A 95-year-old woman has been charged as an accessory to the murder of 10,000 people because she worked as a secretary at a Nazi concentration camp, German prosecutors announced on Friday.
The woman has not been named under German privacy laws but has been partially identified by local media as Irmgard F, a German pensioner living in a retirement home in Pinneberg, north of Hamburg.
From June 1943 and April 1945 she worked as a secretary and typist for the commandant of Stutthof concentration camp, in present day Poland.
She is charged with “assisting those responsible for the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet prisoners of war at the camp”.
It is not the first time a woman has been charged over the Holocaust, but the decision to bring charges against a former secretary is the latest in a series of recent attempts to widen prosecutions beyond those directly involved in sending prisoners to their deaths.
Around 65,000 people are believed to have been systematically murdered at Stutthof, around 28,000 of them Jewish. Several thousand died in the camp’s gas chambers. Others were clubbed to death, drowned in mud, killed by lethal injection, shot dead or worked to death.
The majority died of the inhuman conditions at the camp, which saw a series of typhus epidemics. Those deemed too weak to work after recovering were sent to the gas chambers. There are claims the bodies of some of the dead were used to make human soap.
Irmgard F told German radio in 2019 that she only learned of the murders at the camp after the end of the war. She claimed she never entered the camp itself and that her office window faced away from the complex.
She testified in German hearings against more senior figures at the camp in the years following the war that she was unaware gas chambers were operating at the camp. She said she knew that some “executions” took place, but claimed that at the time she believed the victims had committed some crime.
She testified that Paul Werner Hoppe, the camp commandant, was a “conscientious” boss who took his work seriously. Hoppe was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in 1957.
For many years German courts held that only the most senior Nazi leaders could be held responsible for the worst crimes of the Holocaust. That changed in 2011 and prosecutors have since been racing to bring surviving perpetrators to justice while there is still time.
Most famously, Oskar Gröning, an SS accountant known as the “book-keeper of Auschwitz”, was found guilty as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz and sentenced to four years in prison in 2015, but died before he could serve his sentence.
The same year a 91-year-old woman named only as Helga M was charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder because she had worked as a radio operator at Auschwitz. She was later ruled unfit to stand trial.
A number of female concentration camp guards have been tried and convicted, including Irma Grese, the "hyena of Auschwitz", who was hanged by British occupation forces at the Belsen trial n 1945, and Hermine Braunsteiner, the "stomping mare of Majdanek", who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a West German court in 1981.
But he decision to charge Irmgard F, who was never a member of the SS and worked as a civilian employee at Stutthof, is a further widening of the net.
A court will now decide whether she must face trial.