For the first time in decades, a woman who served as a secretary in a concentration camp has been indicted as an accessory to murder. The woman, who is 95 and lives in an assisted living facility near Hamburg, is accused of aiding in the murder of 10,000 people, among them Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Russian war prisoners, when she served as a stenographer and secretary to Paul-Werner Hoppe, the commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp near Gdansk in Poland. The woman is also accused of aiding the attempted murder of prisoners who survived the camps.
The German court will have to rule in principle on whether a secretary bears responsibility for crimes committed in the camp. An attorney representing survivors told German media outlets that the indictment against the woman was a “milestone” in legal responsibility. “The fact that a secretary, who was a cog in the system, is brought to justice, is an innovation,” he said.
The woman, Irmgard P. (her full name has not been made public, as is customary in Germany), served in the camp between June 1943 and April 1945. According to the prosecution, she confessed that most of the official correspondence passed through her hands and that she knew that prisoners were being murdered. However, she denied that she knew the numbers involved or that gas was used to murder them. She said her office window did not face the interior of the camp so she was not aware of what was happening there.
Some 115,000 prisoners were held at Stutthof camp during World War II, and 65,000 were murdered, most of them Jews. During the investigation of the case, which took five years, testimony was taken from Holocaust survivors in Israel and the United States. Historians were also asked to evaluate the extent of the woman’s responsibility for the murder. In Germany, indictment is a preliminary phase in the opening of legal proceedings, and now the court must rule whether the indictment is sufficient to begin proceedings against the woman. Because she was under 21 years of age at the time of the alleged crimes, she will be tried in juvenile court.
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In recent years, indictments have been served against individuals who played minor roles in concentration and extermination camps for accessory to murder of inmates at the camps where they served, even if it was not proven that they took part in the actual murder. Most of those indicted were guards at the camp, but among them are also a cook and an accountant. Two of them, Oskar Groening and Reinhold Hanning, who served in Auschwitz, were convicted of mass murder but died before they could serve their sentence. Others were found incompetent to stand trial.
In July, Bruno Dey, a 93-year-old former SS guard at Stutthof was convicted of aiding in the murder of 5,230 people, most of them Jews. Dey was sentenced to two years in prison. He was also tried in juvenile court despite his age, because his crimes were committed when he was a minor. The German prosecution is now considering indicting dozens of other people who worked at various jobs in the camps of Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Neuengamme and Mauthausen concentration camps.