Saturday, December 4, 2021

Woman who helped Jews avoids court appearance in Nazi trial

Judge in Munich says move is decision of the defendant, whom police suspect may be hiding in Austria

The former secretary of a Nazi concentration camp has gone on the run after skipping out on her court appearance in Munich.

Maria Altmann, 96, who is representing herself at a long-running trial for helping Jewish relatives get free from forced labour and forced sale of property during the Nazi occupation of Austria, skipped the formal start of the proceedings on Thursday.

Judge Karl Stork said Altmann’s legal team’s decision was “a decision of the defendant”. The trial began on Monday with “substantial damage to my dignity”, she said.

Altmann, who told the court she was ill, left the building with a friend and avoided a police escort, according to police.

Investigators suspect Altmann may be hiding in Austria, but have not been able to speak to her because her lawyer refused to let her speak to her.

The trial has already drawn into question Austria’s treatment of Jews during and after the second world war.

Altmann faces 19 counts of accessory to murder, related to her wartime duties at Austria’s Oswiecim concentration camp, near the Polish border.

Prosecutors allege Altmann helped take property from family members of Jews forced into forced labour and from those sentenced to death in a gas chamber before it was completely destroyed. They say she concealed her involvement.

Altmann says she was unaware of the workings of the camp and came to know her employers only after the war’s end.

Altmann is the first person to sue Austria for complicity in Nazi crimes.

The state of both Austria and Germany must also pay compensations to survivors of the Holocaust.

Altmann’s five-day hearing on Thursday came ahead of the resumption of the trials of two other former concentration camp employees.

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