- Irmgard Furchner, 97, was given a suspended sentence of two years for her role in Stutthof concentration camp.
- In 1944, Furchner, also known as the ‘Secretary of Evil,’ started working at the camp at the mere age of 18.
- Holocaust survivor, Manfred Goldberg, considers the two-year sentence a ‘mistake.’
- Goldberg expressed disappointment saying that Furchner has been given the same punishment as a shoplifter.
Irmgard Furchner, a 97-year-old concentration camp secretary, received a two-year suspended jail time in Germany. Consequently, the decision sparked fury among Holocaust survivors.
Manfred Goldberg, who survived Stutthof concentration camp for eight months as an enslaved person, called out against the decision. The Holocaust survivor, 92, argued that Judge Dominik Gross’s decision was a ‘mistake.’
“No one would send a 97-year-old to prison. Still, the punishment should reflect the severity of crimes,” expressed Goldberg. “If a shoplifter is sentenced to two years, how can it be possible that someone involved in 10,000 murders is given the same?”
Irmgard Furchner – A Cog in a Big Wheel
Irmgard Dirksen was born on 19th May, 1925. At 18, Dirksen started working for Stutthof Camp Commandant Paul Werner Hoppe in Nazi-occupied Poland. Due to Dirksen’s age at the time of her crimes, she is being tried in a juvenile court.
The prosecution highlighted her role in the ‘cruel and malicious murder’ of thousands of prisoners between 1943 to 1945. The prosecutors further added that this could be one of Germany’s last trials for Holocaust-era crimes.
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According to the prosecutors, Furchner’s role as Hoppe’s secretary facilitated the ‘killing apparatus’ at the concentration camp. The legal team described that on 22nd July, 1944, SS Obersturmbahnführer Paul Maurer ordered a group of prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz. Four days later, the Commandant’s office provided a list of prisoners to be sent off.
At 6:05 PM, Hoppe radioed that the prisoners were en route.
The prosecution claims that Furchner must have prepared the list. Despite being employed in the command block, the defendant argues that she knew nothing of the camp’s murderous regime. However, her husband – an SS soldier – testified in 1954 that he was aware of Germans gassing prisoners in concentration camps. Furchner did not have much to say.
“I’m sorry about everything that happened,’ said the defendant.
The Stutthof Camp: the Gate of Death
The Stutthof concentration camp was built in 1939 in German-occupied Poland. The camp, surrounded by electrical barbed-wire fences, was used as a collection point for Jews and Polish people from the nearby city of Danzig.
The so-called ‘work education camp’ imprisoned as many as 100,000 people. Using gas chambers and lethal injections, SS officers supervised the killing of thousands. Moreover, dying of hunger was commonplace at Stutthof.
Horrifying accounts by Stutthof survivors paint a grim picture of life at the concentration camp. “We were beaten constantly, the whole time, even while working,” said Abraham Koryski. “You didn’t know if the officers acted on orders or if they did it on their breaks.”
Koryski talked about the ‘torture shows’ the SS officers held inside the walls, including one where a son was forced to kill his own father in front of the inmates. “Jewish lives just did not count,” told Goldberg to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2017.
Other than Jews and imprisoned Poles, Stutthof housed political prisoners, Jehovah’s witnesses, accused criminals, and people suspected of homosexuality. More than 60,000 are thought to have died by lethal injections of phenol or gasoline, starvation, or torture. Of the 60,000 some 28,000 of those who died were Jewish.
Risa Silbert, 93, told the court, “we had cannibalism in the camp.” People used to cut out corpses and eat livers just to survive another day. Prisoners had to report every morning at 4 or 5, and those who could not stand still were whipped mercilessly.
According to Goldberg, “everything was documented and sent to her [Furcher’s] office.”
Mr Goldberg, 92, said: ‘This trial serves the purpose of letting the public know that there is no limitation of time for crimes of such cruelty or magnitude.
‘My only disappointment is that a two-year suspended sentence appears to me to be a mistake. No one in their right mind would send a 97-year-old to prison, but the sentence should reflect the severity of the crimes.
A Word by Karen Pollock CBE
Karen Pollock CBE, CEO of the Holocaust Educational Trust, commended the trial. “The testimonies of survivors during this trial have been harrowing, and we must commend their bravery in reliving such horrific memories.”
Indeed, time is no barrier when it comes to punishing those involved in facilitating the worst crimes humankind has ever seen. “While Furchner will keep her freedom – it was stolen from more than 60,000 Jewish victims at Stutthof,” said Pollock.