As German neo-Nazi trial ends, families still seek answers

Blanche Robertson
July 14, 2018

A court in Munich is due to conclude the trial of Beate Zschaepe, the only known survivor of a far-right cell suspected of killing nine people from ethnic minorities and a police officer, in a case that shocked Germany when it came to light in 2011.

The scandal surrounding the neo-Nazi NSU has led to criticism of police and security agencies, and accusations of institutional racism. But the court convicted her of 10 counts of murder and handed out its toughest sentence.

Judges sentenced Beate Zschaepe to life in prison for murder, membership of a terrorist organization, bomb attacks that injured dozens and several lesser crimes including a string of robberies.

The German public first learned about the existence of the NSU in November 2011, when two members of the group reportedly died in a murder-suicide following an unsuccessful bank robbery.

Scharmer said he feared a group like the NSU could strike again, despite the life sentence Zschaepe could receive Wednesday and the deaths of her two alleged accomplices, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos.

German authorities blame the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground for a string of violent crimes including the racially motivated killing of nine men, the killing of a policewoman, two bombings and more than a dozen bank robberies over a period of nearly 14 years.

The NSU killed eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek citizen, and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, but the murders remained long unsolved. Zschaepe denied taking part in the murders, but said she should have done more to stop them from happening.

Ismail Yozgat and his wife Ayse Yozgat, whose 21-year-old son was killed by the NSU in 2006, appeared devastated when they left the courthouse on Wednesday.

He also accused Chancellor Angela Merkel for not honoring her promise to uncover all the facts about NSU murders.

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Unrepentant neo-Nazi Andre Eminger was found not guilty of complicity but sentenced to two and a half years for backing a terrorist organisation, a verdict that was greeted with applause from neo-Nazi supporters in the courtroom.

Hours earlier Mundlos had killed Boehnhardt and then himself in what investigators believe was an attempt to evade arrest.

Lawyers for the relatives say the second-longest trial in German post-war history failed to examine the security agencies' mistakes and the role their informants in the neo-Nazi scene played during the almost 14 years the NSU evaded arrest. The case has gained additional significance with the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in recent years.

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"The accused Zschaepe took on the far-right views of her environment", said the judge, adding that she formed a firm bond with racist friends.

The case against Zschaepe hinged heavily on the question of whether judges would hold her equally culpable for the killings as her two dead accomplices.

The Guardian reported, "The sentence was largely as a result of the state prosecutor's opinion that even though the court could not prove Zschaepe had been present at any of the crime scenes, she "had been aware of, contributed to, and in her own way co-piloted" the neo-Nazi cell's killings".

Zschaepe refused to answer any questions from the families' lawyers during the trial.

Towards the end, she expressed regret for the families" loss and described herself as "morally guilty" but urged the court not to convict her "for something that I neither wanted nor did'.

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