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German Woman, 95, Charged With Complicity In More Than 10,000 Murders During WWII

A former typist and secretary at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland is charged with being complicit in mass murder. The camp, seen here in 2016, has become a museum.
Michal Fludra
Getty Images
A former typist and secretary at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland is charged with being complicit in mass murder. The camp, seen here in 2016, has become a museum.

German prosecutors have filed charges against a 95-year-old woman they say was complicit in the murder of more than 10,000 people at the Stutthof concentration camp during World War II. The woman worked as a typist and secretary. Despite her age, the case is being handled by a juvenile court because she was under 21 when she worked at the camp.

The public prosecutor's office in Itzehoe, a small town northwest of Hamburg, did not identify the woman when it announced charges against her Friday.

In a statement sent to NPR, Senior Public Prosecutor Peter Müller-Rakow said the woman helped those in charge of the camp carry out "the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners," along with Polish partisans and Russian prisoners of war.

The former secretary is also accused of aiding and abetting attempted murder – a charge that refers to the tens of thousands of people who survived despite the brutal conditions and cruel treatment that were imposed on them.

In his statement, Müller-Rakow used the term "Heranwachsenden" to refer to the woman. Under German law, that designates someone who is over 18 but not yet 21.

The Stutthof concentration camp was established in 1939, east of Gdansk along Poland's Baltic coast. The secretary worked there from June 1943 to April 1945, as a close aide to the commandant. By that time, the facility had been expanded and was using Zyklon B gas chambers to exterminate prisoners, according to the Death Camp Memorial Site.

The new case is the first in years to target a woman who worked at a concentration camp, according to Agence France-Presse.

Prosecutors have increasingly sought out lower-level staff members of death camps in recent years, driven by the successful prosecution of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at another camp, on the grounds that he was an accessory to mass murder. The retired U.S. autoworker was 91 when a German court convicted him.

Last year, a Hamburg court found Bruno Dey, a former guard at the Stutthof camp, guilty of assisting in thousands of murders. Dey, who was 93 at the time, was given a two-year suspended sentence.

In the new case involving Sutthof, the woman had been the subject of an investigation since at least 2016, according to multiple local media outlets.

In an interview with public broadcaster NDR in late 2019, the woman, who was identified as "Irmgard F.," said she has repeatedly given witness accounts to authorities about what she saw and did at the Stutthof camp.

Speaking at her home in a retirement community, the woman also said that she wasn't aware of mass poisonings or other acts of genocide — in part because her office window faced outward from the camp. It wasn't until after the war, she said, that she learned of the horrific acts that took place inside. Before that revelation, she said she had assumed that anyone who was executed in the camp had done something to deserve it.

Irmgard F. said she testified about the camp in the 1950s; a few years later, Stutthof's commandant Paul-Werner Hoppe was sentenced to prison. Hoppe dictated letters to his secretary, who also handled correspondence and radio traffic, according to NDR.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.