Neo-Nazi trial puts spot­light on fate of mi­grants in Ger­many

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - WORLD NEWS - FRANK JORDANS

MU­NICH — A Ger­man court found the main de­fen­dant guilty on Wed­nes­day in a string of neo-Nazi killings more than a decade ago — a high-pro­file trial that raised fresh ques­tions about the treat­ment of mi­grants at a time when Ger­many is grap­pling with an un­prece­dented in­flux of refugees and surg­ing sup­port for a far-right party bent on keep­ing the coun­try white.

The Mu­nich court sen­tenced Beate Zschaepe, the only known sur­vivor of the Na­tional So­cial­ist Un­der­ground group, to life in prison in the killings of 10 peo­ple — most of them mi­grants — who were gunned down be­tween 2000 and 2007. The group’s name, of­ten short­ened to NSU, al­ludes to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.

Zschaepe was also found guilty of mem­ber­ship in a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, bomb at­tacks that in­jured dozens and sev­eral lesser crimes in­clud­ing a string of rob­beries. Four men were also found guilty of sup­port­ing the group in var­i­ous ways and given prison terms of be­tween 2 1/2 and 10 years.

While the ver­dict was widely wel­comed by vic­tims’ fam­i­lies as well as anti-racism cam­paign­ers and main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the court’s fail­ure to in­ves­ti­gate the se­cre­tive wider net­work of peo­ple sym­pa­thetic to the Na­tional So­cial­ist Un­der­gound group’s cause drew crit­i­cism.

The ver­dict “is a first and very im­por­tant step,” said Gamze Kubasik, the daugh­ter of Mehmet Kubasik, who was shot dead by Zschaepe’s two ac­com­plices in the west­ern city of Dort­mund on April 4, 2006. “I just hope all other sup­port­ers of the NSU are found and con­victed.”

Uli Grotsch, a law­maker for the cen­tre-left So­cial Demo­cratic Party who par­tic­i­pated in a par­lia­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the au­thor­i­ties’ han­dling of the case, said many ques­tions re­main unan­swered.

“The rel­a­tives want to know why their fa­ther, brother or son had to die,” said Grotsch, adding that Zschaepe and her two de­ceased ac­com­plices — Uwe Mund­los and Uwe Boehn­hardt — must have had nu­mer­ous sup­port­ers. “We’re deal­ing with a well-or­ga­nized neo-Nazi net­work that is still op­er­at­ing in se­cret and we can’t rule out that a se­ries of mur­ders like that of the NSU can hap­pen again at any time.”

Zschaepe was ar­rested in 2011, shortly af­ter set­ting fire to the apart­ment she, Mund­los and Boehn­hardt shared in the east­ern town of Zwickau. Hours ear­lier Mund­los had killed Boehn­hardt and then him­self in what in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve was an at­tempt to evade ar­rest.

The trio had gone into hid­ing in 1998, re­solv­ing to kill peo­ple “for anti-Semitic or other racist mo­ti­va­tions” in or­der to in­tim­i­date eth­nic mi­nori­ties and desta­bi­lize the Ger­man state, ac­cord­ing to the Mu­nich court’s pre­sid­ing judge, Man­fred Goetzl.

Although no ev­i­dence was found prov­ing that Zschaepe had been phys­i­cally present dur­ing the rob­beries and at­tacks, Goetzl said her con­tri­bu­tion to the trio’s crimes dur­ing its 14 years on the run was “es­sen­tial.”

In par­tic­u­lar, he cited Zschaepe’s role in dis­tribut­ing a ma­cabre video in which the Na­tional So­cial­ist Un­der­ground claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the killings af­ter her ac­com­plices’ deaths. Fea­tur­ing a car­toon “Pink Pan­ther” char­ac­ter, the video con­tained pic­tures the men had taken as their vic­tims lay dead or dy­ing.

Eight of those killed were eth­nic Turks, shak­ing the 3 mil­lion-strong Turk­ish com­mu­nity in Ger­many and prompt­ing an­gry con­dem­na­tion from Ankara.

Mehmet Daimag­uler, a lawyer for the vic­tims’ rel­a­tives, said that “for my clients it was im­por­tant to un­der­stand why the state did not pro­tect them.”

For years the coun­try’s se­cu­rity agen­cies failed to con­sider a pos­si­ble far-right mo­tive be­hind the killings and bomb at­tacks, fo­cus­ing in­stead on whether the vic­tims had ties to or­ga­nized crime — a line of in­ves­ti­ga­tion for which there was never any ev­i­dence.

“Here the ques­tion of an in­sti­tu­tional racism arises,” said Daimag­uler.

The myr­iad mis­takes made by Ger­man au­thor­i­ties, as well as their use of paid far-right in­for­mants and shred­ding of doc­u­ments re­lated to the case af­ter the neo-Nazi link came to light, have made the NSU case a by­word for the Ger­man se­cu­rity agen­cies’ fraught ap­proach to mi­grants.

Anti-mi­grant sen­ti­ment that un­der­pinned the group’s ide­ol­ogy was par­tic­u­larly strong in east­ern Ger­many dur­ing the early 1990s, when Mund­los, Boehn­hardt and Zschaepe were in their late teens and early 20s. The pe­riod saw a string of at­tacks against mi­grants and the rise of far-right par­ties.

Anti-racism cam­paign­ers have drawn par­al­lels be­tween that era and the vi­o­lence di­rected to­ward asy­lum seek­ers in Ger­many in re­cent years, which has also seen the emer­gence of the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many. The party came third in last year’s elec­tion af­ter cam­paign­ing against immigration with posters of a preg­nant white woman and the slo­gan: “New Ger­mans? We’ll make them our­selves.”

The head of Ger­many’s Cen­tral Coun­cil of Jews, Josef Schuster, warned Wed­nes­day that the party’s suc­cess in elec­tions has given far-right ex­trem­ists a plat­form in par­lia­ment “and thereby new op­por­tu­ni­ties to un­der­mine our democ­racy.”

Beate Zschaepe

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