The Secretary of Evil: 97-year-old Nazi convicted for role in 10,500 murders

In what may be the last-ever Nazi trial, Irmgard Furchner has been found guilty for crimes committed at Stutthof Concentration Camp.

Irmgard Furchner, a 97-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is pictured at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021.  (photo credit: CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS/REUTERS)
Irmgard Furchner, a 97-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is pictured at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021.
(photo credit: CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS/REUTERS)

A 97-year-old German woman has been convicted of complicity in the murders of 10,505 people during the Holocaust, BBC News reported on Tuesday morning.

Between 1943-1945, then-18-year-old Irmgard Furchner worked as a typist at Stutthof Concentration Camp, where an estimated 65,000 people were killed during Second World War years, 1939-1945.

Furchner was sentenced to a two-year-suspended jail term on Tuesday, marking the end of her trial which began in October 2021.

Furchner is the first woman in decades to have been tried – and convicted – of Nazi-era crimes and due to her age at the time of her actions, she was tried as a juvenile.

Nazi Germany's “Secretary of Evil”

 Irmgard Furchner, a 97-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is pictured at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. (credit: CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS/REUTERS) Irmgard Furchner, a 97-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is pictured at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. (credit: CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS/REUTERS)

The start of Furchner’s trial was delayed briefly after she went on the run in September 2021 but she was caught hours after fleeing – after she failed to appear in court – and her trial was rescheduled to start in October 2021.

During her trial, the court heard testimonies of survivors of Stutthof, which is located near current-day Gdansk in Poland.

Furchner, who has been dubbed the “Secretary of Evil” by media covering the trial, previously denied in court any knowledge of Stutthof, although her husband’s testimony in 1954 showed that he was aware that people were being gassed to death at the camp.

After maintaining her silence for the majority of the trial, Furchner finally spoke in early December, saying: “I regret that I was in Stutthof at the time – that’s all I can say.”

Furchner’s lawyers called for her acquittal in what could be the last trial of a Nazi war criminal, saying that the evidence against Furchner failed to affirm “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that she was aware of the killings.

Attorney Ernst Freiherr von Münchhausen demanded at the trial earlier this month: “Be a human being! Look back at your actions. Was everything really correct? We all have the right to get answers to our questions from you.”

However, historian Stefan Hördler, who played a key role in the trial, accompanying two judges on a visit to the site of the camp, provided evidence that contradicted von Münchhausen’s arguments.

According to the BBC, Hördler was able to present evidence proving that Furchner would have been able to see some of the worst atrocities carried out at the camp from her position in the commandant’s office.

The commandant, Paul-Werner Hoppe, was sentenced to nine years in prison 1955 for being an accessory to murder.

During Furchner’s trial, Hördler called Hoppe’s office the “nerve center” for all that went on inside the camp.

Response from Jewish organizations

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights and Holocaust research organization, responded to the trial's verdict, saying they "welcomed the conviction by a German court."

The center’s chief Nazi-hunter, Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff, said: “In view of Furchner’s recent statement to the court that she ‘regretted everything,’ we were concerned that the court might accept her defense attorney’s plea for an acquittal. Yet, given her claim that she had no knowledge of the murders being committed in the camp, her regret was far from convincing.”

Stutthof Concentration Camp

Stutthof was originally used to imprison Polish leaders and resistance members, with the first group of 150 inmates arriving in the camp on September 2, 1939.

While the camp was originally intended to serve as a civilian internment camp, by January 1942 it was no longer different to any other of the Nazi concentration camps and by the summer of 1943 it had been fitted with gas chambers and crematoria.

The barracks at Stutthof concentration camp after liberation. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)The barracks at Stutthof concentration camp after liberation. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1944, the camp was drafted into the Nazi effort to enact the “Final Solution,” and had the capacity to execute 150 people in the gas chambers every hour. It is estimated that 63,000-65,000 prisoners died in the camp through murder, starvation, epidemics, extreme labor conditions, brutal and forced evacuations and a lack of medical attention. Of this number, some 28,000 were Jews.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.