German Woman, Secretary to Camp commandant, is Charged

Ludwig Schneider CC BY-SA 3.0

On Friday 5th February, prosecutors in the small town of Itzehoe, just west of Hamburg in Germany, filed charges against a 95-year-old, unnamed woman for complicity in the murders of 10,000 people interned in the Stutthof Concentration Camp.

The Stutthof Concentration Camp was opened on the 2nd September 1939 on Poland’s Baltic coast just east of Gdansk.  Initially, this was a civilian internment camp, but in November 1941, it became a labor education camp similar to Dachau. The accused worked at the center at the time of its expansion. This was when the gas chambers using Zyklon B gas were used to murder thousands of men, women, and children.

Stutthof was the first camp built outside of Germany’s borders, and it was the last camp liberated by the Allies on 9th May 1945.

The crematorium at the Stutthof camp. An estimated 60,000 – 65,000 died within the camp during WW2. Image by Polimerek CC BY-SA 3.0
The crematorium at the Stutthof camp. An estimated 60,000 – 65,000 died within the camp during WW2. Image by Polimerek CC BY-SA 3.0

The woman worked in the camp office from June 1943 to April 1945 as a secretary, typist, and aide to the commandant. Despite being in her mid-nineties, the case will be heard in Juvenile Court as she was not yet 21 when she worked at the camp. According to Agence France-Presse, this is the first case in many years to prosecute a woman who worked at any concentration camps.

Peter Müller-Rakow, a Senior Public Prosecutor, said in a statement that the woman was charged as she helped the camp leadership carry out the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners and Russian prisoners of war and Polish partisans.

In addition to the charges of aiding the murder of thousands of people, she is also charged with aiding and abetting attempted murder. These charges refer to the many thousands of people that survived the brutal conditions within the camp.

Local media tells that the woman identified only as ‘Irmgard F.’ has been under investigation since 2016. In 2019, she was interviewed by Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), a German public broadcaster. In the interview, she said she had given numerous statements about what she witnessed and did during her tenure at the camp.

She said that she was not aware of many things as the window of her office faced out of the camp and that she was not aware of prisoners’ mass extermination or gassing. She said that it was not until after the war that she discovered what had happened inside the camp. She said that she had assumed that those executed in the camp had done something to warrant their execution.

A Zyklon B container on display at the Stutthof concentration camp. Image by Ludwig Schneider CC BY-SA 3.0
A Zyklon B container on display at the Stutthof concentration camp. Image by Ludwig Schneider CC BY-SA 3.0

She testified in the 1950s about the camp and then again at the trial of the Camp Commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe. Hoppe was sentenced to prison.

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In recent years prosecutors have been targeting lower levels of staff that worked at the camps. They were encouraged by the former guard’s successful prosecution, John Demjanjuk, aged 91, who was given a five-year prison sentence in 2011. Also, Bruno Dev (93), another guard, was found guilty of assisting in thousands of murders and given a two-year suspended sentence in 2020.