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96-year-old who went on the run to skip Nazi war crimes trial arrested in Germany

The woman is accused of having contributed as an 18-year-old to the murder of 11,412 people when she was a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp.
A judicial officer in Itzehoe, Germany, awaits the opening Thursday of the trial of a 96-year-old former secretary at the Stutthof concentration camp.Markus Schreiber / AFP - Getty Images

MAINZ, Germany — A 96-year-old woman was arrested Thursday after fleeing in a taxi before her trial on charges of aiding and abetting mass murder in a Nazi concentration camp, officials in Germany said.

The accused went "on the run” and avoided the planned opening day of the trial, a spokeswoman for the Itzehoe District Court told NBC News on Thursday. The woman was seen leaving her home in a taxi, she added.

Local media reported that the woman had left an old people's home in the city of Quickborn and was heading toward a train station in the small town, which is around 60 miles south of the Danish border.

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The woman was later arrested around 35 miles away in a suburb of Hamburg, police told NBC News.

The court spokeswoman said she would be brought before a judge who would decide whether she was fit to be detained. Given the woman's age and condition, she had not been expected “actively to evade the trial,” she said in a separate interview with The Associated Press.

Identified by German media outlets as Irmgard Furchner, she is accused of contributing as an 18-year-old to the murder of 11,412 people when she was a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp from 1943 to 1945.

Near what is now the Polish city of Gdansk, about 65,000 people, including many Jews, were murdered or died at the camp, according to the Stutthof museum's website.

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The Stutthof concentration camp, where Irmgard Furchner served as a secretary as a teenager.Chris Jackson / Getty Images file

The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Furchner had written to the judge asking to be tried in absentia, a legal impossibility in Germany.

Charges could not be read unless Furchner, who faces trial in a juvenile court because of her age at the time of the alleged crimes, was present in court in person.

The court spokeswoman said that the trial would now start next month.

Although prosecutors convicted major perpetrators — those who issued orders or pulled triggers — in the 1960s "Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials," the practice until the 2000s was to leave lower-level suspects alone.

But more recently a number of elderly people have been charged and convicted of Holocaust crimes as prosecutors rushed to enact justice for the victims of some of the worst mass killings in history.

Bruno D. was convicted last year, at 93, of abetting the murder of 5,230 people as a guard at Stutthof. He was also tried in a youth court despite his age because he was still a juvenile at the time of the crimes.

Oskar Groening, known as the "accountant of Auschwitz" for his job recording valuables seized from deportees on their arrival at the extermination camp, was sentenced to four years in 2016 for accessory to murder, although he died before his sentence could start.

Andy Eckardt reported from Mainz, and Henry Austin from London.