Woman, 96, to stand trial for allegedly helping in WWII massacre
A former secretary at Stutthof concentration camp who was 18 years old in 1943 is to stand trial in Germany for Holocaust crimes.
The woman who is now 96, is accused of complicity in the murder and attempted murder of more than 11,000 people.
"She assisted the camp management in the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war," German prosecutors said.
Irmgard Dirksen who lives in a nursing home in Pinneberg in the Schleswig Holstein region, will be tried in the Itzehoe District Court in Schleswig-Holstein before a juvenile chamber, as she was a teenager at the time.
A statement by the court said: “The woman is accused of having, between June 1943 and April 1945, while serving as a stenographer and typist in the camp commandant's office at the former Stutthof concentration camp, assisted the camp management in the systematic killing of prisoners.”
Dirksen 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.
Stutthof was set up by the Germans in 1939 to incarcerate Poles from the Danzig area. The Germans murdered around 65,000 people in Stutthof and the satellite camps. Murder was carried out with a shot in the neck, with poisonous syringes and the poison gas Zyklon B.
In addition, tens of thousands died as a result of the horrific conditions.
Last year, investigators commissioned a historian to prepare an expert report on Dirksen’s role as a concentration camp secretary.
The expert concluded in an interim report that the work of the secretary was fundamental for the operation of the concentration camp.
Historian Professor Jens-Christian Wagner said: “It was like clockwork with a lot of small cogs […] crimes were not only committed by a few extreme criminals and by some right up at the top.”
The investigation into Dirksen’s alleged crimes had been ongoing since 2016. The prosecutor's office has stressed that the investigation was difficult and time-consuming. Witnesses from the USA and Israel were interviewed during the proceedings.
Irmgard Dirksen was born in what was then Kalthof (now Kałdowo) near Gdańsk. She did an apprenticeship at Dresdner Bank in what was then Marienburg (now Malbork) after school.
Dresdner Bank was the house bank of the SS. The bank processed all payments for its business operations in the concentration camps through the Dresdner Bank.
In 1943, when the Wehrmacht was suffering great losses, Dresdner Bank had to close its branch in Marienburg to free more workers for the war.
Dirksen lost her job at the bank and moved to the Stutthof concentration camp.
Christoph Rückel, a Munich lawyer has been representing Holocaust survivors in lawsuits against former concentration camp employees for years, said in German media: “She did all the correspondence for the camp commandant […] she also typed out the deportation and execution orders for him and signed them with his abbreviations. She admitted that herself.”
The trail of Irmgard Dirksen is expected to be one of the last times that a perpetrator will be out in trial for Holocaust crimes.
Only a few concentration camp guards and possible helpers of the Holocaust are still alive, others can no longer be questioned because of their old age.
Another secretary of the Stutthof concentration camp, who lived in Lübeck, died last year before the public prosecutor's office could complete its investigation into the case.
The majority of former guards and administration employees of German death and concentration camps went unpunished for many decades after the end of the war, because, according to German law, the prerequisite for conviction was proof of individual guilt, and this often proved impossible.
The breakthrough came in 2011, when a court in Munich found the former guard of the Sobibor death camp, John Demjaniuk, guilty of the crimes he was accused of.
The judges considered the mere fact of service at the camp, and therefore participation in the death machine, to be sufficient proof.
Since then German courts have allowed trials for aiding and abetting crimes, which has made it possible to try a number of SS men and administration employees.
In July last year Bruno Dey., a 93-year-old former guard of the Stutthof concentration camp, was sentenced to two years' probation.
Between 1944 and 1945, as a minor, he was a guard at Stutthof. He was found guilty of murder in 5230 cases and guilty of attempted murder in one case.