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Nazi war crimes suspect, 96, flees ahead of trial

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By Reuters

By Thomas Escritt

BERLIN – A 96-year-old German woman fled ahead of the opening on Thursday of her trial on charges of aiding and abetting mass murder in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two, a court spokesperson said.

Irmgard Furchner is accused of having contributed as an 18-year old to the murder of 11,412 people when she was a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp between 1943 and 1945.

“The accused is on the run,” Frederike Milhoffer, spokesperson for the Itzehoe district court, said. “She left her home early in the morning in a taxi in the direction of a metro station.”

The spokesperson said an arrest warrant had been issued. Itzehoe is in Germany’s far north, some 100 km (62 miles) from the Danish border.

Furchner’s current whereabouts are unknown. Charges cannot be read unless Furchner, who faces trial in an adolescent court because of her young age at the time of the alleged crimes, is present in court in person.

Furchner is the latest in a series of nonagenarians to have been charged with Holocaust crimes in what is seen as a rush by prosecutors to seize the final opportunity to enact justice for the victims of some of the worst mass killings in history.

Although prosecutors convicted major perpetrators – those who issued orders or pulled triggers – in the 1960s “Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials”, the practice until the 2000s was to leave lower-level suspects alone.

According to Der Spiegel, she transcribed execution orders dictated to her by camp commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe, who was convicted of accessory to murder in 1955. The magazine reported that Furchner had written to the judge asking to be tried in absentia: a legal impossibility in Germany.

Oskar Groening, known as the “accountant of Auschwitz” for his job recording valuables seized from deportees on their arrival at the extermination camp, was sentenced to four years in 2016 for accessory to murder, though he died before his sentence could start.

Bruno D., was convicted last year, aged 93, of abetting the murder of 5,230 people as a guard at Stutthof. He too was tried in a youth court despite his age because he was still a juvenile at the time of the crimes.

Some 65,000 people died in the concentration camp, near Gdansk in today’s Poland, between 1939 and 1945, of starvation and disease or in the camp’s gas chamber, including prisoners of war and Jews caught up in the Nazis’ war of extermination. (This story refiles to fix spelling of Furchner’s name in para 5, 6)