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UPDATE: Former Nazi concentration camp secretary, 96, caught after escape bid

A 96-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary who fled hours before the opening of her trial in Germany has been found, a court said Thursday in a dramatic start to the proceedings.

A judicial officer checks his watch in the courtroom before the trial of a 96-year-old former Nazi camp secretary. The accused did not turn up to court on Thursday.
A judicial officer checks his watch in the courtroom before the trial of a 96-year-old former Nazi camp secretary. The accused did not turn up to court on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP-POOL | Markus Schreiber

The court in the northern town of Itzehoe, Schleswig-Holstein, had issued an arrest warrant for Irmgard Furchner, one of the first women to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades, after she failed to show up at the trial.

She left the retirement home where she was residing in a taxi on Thursday morning, heading to a subway station, said Milhoffer. But she did not turn up at the trial. 

The suspect, who is charged with complicity in the murders of more than 10,000 people at the Stutthof concentration camp in occupied Poland, had written a letter to the court to say that she would not be attending, Milhoffer said.

Just hours later, the fugitive was found and the court will now decide whether to remand her in custody, said the spokeswoman.

Amid the chaos, judge Dominik Gross said the hearing has been suspended until October 19th.

Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said the escape attempt showed “contempt for the survivors and also for the rule of law”.

 It also highlighted potential shortcomings in the justice system, he said. “Even if the woman is very old, could not precautions have been taken (to prevent her from fleeing)? Where did she go? Who helped her?” he told AFP.

For Efraim Zuroff, an American-Israeli “Nazi hunter” who has played a key role in bringing former Nazi war criminals to trial, the conclusion that can
be drawn was clear.

“Healthy enough to flee, healthy enough to go to jail!,” he tweeted on Thursday.

Worked in office of camp

The planned opening of the trial in Itzehoe came one day before the 75th anniversary of the sentencing of 12 senior members of the Nazi establishment to death by hanging at the first Nuremberg trial.

READ ALSO: Germany charges Nazi camp secretary with complicity in murders

It also comes a week before separate proceedings in Neuruppin, near Berlin, against a 100-year-old former camp guard.

Aged between 18 and 19 when she worked at the camp, Furchner, who now lives in a retirement home near Hamburg, is being tried in youth court.

The prosecutors accuse the pensioner of having assisted in the systematic murder of detainees at Stutthof, where she worked in the office of the camp commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, between June 1943 and April 1945.

Around 65,000 people died at the camp, not far from the city of Gdansk, among them “Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war”, according to the indictment.

After long reflection, the court decided in February that Furchner was fit to stand trial.

Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, time is running out to bring people to justice for their role in the Nazi system.

Prosecutors are currently handling a further eight cases, including former employees at the Buchenwald and Ravensbrueck camps, according to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

In recent years, several cases have been abandoned as the accused died or were physically unable to stand trial.

The last guilty verdict was issued to former SS guard Bruno Dey, who was handed a two-year suspended sentence in July at the age of 93.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Nazi hunters in final straight of race against time

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PROTESTS

Calls for special police tactics to be available across Sweden

The chairwoman of the Police Association West Region has said that police special tactics, known as Särskild polistaktik or SPT, should be available across Sweden, to use in demonstrations similar to those during the Easter weekend.

Calls for special police tactics to be available across Sweden

SPT, (Särskild polistaktik), is a tactic where the police work with communication rather than physical measures to reduce the risk of conflicts during events like demonstrations.

Tactics include knowledge about how social movements function and how crowds act, as well as understanding how individuals and groups act in a given situation. Police may attempt to engage in collaboration and trust building, which they are specially trained to do.

Katharina von Sydow, chairwoman of the Police Association West Region, told Swedish Radio P4 West that the concept should exist throughout the country.

“We have nothing to defend ourselves within 10 to 15 metres. We need tools to stop this type of violent riot without doing too much damage,” she said.

SPT is used in the West region, the South region and in Stockholm, which doesn’t cover all the places where the Easter weekend riots took place.

In the wake of the riots, police unions and the police’s chief safety representative had a meeting with the National Police Chief, Anders Tornberg, and demanded an evaluation of the police’s work. Katharina von Sydow now hopes that the tactics will be introduced everywhere.

“This concept must exist throughout the country”, she said.

During the Easter weekend around 200 people were involved in riots after a planned demonstration by anti-Muslim Danish politician Rasmus Paludan and his party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), that included the burning of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

Paludan’s application for another demonstration this weekend was rejected by police.

In Norway on Saturday, police used tear gas against several people during a Koran-burning demonstration after hundreds of counter-demonstrators clashed with police in the town of Sandefjord.

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