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Germany: Neo-Nazi trial underway for one year now

9.5.2014 17:48, (ROMEA)
The National Socialist Underground (NSU) - Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos, and Uwe Böhnhardt.
The National Socialist Underground (NSU) - Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos, and Uwe Böhnhardt.

Every country knows about a court case from certain periods of its history that not only reflects that history, but also shapes it. For the Czech Republic, that case was the 1990s "Berdych gang" scandal involving police officers assisting a criminal enterprise.

The recent trial of the arson attack on a Romani family in Vítkov or, to a certain extent, the current trial of politician David Rath, charged with corruption, are also key court cases in the Czech Republic. In Germany during the second half of the 20th century, the greatest media attention was drawn immediately after the war to the Nuremberg war crimes trial.

That was followed by the Auschwitz trial during the 1960s, in which mostly doctors who had once been active in Germany's largest concentration camp faced the courts. During the 1970s, the trial of the left-wing terrorists from the Red Army Faction group, known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, left a lasting impact on Germany as well.  

A similar trial is underway now in Hungary. A group of masked men who repeatedly attacked the homes of randomly-selected Romani people with Molotov cocktails, set their houses on fire, and shot dead whole families, including children, as they fled the burning buildings, are appealing the life sentences handed down against them by a first-instance court.

In all of these cases (with the exception of David Rath, of course) these trials involve organized groups who either tried or succeeded at intentionally murdering innocent people. Now in Germany the trial of the NSU (National-Socialist Underground) is being compared to the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States, when Islamic terrorists "suddenly" used hijacked aircraft to attack skyscrapers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Thousands of people perished in that attack. The trial of one of its alleged main architects has not even properly begun yet.  

Just like 9/11 in the USA, the security services in Germany also missed the operations of a highly active criminal group in their country for years. According to the indictment, the group shot dead nine foreigners execution-style, most of them Turks, all over Germany from 2000 - 2006, and in 2007, they shot dead a policewoman.

Moreover, the same group allegedly injured dozens of other people through bombings. Members of the NSU also allegedly robbed a minimum of 12 banks in order to make a living and led a rather comfortable life that included vacations at the Baltic Sea, where they willingly took photos with the tourists they befriended.

After their last bank robbery, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos (the two alleged main perpetrators) were tracked down police and evidently shot one another dead in their caravan rather than face arrest. That is why today the only people on trial in Munich are Beate Zschäpe, the third of the alleged terrorist trio, and four other men charged with supporting the criminal group by procuring weapons and forged identity cards for them.  

Zschäpe, who is the only person who could shed light on the whole case, is still taking advantage of her legal right not to incriminate herself. However, that is just one reason the trial is dragging on so indefinitely.

An unheard-of number of witnesses, roughly 600, have been summoned, including more than 100 people harmed by the trio. Almost 90 of them are being represented by more than 60 attorneys.

All of them have the right to ask questions and make motions, as do the 11 defense attorneys representing the accused. The judicial panel is comprised of eight professional judges including the presiding judge and three alternates.

Still-unanswered questions

The main aim of the trial is to determine whether Zschäpe's (or any other defendants') participation in the murderous attacks can be proven. For example, in the trio's partially burned-down dwelling, several newspaper clippings about the murderous attacks were found with Zschäpe's fingerprints on them.   

That evidence may prove she had the opportunity to read those articles, but it does not prove that she necessarily knew about her roommates' participation in criminal activity. After her friends' suicide, she set the building in which they had been living together on fire for the purpose of destroying evidence without warning the other tenants in advance, which may be sufficient proof for life in prison. 

It was only thanks to enormous luck that an elderly neighbor was saved from that fire. However, it must still be proved that Zschäpe became a member of the terrorist group.  

According to the indictment, she did send a video recording to several media outlets celebrating the murderous attacks. However, the main motivation of these neo-Nazis suspected of murder is still a mystery.

Why, for example, did they never make statements to the media immediately after an attack about their aims and demands, as terrorist groups usually do? Of course, the neo-Nazi arsonists in the Czech Republic and Hungary have behaved this same way.

Their terror was meant to drive the members of the minority groups they were attacking away from these countries precisely because there could never be any certainty about the motivation of the attacks. An additional motivation for not announcing the ideological aims of their attacks could have been the desire to evade capture.

Public objections and the suffering of those harmed

Some lawyers in Germany are now accusing the court of behaving like a parliamentary investigative commission and reviewing questions that are not appropriate because they do not concern the specific guilt of the individuals on trial. Other observers of the trial, on the other hand, object to the fact that representatives of the security services whose professional errors may be to blame for these crimes not being solved in time are not also in the dock. 

The security services did not act in time to prevent any of the murders, and the perpetrators evaded justice for more than 10 years. Instead, those who were harmed (specifically, the surviving loved ones of the murder victims) were suspected by detectives of having been part of whatever criminal structures had sacrificed their relatives; in the case of the murder of the policewoman, the investigation focused for months on a group of traveling German Roma who just happened to have been staying near the crime scene, which led to a sharp protest from the Central Committee of German Sinti and Roma.

During more than 100 hearings now, the court has reviewed the arson attack, the bombings, and the murders; the bank robberies will be addressed in the months to come. Recently the presiding judge extended the scheduling of the trial until the end of this year.  

Any eventual appeals proceeding will end during 2015 at the earliest. The suffering of those harmed - who have been impatiently waiting for a verdict and for the media to report that this case is finally closed - has no end.


Markus Pape, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Násilí z nenávisti, Germany, Neo-Nazism, NSU, Racism



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