Ex-wife of Ger­man neo-Nazi vic­tim speaks out

Eleven years later, Yvonne Voul­gar­idis says fam­i­lies of mi­grants killed by NSU group feel jus­tice is still a long way from be­ing served

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIAN­NIS PA­PADOPOU­LOS

“Au­thor­i­ties tried to present the vic­tims as crim­i­nals to the pub­lic from the very be­gin­ning. Their fam­i­lies were treated like sus­pects.”

Eleven years have passed since Greek lock­smith Theodoros Voul­gar­idis was gunned down at work in Mu­nich and his ex-wife, Yvonne Voul­gar­idis, is still wait­ing for jus­tice.

“I was pushed by in­ter­roga­tors to con­cede that I had mur­dered my hus­band my­self. Ger­man me­dia picked up the ac­cu­sa­tions and ru­mors that were spread by the au­thor­i­ties, so that we were dis­cred­ited in our so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. As a re­sult, I lost my job and the chil­dren were sub­ject to ex­clu­sion at school,” she says. “We will not rest be­fore all the re­spon­si­ble per­sons, in­clud­ing those work­ing for the au­thor­i­ties, are brought to jus­tice.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Mu­nich Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice, on the af­ter­noon of June 15, 2005, Uwe Boehn­hardt and Uwe Mund­los, both mem­bers of neo-Nazi group Na­tional So­cial­ist Un­der­ground (NSU), en­tered Voul­gar­idis’s key shop and ex­e­cuted him with three bul­lets to the head. The weapon was a Ceska 83 pis­tol and had al­ready been used in the stil­lun­solved mur­ders of six Turk­ish men.

Un­til 2011, in­ves­ti­ga­tions were cen­tered on the vic­tims’ friends and fam­ily or at­trib­uted to Turk­ish or­ga­nized crime rings. No one in­ves­ti­gated the pos­si­bil­ity that these were racially mo­ti­vated crimes that could be linked to neo-Nazis.

Yvonne Voul­gar­idis was put through reg­u­lar in­ter­ro­ga­tion ses­sions that lasted three or four hours each. Her 15-yearold daugh­ter was asked whether her fa­ther was a drug dealer or had sex­u­ally abused her.

“Sim­i­lar things hap­pened to wives and rel­a­tives of other vic­tims as well,” says Yvonne Voul­gar­idis, re­fer­ring to other crimes that are now be­ing at­trib­uted to the NSU. These in­clude the mur­ders of eight Turk­ish men be­tween 2000 and 2006, a pipe bomb placed in a part of Cologne with a large Turk­ish pres­ence in 2004 that left dozens in­jured, and the killing of a po­lice­woman in 2007.

“I be­lieve the se­rial killings would not have been pos­si­ble to that ex­tent if the vic­tims had been Ger­man,” says Yvonne Voul­gar­idis. “The po­lice and se­cret ser­vices had in­for­ma­tion about the real per­pe­tra­tors that was sim­ply ig­nored. On the other hand, they knew very well that the vic­tims were or­di­nary hard­work­ing men and not crim­i­nals. The pub­lic was de­lib­er­ately de­ceived for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons,” she adds.

Yvonne Voul­gar­idis stopped be­ing a sus­pect when the NSU’s ac­tiv­i­ties were un­cov­ered and one of its three prin­ci­pal mem­bers, Beate Zschaepe, was ar­rested in 2011 af­ter her two al­leged part­ners com­mit­ted sui­cide. Her trial be­gan three years later and to­day is still on­go­ing even though it had ini­tially been slated to fin­ish in 2015.

“The trial is tak­ing so much time be­cause the court has to eval­u­ate 10 dif­fer­ent cases of mur­der, two bomb at­tacks and rob­beries that took place over more than a decade. While this alone is a real chal­lenge for the in­volved par­ties, since most of the de­fen­dants de­cided to re­main silent, there are per­sis­tent ef­forts by their lawyers to sab­o­tage the pro­ceed­ings. Apart from that, some au­thor­i­ties are still re­fus­ing to as­sist the process and are hold­ing back in­for­ma­tion, doc­u­ments and nec­es­sary ap­provals,” says Yavuz Narin, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Yvonne Voul­gar­idis.

Narin does not be­lieve that the Ger­man au­thor­i­ties were merely mis­taken in their ini­tial lines of in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“To­day we know that there had ob­vi­ously not been that many ‘mis­takes.’ Ger­man au­thor­i­ties, po­lice and in­telli- gence, had much more in­for­ma­tion about the so-called NSU than they were ready to ad­mit. False ac­cu­sa­tions against the vic­tims were spread de­lib­er­ately while avail­able in­for­ma­tion about the real mur­der­ers was de­lib­er­ately held back by au­thor­i­ties. We even found out that in­tel­li­gence ser­vices pre­vented po­lice from ar­rest­ing the ter­ror­ists on many oc­ca­sions. The on­go­ing trial – as well as dif­fer­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mit­tees – helps us to un­der­stand what has hap­pened. On the other hand, we still have no clue how this could hap­pen,” he ar­gues.

The NSU had ini­tially been pre­sented as an iso­lated gang made up of Zschaepe, Boehn­hardt and Mund­los (the sui­cide of the lat­ter two in 2011 led to the un­cov­er­ing of the or­ga­ni­za­tion).

Ac­cord­ing to Narin, since the start of the trial, an abun­dance of ev­i­dence has come to light re­veal­ing “a large net­work of neo-Nazis who sup­ported the NSU by sup­ply­ing them with weapons, money, false doc­u­ments, hide­outs and ex­plo­sives.

“We also found out that some of the most im­por­tant sup­port­ers were em­ployed as in­form­ers for Ger­man in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and po­lice. We know that those in­form­ers were highly paid by au­thor­i­ties to re­port on what was go­ing on among neo-Nazi ex­trem­ists. Un­for­tu­nately, though, in­tel­li­gence ser­vices shred­ded most of the re­ports and doc­u­ments im­me­di­ately af­ter the NSU was ex­posed. Some of the in­form­ers have al­ready died un­der ob­scure cir­cum­stances, just be­fore we were sup­posed to hear them in court. Oth­ers were given new iden­ti­ties and live in dif­fer­ent coun­tries now, unattain­able to the court.”

Theodoros Voul­gar­idis, from Ser­res in north­ern Greece, had lived in Mu­nich for 32 years when he was killed and was mar­ried to his Ger­man wife Yvonne for 20 years be­fore they di­vorced. They had two daugh­ters, aged 15 and 18 at the time of the mur­der.

“We had high ex­pec­ta­tions at the be­gin­ning [of the trial],” says Yvonne Voul­gar­idis. “Sadly we have no­ticed that au­thor­i­ties are not just fail­ing to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter; they are also pre­vent­ing the ef­forts of our lawyers – and jour­nal­ists – to un­cover the back­grounds of the ter­ror­ist group,” she says.

A re­cent re­port by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional shows a dis­turb­ing spike in racially mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence in Ger­many. In 2015, vi­o­lent crimes against racial, eth­nic and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties rose 87 per­cent com­pared with 2013. In the same re­port, ti­tled “Liv­ing in In­se­cu­rity: How Ger­many is Fail­ing Vic­tims of Racist Vi­o­lence” and pub­lished in June, Amnesty stresses in re­gard to the mur­ders of eight Turk­ish men and Voul­gar­idis, that “sev­eral po­lice forces failed to take into ac­count and ef­fec­tively in­ves­ti­gate as­pects of the mur­ders point­ing to a dis­crim­i­na­tory mo­tive.”

“Racism still is an is­sue in Ger­many and it should not be un­der­es­ti­mated again,” says Yvonne Voul­gar­idis.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel dur­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tive event for vic­tims of right-wing ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence, in Ber­lin in Fe­bru­ary 2012. Be­fore 1,200 guests, Merkel said, in ref­er­ence to the NSU: ‘They have brought shame upon our coun­try.’

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