News / Europe

Germany Riveted at Start of Neo-Nazi Murder Trial

Beate Zschaepe, a member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) stands in the court before the start of her trial in Munich, May 6, 2013.
Beate Zschaepe, a member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) stands in the court before the start of her trial in Munich, May 6, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
The surviving member of a German neo-Nazi cell went on trial on Monday for a series of racist murders that scandalized Germany and exposed authorities' inability or reluctance to recognize right-wing hate crime.

The chance discovery of the gang, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which had gone undetected for more than a decade, has forced Germany to acknowledge it has a more militant and dangerous neo-Nazi fringe than previously thought.

Beate Zschaepe, 38, is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, as well as two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies.

"With its historical, social and political dimensions, the NSU trial is one of the most significant of post-war German history," lawyers for the family of the first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, said in a statement.

The case has shaken a country that believed it had learned the lessons of the past, and reopened a debate about whether it must do more to tackle the far-right and lingering racism.

Zschaepe, wearing a black jacket and white shirt, chatted with her lawyers before the judges entered, her back turned to the television cameras. One of four other defendants charged with assisting the NSU hid under a dark hood.

Outside the courthouse, German-Turkish community groups and anti-racism demonstrators held up banners including one that read: "Hitler-child Zschaepe, you will pay for your crimes."

About 500 police officers provided tight security. Members of the public and media, who lined up before dawn for a chance to attend, even had their hair searched before being allowed in.

The existence of the gang came to light in November 2011 when the two men believed to have founded the NSU with  Zschaepe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and set their caravan ablaze.

In the charred vehicle, police found the gun used in all 10 murders and a grotesque DVD claiming responsibility for them, in which the bodies of the victims were pictured with a cartoon Pink Panther totting up the number of dead.

"I'm the one"

After the suicides, Zschaepe is believed to have set fire to a flat she shared with the men in Zwickau, in east Germany. Four days later, she turned herself in to police in her hometown of Jena, saying: "I'm the one you're looking for."

For the victims' families, the trial will be the first chance to come face-to-face with Zschaepe, whose blank expression and resolute silence since her arrest have left people struggling to make sense of her motives.

"The Banality of Evil" read the front page of the newspaper Die Welt. The mass-circulation Bild wrote that Zschaepe "looks like a woman at the supermarket till" rather than someone "rabidly mad or explosive."

Few expect Zschaepe to explain herself at the trial. The Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, wrote to Zschaepe last year addressing her as "Dear Sister" and urging her to use the trial to spread far-right ideology.

Hearings are scheduled into early 2014, with Zschaepe's estranged relatives and the parents of Mundlos and Boehnhardt due to testify.

As teenagers in Jena, the trio were known to authorities to be involved in racist hate crimes and bomb making, but they escaped arrest and assumed new identities.

Prosecutors say they hose shopkeepers and small business owners as easy targets to try to hound immigrants out of Germany. Some of the victims' relatives came under suspicion because police simply did not consider a far-right motive.

"During the investigations they were either treated as suspects, or as relatives of criminals," said lawyer Angelika Lex.

Parliament is conducting an inquiry into how police and intelligence agencies failed to link the murders or share information about the far-right threat.

The trial was postponed by a fortnight after an uproar over the court's failure to guarantee Turkish media a seat.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid