A Holocaust survivor told a shocked courtroom in Germany on Tuesday how starving inmates ate the body parts of dead prisoners to stay alive.
Speaking via video link from her home in Australia, Risa Silbert, 93, told the Itzehoe Regional Court in Shleswig-Holstein about the daily atrocities she and other inmates faced at Stutthof concentration camp.
“Stutthof was hell,” she said.
“We had cannibalism in the camp. People were hungry and they cut up the corpses and wanted to take out the liver.”
Silbert was born in 1929 to a Jewish family in Klaipėda, Lithuania, and was brought to Stutthoff in Poland in August 1944 with her mother and sister. Her father and brother were murdered in 1941 by German collaborators.
In the camp, the inmates were expected to report at 4 or 5 in the morning. Those too weak to stand were beaten by guards.
“None of us were addressed by name,” Silbert testified.
“We were just called ‘bastards’.”
Due to a typhus epidemic, corpses were everywhere. At one point, Silbert and her sister hid under the corpses to avoid the SS soldiers.
Silbert’s mother died of typhoid fever in January 1945 — one of more than 60,000 people who have died at the camp since its inception in 1939. In mid-April of that year, as Nazi Germany’s power waned, the remaining prisoners were marched 53 miles east to the town of Danzig, where they were then shipped across the Baltic Sea to Holstein.
The prisoners were liberated by British soldiers on 3 May.
Silbert’s poignant testimony is the latest development in the trial of Irmgard Furchner, who worked as a secretary at Stutthof from June 1943 to April 1945.
Furchner, now 97, is accused of assisting in the murder of more than 11,000 people during her tenure at the camp. She is being tried as a minor because she was not yet 21 years old at the time of the alleged crimes.
Despite receiving daily letters and radio messages from Stutthof’s commander, Paul Werner Hoppe, Furchner claims she was unaware of the camp’s murderous plans.
Speaking to Der Spiegel last fall, her lawyer Wolf Molkentin stated that “my client worked among SS men who had experience of violence – but does that mean she was sharing their knowledge?”
‘That is not necessarily self-evident,’ he argued.
Furchner’s alleged ignorance, however, is questioned by the claim that her husband, a former SS soldier, testified in 1954 that he knew that prisoners were being murdered in the camp.
Historian Stefan Hoerdler, another prominent voice in the case, claimed that Furchner hid SS soldiers in her apartment after the war, including Hoppe.
Hoppe, who died in 1974, spent just nine years in prison in the 1950s for being an accomplice to murder.
Furchner was first expected to appear in court last September. In a handwritten letter to the judge, the non-year-old said he did not want to appear “because of my advanced age and physical limitations”.
“I want to save myself the embarrassment and not make myself the laughingstock of humanity,” she wrote.
Furchner’s trial date was further delayed when she slipped out of her nursing home outside Hamburg just hours before the trial was due to begin.
Initially, Furchner escaped by taxi, but a few hours later she was arrested and held, where a doctor judged her fit to stand trial.
At the time, Christoph Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee told the press that Furchner’s actions had “showed incredible disregard for both the rule of law and Holocaust survivors.”
According to the Associated Press, the case against Furchner is based on a German legal precedent that any person who helped the Nazi concentration camps can be held responsible as an accomplice to the crimes committed there, even without direct evidence of participation in a specific incident. .
Furcher’s special prosecution was made possible by the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, a former Red Army soldier who was captured by Germans and trained as an SS guard before being stationed at the Sobibór extermination camp.
After an 18-month trial — in which a Nazi expert called him “the tiniest of the small fish” — Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in aiding and inciting the deaths of 28,060 Jews.
The judge in the Demjanjuk case ruled that no matter how small a person’s role had been, they were a “cog” in the “machine of destruction” and should be held accountable.
Earlier this month, The Post reported on Germany’s efforts to battle how the remaining Nazi accomplices — all aged 90 or older — will stand trial for the Holocaust.
Orchestrated by Führer Adolf Hitler, the Nazi regime of terror saw the murder of at least 6 million Jews, as well as 5 million Poles, Soviet citizens and prisoners of war, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Afro-Germans.
In June, the Neuruppin Regional Court sentenced 101-year-old Josef Schütz to five years in prison for his role in the deaths of more than 3,000 inmates at the Sachsenhausen camp.
Like Furchner, Schütz vehemently denied the allegations. He is unlikely to ever go to jail because of the lengthy appeals process.
But as the accused continue to try to evade justice, survivors’ testimonies paint a vivid picture of the horrors inflicted on inmates.
At Furchner’s trial last December, Stutthof survivor Joseph Salomonovic, 83, testified that “maybe [Furchner] has trouble sleeping at night.”
“I know I do,” he told the court.
For her part, Risa Silbert says she still bears physical scars from the beatings in the camp. She also insisted that Furchner plead guilty to her crimes.
“If she was working as the commander’s secretary, she knew exactly what was happening,” Silbert said.