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.
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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs