By Sönke Möhl and Bernhard Sprengel, dpa l Tuesday, 20 December 2022
BERLIN – A 97-year-old former secretary at a Nazi concentration camp has been given two year suspended sentence after she was found guilty of more than 10,500 cases of complicity to murder.
Identified only as Irmgard F under German privacy rules, she maintained her silence through much of the trial, only saying towards 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.”
She worked as a civilian employee in the commandant’s office of Stutthof near what was then the free city of Danzig, now Gdańsk, from June 1943 to April 1945, and therefore was found culpable for having assisted those in charge of the concentration camp in the systematic killing of inmates.
Because she was only 18 to 19 years old at the time of the crimes, the trial was before a juvenile court in Itzehoe, a small town north of Hamburg.
During the Holocaust, the German Nazi regime systematically murdered about 6 million Jews in Europe between 1941 and 1945 – a genocide that amounted to about two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.
The court’s suspended sentence was in line with what the prosecution had requested. There were 15 legal representatives of the 31 joint plaintiffs who had joined the prosecution’s suit, and they largely agreed with the state’s sentencing request. The defence had demanded acquittal.
“The defendant, who is her 98th year, has received her guilty verdict for aiding and abetting several thousand murders. State criminal law cannot do more in terms of the substance of the case,” explained lawyer Hans-Jürgen Förster, who represented four Stutthof survivors as joint plaintiffs.
The trial began on September 30, 2021. During the 40 days of the hearing, the court heard eight of the 31 joint plaintiffs as witnesses. The survivors of the camp reported on the suffering and mass deaths in Stutthof.
The accused was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair.
The most important witness, however, was Stefan Hördler, an expert on the Nazi Germany’s armed forces and its bureaucracy. He presented a report to the court over the course of 14 sessions. The defence had filed a motion for bias against him, which the court rejected.
Two judges in the case even visited the former Stutthof camp. During their visit, the judges wanted to clarify which areas of the camp the accused could see from her workplace at the time, among other questions.
Central to the trial was the issue of how much she could perceive of the crimes committed. The defendant initially did not want to face the proceedings. On the first day of the trial, she disappeared early in the morning from her retirement home in the town of Quickborn.
Hours later, the police picked her up on a street in Hamburg. The court issued an arrest warrant. The then 96-year-old spent five days in custody.