaust-related] trial in Unified Germany. And the title was 'The Last Nazi.' I can tell you that more than 100 Nazi war criminals were convicted in the interim," he said. 

"So I wouldn't run or rush to call this the last trial. I know for a fact that we at the Wiesenthal Center are busy trying to find survivors from the Ravensbrück camps in northern Germany who can testify against a person who served as a guard," he added. 

German courts have handed down verdicts in several cases linked to the Holocaust since the 2011 conviction of a former Nazi guard.

However, several other cases have been abandoned due to the death of the accused or their physical inability to stand trial.

fb/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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