A 95-year-old former concentration camp guard has told a court that he had never met a death camp secretary – on trial over the deaths of over 11,000 people – despite walking past her office every day.
Irmgard Furchner, 97, is accused of being an accessory to murder in the deaths of over 11,000 victims at the Stutthof concentration camp during World War II.
She claims that despite working in the camp’s command block, she knew nothing of its murderous regime.
Now a former guard at the camp – identified in Itzehoe district court, northern Germany, as Bruno Dey – has testified in her trial.
Dey was himself convicted as an accessory to 5,232 murders and was sentenced to two years probation by Hamburg Regional Court on 23rd July 2020.
From August 1944 to April 1945, the then 18-year-old SS guard walked past the headquarters of the Stutthof concentration camp on duty every day.
Stutthof concentration camp operated near the city of Gdansk in occupied Poland during World War II.
But on Tuesday (7th June), he told the court that he had never met the secretary who worked in the building for concentration camp commandant Paul Werner Hoppe.
And he claimed that he had seen Hoppe only once, “in the canteen somehow”.
The 95-year-old added: “In any case, I had no contact with him or with anyone from the commander’s office.”
Irmgard Furchner is accused of having aided in the systematic murder of more than 11,000 prisoners as a secretary at the camp headquarters, where she worked from June 1943 to April 1945.
Bruno Dey, who usually stood guard in a watchtower at the camp, claimed: “I didn’t even know that there were civilian employees there.”
In court with his lawyer Stefan Waterkamp and his daughter, unnamed, he told the court that he had seen women on the grounds of the concentration camp, but they were SS employees.
He said: “We didn’t even have contact with them.”
After giving testimony in court, Waterkamp, when asked whether his client had met the accused at the time, said: “They didn’t know each other.”
The hearing was postponed after two hours due to Dey and Furchner both being exhausted.
Bruno Dey is now set to testify again at a later date, most likely in August.
Irmgard Furchner is accused of complicity in the mass murder of over 11,000 people at the camp.
It has been revealed during her trial that her husband – who was a Nazi SS soldier during World War II – testified in 1954 that he was aware that people had been gassed at the concentration camp.
This is according to historian Stefan Hoerdler, who has spoken on numerous occasions during the ongoing trial.
He said the defendant hid SS soldiers in her apartment after the war, including the concentration camp commander, Paul Werner Hoppe.
Hoppe was jailed for just nine years in the 1950s for being an accessory to murder.
Hoerdler told the court about numerous testimonies regarding the mass murders committed at the death camp.
One – given by Furchner’s husband – said: “People were gassed in the Stutthof camp. They talked about it in the commander’s office.”
Another statement from another former unnamed SS officer from 1974, states that he had observed six cases in which men and women were forced into railway carriages.
Then another SS officer dressed as a railway worker climbed onto the roof and poured something into the wagon.
Hoerdler said that the witness had said at the time that he had only found out later that the people in the train car had been gassed to death.
Irmgard Furchner claims in her defence that she had no knowledge of the mass killings despite, in her job as secretary to the camp commander, reporting directly to the SS.
The public prosecutor’s office accuses her of having assisted in the systematic murder, from June 1943 to April 1945, of thousands of people.
Furchner was expected to appear at the Itzehoe Regional Court in September last year, but the trial was suspended after she went on the run.
In an earlier letter, she had claimed she was not fit to stand trial.
She said: “Due to my age and physical limitations, I will not attend the court dates and ask the defence attorney to represent me.
“I would like to spare myself these embarrassments and not make myself the mockery of humanity.”
In her escape bid, Furchner left her retirement home in the town of Quickborn, Hamburg, jumped in a taxi and disappeared.
Police arrested Furchner just hours later and held her in custody for five days. It was not revealed where she had gone.
There have been numerous poignant moments during the ongoing trial, including when Onur Oezata, the lawyer for three of the concentration camp survivors tried to make an opening statement on behalf of the victims, but the court reportedly opposed this.
This led Oezata to accuse the presiding judge Dominic Gross of trying to silence them.
He said: “You want to silence us! They are downgrading us to extras!”
The lawyer was backed up by his colleague, a lawyer representing co-plaintiffs and named as Christoph Rueckel, who appealed to the court to focus on cooperation rather than confrontation, arguing that the words of the victims should not be cut short.
The judge put his decision down to scheduling difficulties but quickly backtracked, saying: “To conclude from this that these ladies and gentlemen should not be heard is simply absurd.”
The Stutthof concentration camp was established by Nazi Germany near the village of the same name, now called Sztutowo and located in Poland’s Pomeranian Voivodeship, on 2nd September 1939.
It soon developed into a huge complex of 40 sub-camps across several locations. Up to 110,000 people were deported there until its liberation by the Allies on 9th May 1945.
Asia Shindelman was born in Lithuania in 1928 and was taken to a ghetto with her parents in 1941 after Nazi Germany occupied the Baltic region. She was sent to Stutthof, where she was received by SS guards armed with whips and dogs, three years later.
Through an interpreter, she told the court that the SS guards were given free rein to do anything they pleased, including “kill us”. She and other Jewish women were taken to a sub-camp, where they were made to dig trenches for defence purposes, a month later.
Shindelman survived the ordeal and now lives in the US state of New Jersey. She hopes her testimony will help to bring Irmgard Furchner to justice.
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