“I participated in killing 11,000 people.” What did Irmgard Fuchner do 80 years ago?

On Tuesday, a German court sentenced a 97-year-old woman to prison, after convicting her of participating in the killing of about 11,000 people, while she was 18 years old, during her work in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. This raises a question: What did she do when she was 18?

A spokesman for the court in the northern town of Itzehoe said it had handed down a two-year suspended sentence to Irmgard Forschner, a former secretary at the Stutthof camp, for aiding and abetting the murder of 10,505 people and the attempted murder of five others.

The ruling concerns Forschner, who arrived at court in a wheelchair and wearing a white hat and a medical mask trying to hide her face. She served as secretary to the Stutthof camp commandant between June 1943 and April 1945.

Despite the ugliness of the crimes that the ninetieth woman faced, she was sentenced under the Juvenile Law, because she was 18 and 19 years old at the time of the crimes committed decades ago, according to Reuters.

She is also the first civilian woman in Germany to be convicted of crimes committed in a Nazi concentration camp.

This camp, which was near the city of Gdańsk in Poland, spent about 65,000 people systematically, including “Jews, Poles and Soviet prisoners of war,” according to AFP, quoting German prosecutors.

Reuters says that about 65,000 people died from starvation, disease, or in gas chambers.

The Guardian indicates that experts during her trial explained in detail the role she played by virtue of her work as a civil servant carrying out bureaucratic procedures in prison, and she herself witnessed the torture and systematic killing of prisoners in gas chambers, or by shooting them, or by leaving them to freeze in the open air.

Among the witnesses to her crimes was Joseph Shalomonovich, now 84, who managed to escape from the camp, but his father was killed there.

Shalomonovich, who had specially traveled from his home in the Czech Republic to testify, held up his father’s photo and addressed Forschner directly, saying that she was “indirectly guilty, even if she was just sitting in the office.”

Court officials themselves visited Forschner’s office in the now-museum camp, and saw how close it was to the places where prisoners were killed, including the gas chambers, crematoriums and gallows.

Her office was directly overlooking these places, and she was executing orders through her typewriter and phone, which was enough to know what was going on, and thus she participated in the commission of crimes, according to the court.

The Stutthof camp has become a museum

She was arrested in September 2021 when she was at the time living in a retirement home in Hamburg.

As her trial began, she did not appear in court and fled. “She left her residence this morning. She took a taxi,” court spokeswoman Fredericke Millhofer said.

But she was arrested just hours later on the outskirts of Hamburg, after which she was held for five days, and given an electronic wrist tag.

During the trial, she did not speak much and was communicating with the court through her lawyer, who said that she did not deny the crimes that occurred in the camp, but that she did not consider herself guilty.

About 10 years ago, Germany prosecuted and convicted four members of the Nazi security forces and expanded the charge of complicity in murder, to include camp guards and other executors of Nazi orders.

During Forschner’s trial, Judge Dominic Gross said the trial would be “one of the last criminal trials worldwide for Nazi-era crimes.”

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