A 96-year-old woman facing charges of complicity of the murder of thousands at a Nazi death camp was caught by German police after going on the run on the first day of her trial on Thursday.
Irmgard Furchner, who worked as a secretary at the Stutthof concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1943-45, had been due to stand trial at the Itzehoe district court on Thursday charged with aiding and abetting the murder of 11,412 people, as well as complicity in 18 cases of attempted murder.
But, rather than showing up at court on Thursday morning, Furchner left the care home where she lives and took a taxi to an underground station, a spokeswoman for the court said.
Police issued an arrest warrant for Furchner, whose whereabouts were unknown for several hours until she was arrested. The court had already adjourned proceedings until October the 19th before she was located.
Furchner’s disappearance sparked outrage from Holocaust survivor’s groups, who said the move typified the brazen contempt demonstrated by the Nazi regime and those who supported it towards its victims.
“It shows cynical contempt towards survivors, and for democracy as well,” Christoph Heubner, executive president of the International Auschwitz Committee, told VICE World News.
Furchner’s disappearing act was a slap in the face for survivors and their families, some of those who were imprisoned at the camp will give evidence in court about their ordeal.
“For the survivors, it’s an incredibly sad and horrifying day, because the memories are coming back,” he said.
He was scathing of the authorities for not foreseeing that Furchner might abscond, and taking steps to prevent it happening.
Furchner’s trial will be the first in decades of a woman accused of crimes connected to the Third Reich. Due to her age at the time of the alleged offending – Furchner was 18 and 19 during her time in the camp – the trial will be held in a juvenile court.
Furchner – who, after the war, married a senior SS sergeant she had met in Stutthof – has previously been called as a witness at three trials of SS leaders connected to the concentration camp, the last in 1982. In those testimonies, she claimed to know nothing about the killing taking place at the camp, where more than 65,000 people were killed.
According to reports, she is yet to formally respond to the allegations against her.
Her prosecution is one of a number of cases currently being handled by German prosecutors of people who were allegedly involved in guarding or administering Nazi camps. The prosecutions followed the landmark trial in 2011 of John Demjanjuk, a former Nazi concentration camp guard, in which the judge set a legal precedent by ruling that no matter how minor a role the accused had played in the camp, they could be held accountable for what took place there.
Following his conviction, Demjanjuk was released pending appeal, and died a year later in a nursing home.