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Wolf Molkentin: Why a leftist lawyer defends the former concentration camp secretary


The former concentration camp typist Irmgard Furchner had to go to court at the age of 96. Her lawyer Wolf Molkentin talks about his motivation, his client and the failures in prosecuting Nazi crimes.

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Wolf Molkentin: "My mandate worked in the midst of SS men who were experienced in violence"

Photo: Frank Molter / DER SPIEGEL

The main trial against Irmgard Furchner, a former typist from the Stutthof concentration camp, is due to begin next week.

A total of 65,000 people were killed there by 1945.

The public prosecutor's office accuses Furchner of completing the insidious and gruesome murder in 11,412 cases.

In 18 other cases she is charged with aiding and abetting attempted murder.

More than 130 journalists have been accredited for the process.

A special courtroom is being built on the site of the China Logistic Center in Itzehoe.



Molkentin, what is the condition of your 96-year-old client?


You will see that in court.

Unfortunately, I can't say more about that.


It is said that you have not been vaccinated against Covid-19?


That's right.

The court will take this into account and observe distance rules accordingly.


1954, 1964 and 1982 your client was questioned as a witness about her activities in Stutthof.

She said she had no contact with detainees and had not heard of the killings - she neither saw nor typed such orders.

She said at the time that she could not remember any details from the correspondence.

Is this representation still valid?


She was a witness then, not accused like now.

Therefore, your statements may not be used in this process.

Unless she explicitly agrees.


Politically, you are on the left.

Have you hesitated to take on this mandate?


For my entire life I have dealt with Nazi crimes and the political background of the so-called Volksgemeinschaft.

At first you don't get the idea of ​​wanting to take on such a mandate.

But on closer inspection, it seemed right to do it.




As a criminal defense attorney, I am committed to the interests of the respective client, but I am not on his side in terms of content. Still, I would not defend a staunch Nazi. This procedure is about a criminal investigation, which I think makes sense. A skillful defense contributes to this, whether in the end there may be a conviction or an acquittal. With every mandate there are limits that should not be exceeded. Here it is important to me that a dignified framework is maintained for the victims' witnesses and the determination of the main acts. On the other hand, the allegation of state aid raises legal questions which, as defense counsel, I am interested in clarifying.


Your client was 19 years old at the time, and today she is 96. Because Irmgard Furchner was so young at the time of the crime, she is legally considered an adolescent.

What are the implications?


Should there be a conviction, it would follow juvenile law with a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment.

In the present case, the sentence would certainly be lower than if convicted as an adult.


Can an adolescent who sat at a desk and did not pick up a weapon herself be responsible for the murder of thousands of people?


An allegation of state aid has been raised. Aid can also be done from the desk if that activity has been said to have encouraged the main acts. That would then have to have happened consciously and deliberately, in relation to the murders themselves and also to one's own contribution. A court can only deduce this from the external circumstances: What has imposed itself and how? In the case of a typist who initially only did her job, the bar for criminal liability could have to be set higher. In the present case, it will also depend on whether there was knowledge of the characteristics of the murder, cruelty or maliciousness. Otherwise there would only be an aid to manslaughter, which would then be statute-barred.


For many decades, the lower batches in the concentration camps had little to fear from the German judiciary. The fact that Furchner is now being charged has to do with the 2011 trial of security guard John Demjanjuk on charges of complicity in the murder of 28,000 people in the Sobibór extermination camp. The judgment of the Munich Regional Court II signaled at the time: Anyone who has participated in the »extermination machine« is complicit and can be held responsible. Since then, several SS guards have been sentenced. Does this mean that your client is likely to be convicted?


I wouldn't say that. She may have found out about the murders from documents. But one can also imagine that with terms like "special treatment", as the Nazis called the murder of their opponents, the communication was coded in such a way that a secretary could not necessarily decipher it. My mandate worked in the midst of SS men experienced in violence - but must she have shared their level of knowledge? In my opinion, this is not necessarily the obvious choice. It is possible that a typist like Ms. Furchner was shielded. A security guard, on the other hand, stood on a tower, overlooked what was happening, walked past the camps and got other insights.


There are execution orders from Furchner's boss, camp commandant Paul Werner Hoppe, which clearly went through Furchner's desk.


Yes, that may be true.

But execution orders came from the Reich Administration Office.

Ms. Furchner is not accused of that either.


The public prosecutor's office is convinced that Irmgard Furchner knew how murder was carried out in Stutthof: People were killed with a gun in the neck, gassed with Zyklon B and injected with poison.

Many prisoners were tortured, frozen to death, starved to death, and worked their way to death.


They were insidious and cruel acts.

I would not take it for granted that this went over Ms. Furchner's desk in such a clear manner that she could draw these far-reaching conclusions, including those that were criminally relevant.

I look forward to the presentation of the relevant evidence.


There were women in comparable positions who stated that they knew about the mass killings.


There are individual statements that go in this direction, but that does not mean that these women can also speak for Ms. Furchner.

The main hearing will show to what extent such evidence allows conclusions to be drawn about what Ms. Furchner actually knew.


Stefan Hördler, historian and expert on Wehrmacht and SS structures, wrote an opinion on behalf of the Itzehoe public prosecutor.

Accordingly, Irmgard Furchner knew about the mass deaths in the camp and the targeted mass killings from the summer of 1944. How important is the report in court?


That also depends on when it is introduced into the process.

If the report should be presented right at the beginning, a clear result would be in the room.

I would find that problematic.


According to the public prosecutor's office, Furchner was a responsible cog in the inhuman system of a concentration camp.

Wasn't it already clear before the Demjanjuk trial that guards and secretaries were such cogs?


The Demjanjuk procedure has set the course and also drawn attention to typists.

The failures in prosecuting the Nazi crimes are evident.

The Stutthofer camp commandant Hoppe was only convicted as an assistant.

He had claimed to have only passed orders, which then led to a mild verdict at the time.

It's scandalous.

But it is not enough to discredit this procedure.

We are in 2021 and these questions should be addressed.


The SS guard Bruno Dey was outraged that more than 75 years after the end of the war he was still being tried.

What do you think?

Molkentin: At

such an old age, you can find that unreasonable and you can have the desire to avoid such a procedure. But you could also look at it in such a way that at the end of your life you can face something and maybe do something right. Sure: the idea should have come up earlier to illuminate the role of a secretary in the concentration camp from a legal point of view. But better late than never.

Source: spiegel

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