Former death camp secretary who skipped trial is caught after police launched manhunt
A 96-year-old woman who went on the run after getting in a taxi to stand trial for WWII war crimes has been caught.
The trial was due to begin in Itzehoe district court in the Schleswig-Holstein region of defendant Irmgard Furchner, who is accusd of assisting in mass murder during the war.
However, court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer said that although she left her nursing home in the morning in a taxi, she failed to arrive at the court.
Investigations established that she headed to an underground station in Norderstedt on the outskirts of Hamburg, but her final destination is not known.
German law enforcement agencies launched a manhunt for the suspect and she was found several hours later on foot about five miles from where she was last seen.
Furchner is accused of complicity in the murder and attempted murder of more than 11,000 Holocaust victims at Stutthof concentration camp, now in northern Poland near Gdańsk.
As a stenographer and typist in the camp headquarters, she is said to have helped those responsible for the camp with the systematic killing of prisoners between June 1943 and April 1945.
Stutthof was set up by the Germans in 1939 to incarcerate Poles from the Danzig area. Around 65,000 people died in Stutthof concentration camp and its sub-camps, as well as on death marches at the end of the war.
Murders were carried out with a shot in the neck, with poisonous syringes and the poison gas Zyklon B.
Furchner has already been examined as a witness on several occasions during which she revealed the extent of her complicity.
In 1954, she testified that all correspondence with the SS Main Administration Office passed through her desk.
She testified that Commandant Paul Werner Hoppe dictated the contents of letters to her every day.
She said at the time that she knew nothing about the killing machine, although her workplace was a few metres away from places where prisoners were killed.
The German authorities found the suspect after an investigation by the Central Office for the Prosecution of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg.
Because great media and visitor interest was expected, the district court in Itzehoe set up a larger courtroom on an industrial estate in the town.
More than 50 journalists and spectators, 12 representatives of the 30 co-plaintiffs, the defence attorney and others involved in the trial were waiting this morning for the indictment to be read out at the start of the trial.
The International Auschwitz Committee, representing concentration camp survivors and their relatives, expressed its outrage about the defendants' flight.
“This shows an incredible contempt for the rule of law and also for the survivors,” said Vice-Executive President Christoph Heubner.
The woman is now being held at a police station where she is being questioned by officers.
The court will decide if she should be remanded in custody.