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German court to try 96-year-old for Nazi murders

July 16, 2021

The elderly woman, once a secretary at Hitler's Stutthof camp, is accused of being an accessory to the murder of over 11,000 people. She will be tried in a juvenile court as she was 18 at the time.

Stutthof concentration camp in Poland
Around 65,000 people died at the Stutthof concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during World War IIImage: Getty Images/AFP/W. Radwanski

A 96-year-oldformer secretary at the Stutthof Nazi concentration camp will be tried at a north German juvenile court, accused of assisting in the systematic murder of thousands of people.

The regional Itzehoe court in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein said on Friday that the trial would provisionally start on September 30. 

It decided to try the woman for the crimes in the Juvenile Chamber because she was a teenager when she worked as a secretary at the Stutthof camp near Gdansk during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II.

What is the woman accused of?

The 96-year-old, who worked as a civilian employee in the Stutthof Nazi concentration camp, is accused of aiding and abetting the murder of more than 11,000 people.

The indictment reads: "The defendant is charged with committing a crime as a stenographer and typist in the camp commandant's office of the Stutthof former concentration camp between June 1943 and April 1945."

It adds that she is alleged to have "assisted the camp commanders in the systematic killing of those imprisoned there."

Why has she been charged?

The defendant has already been questioned a number of times about the Holocaust as a witness, according to the ARDꞌs Taggesschau.

Nuremberg Trials Anniversary

She testified in a 1954 court case that all correspondence with the SS-Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt had passed over her desk. Commandant Paul Werner Hoppe dictated letters and radio messages to her every day.

She has denied knowing anything about the killings at the camp.

A medical expert has examined the defendant and deemed that she is capable of standing trial.

Stutthof: First Nazi camp opened outside Germany, last to be liberated

The Nazis first opened the Stutthof camp in September 1939 with the majority of the inmates being Polish. Prisoners from 28 countries arrived later with around 110,000 people passing through the camp in total.

At least 65,000 people were killed there, over a third of them Jews, through a combination of starvation, disease, gassing, lethal injection, gunshots or being clubbed to death.

Stutthof was the last camp to be liberated by the allies in May 1945, just days before the end of the war. Many of its commanders and guards were hanged for their crimes.

Guard towers at the Stutthof camp
The site of the former Stutthof camp is now a museum Image: Getty Images/AFP/W. Radwanski

More trials in recent years after Demjanjuk precedent

The legal precedent that made it easier to try to bring elderly former Nazi concentration camp workers to justice in Germany was set by the John Demjanjuk trial, who was tried in Germany in 2011.

Nazi Germany captured Demjanjuk as a Ukrainian prisoner of war but he was later drafted in to work at the notorious Treblinka extermination camp.

Before that case, judges needed solid enough evidence of concrete personal involvement in a specific murder or murders before they could agree to hear a case. Now, demonstrating that an individual worked at a concentration camp and contributed to its more general systematic killing of inmates can suffice for a conviction. The legal change came too late to bring justice to many Nazi collaborators.

In July 2020, a 93-year-old man was found guilty at a juvenile court for being an SS guard at the camp and given a two-year suspended sentence.

jc/msh (dpa, epd)