Holocaust survivor rebukes former concentration camp worker's court defence as an 'impossibility'

ITV News' Rachel Younger reports on the court sentencing of Irmgard Furchner in northern Germany

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer James Gray

A Holocaust survivor has said it is an "impossibility" that a former concentration camp secretary did not know of the atrocities that were committed there during World War II.

On Tuesday, Irmgard Furchner, who was the secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, was handed a two-year suspended sentence at the Itzehoe state court in northern Germany.

She was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of more than 10,000 people and alleged to have "aided and abetted those in charge of the camp in the systematic killing of those imprisoned there between June 1943 and April 1945 in her function as a stenographer and typist in the camp commandant’s office".

During the trial Furchner’s defence lawyers had asked for her to be acquitted, claiming the evidence hadn’t shown beyond doubt that she knew about the systematic killings at the camp, meaning there was no proof of intent as required for criminal liability.

But Manfred Goldberg, who endured two separate spells at Stutthof, described how Furchner could have witnessed the murders of thousands of prisoners.

He said: "There was an electrified fence around the camp, high voltage, and, particularly during my second stay, there were Jewish inmates alive who by then were so emaciated that they were just skin and bone, and some of them periodically shuffled toward the electrified fence to end their suffering by electrocuting themselves.

"But more often than not the guards in one of these guard towers, which were dotted around the perimeter, would spot them and if they [prisoners] didn’t obey his order to turn round and walk back they would shoot them and this was done publicly, including in areas which were close to where she worked, so it’s an impossibility."

Mr Goldberg added that the crematorium, which was built next to the gas chamber, had a "very tall chimney" which would expel smoke and flames out of it 24 hours a day.

Manfred Goldberg told ITV News it was an 'impossibility' that Furchner did not know of the atrocities committed at the Stutthof concentration camp

"So, how she could not have noticed and wondered what that was. She couldn’t have mistaken it for a bakery I don’t think," he added.

The prosecution against Furchner made the same argument, saying she would have been able to see large parts of the camp from her office, including an area where new prisoners arrived.

In her closing statement, Furchner said she was sorry for what had happened and regretted that she had been at Stutthof at the time.

She was tried in juvenile court because she was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes.

'When bodies were being burned you could actually see smoke and smell and flames coming out of the chimney'

The former secretary fled her retirement home to avoid the start of her trial in September last year, but was later picked up by police and placed in detention for several days.

Initially a collection point for Jews and non-Jewish Poles removed from Danzig, now the Polish city of Gdansk, Stutthof was used as a so-called "work education camp" from about 1940, where forced labourers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens, were sent to serve sentences and often died.

From mid-1944, tens of thousands of Jews from ghettos in the Baltics and from Auschwitz filled the camp along with thousands of Polish civilians swept up in the brutal Nazi suppression of the Warsaw uprising.

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Others incarcerated there included political prisoners, accused criminals, people suspected of homosexual activity and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

More than 60,000 people were killed there by being given lethal injections of gasoline or phenol directly to their hearts, shot or starved.

Others were forced outside in winter without clothing until they died of exposure, or were put to death in a gas chamber.