Opinion: Neo-Nazi terror trial underlines German state failure

That Beate Zschäpe has been sentenced to life in prison for the murders of 10 people is small consolation for the victims' relatives. They have been abandoned by the state and Chancellor Angela Merkel, says Hans Pfeifer.
Hans Pfeifer
Hans Pfeifer

The chancellor was dressed entirely in black when she stepped up to the lectern to deliver her promise in February 2012. It was a winter day on which the whole of the German government gathered to grieve. The victims were neither famous nor powerful. With one exception, they were all migrants. That is exactly why Beate Zschäpe and rightwing extremists from the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU) killed them: The group roamed Germany for six years – robbing, bombing and killing. The motive: racially driven hate of immigrants. Yet no one stopped them: Not the police, not the intelligence services, not the government.

Victims as suspects

Worse still: German authorities suspected the victims and their families of being the criminals – of being Turkish drug dealers and mafia members. Racist cliches defined police investigations. That sad fact was a declaration of moral bankruptcy for Germany, a country that prides itself on having dealt with the historical sins of its Nazi past. It was, in the end, a total governmental failure.

DW's Hans Pfeifer

The chancellor apologized to victims' families on that February day in 2012. She also made a promise: "We will do everything we can to solve the murders and to bring accomplices and those behind the crimes to justice." It was a big promise. That promise of justice was also the one thing the bereaved could pin their hopes on. Now, at the conclusion of what was one of the most spectacular cases to be tried in a German court for decades, one thing has become crystal clear: That promise has been broken.

Read more: Racism is socially acceptable in Germany, says lawyer in neo-Nazi trial 

For, government and judicial efforts to completely solve the crime did not last long. Attention quickly turned to the most prominent figure in the case, the main suspect, Beate Zschäpe, who has now been convicted. The network of accomplices and far-right supporters so essential for perpetrators to carry out their crimes and the shameful role that German intelligence services played in the failings of the investigation all faded from memory. Even the chancellor seems to have forgotten it. Intelligence services and ministries tasked with solving the crime have continued to obfuscate and stonewall to this day. And only a small segment of the network behind the crimes ever appeared in court.

Hate is seated in parliament

Yet, despite all that, the failure of the state is more grave still. In 2012 the chancellor promised to go after those who "persecute others because of their origins, skin color or religion." But today, six years later, racism and ethnic ideologies have once again found a place in German society, even in its parliament. And with the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), it has found an aggressive voice for its hate. That, despite the fact that the NSU trial has proved one thing unequivocally: Hate kills.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

10 victims, 10 tragedies

Nine of the 10 victims were of foreign heritage, but they had all made Germany their home when they were killed. The 10th victim was a German police officer. Every one of them was shot in cold blood.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Enver Simsek

On September 9, 2000, the florist Enver Simsek, pictured with his wife, was shot eight times. The 38-year-old father of two sold flowers near a small parking lot in the southern city of Nuremberg. Simsek, who migrated from Turkey to Germany in 1986, is believed to be the first murder victim in the NSU series of racially motivated killings.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Abdurrahim Ozudogru

Also in Nuremberg, Turkish-born tailor Abdurrahim Ozudogru was shot on June 13, 2001 in his alteration shop. He was 49 years old with a daughter who was 19 at the time of his murder.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Suleyman Taskopru

Later that month, on June 27, 2001 Suleyman Taskopru was shot dead in his father's fruit and vegetable shop in Hamburg. He was 31 years old and had a three-year-old daughter.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Habil Kilic

On August 29 of the same year, 38-year-old Habil Kilic, who was also a fruit and vegetable grocer, was killed in his shop in Munich. Like Taskopru, he was shot in the head. His wife and his 12-year-old daughter later left Germany.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Mehmet Turgut

Mehmet Turgut lived in Hamburg, but was visiting a friend in the eastern German city of Rostock and helping out at a Doner kebab fast food restaurant when he was shot on February 25, 2004. He was killed by three bullets to the head.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Ismail Yasar

Ismail Yasar was shot five times in his doner kebab restaurant in Nuremberg on June 9, 2005. A customer found him behind the counter. The 50-year-old had three children.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Theodoros Boulgarides

Just a few days later, on June 15, 2005, Theodoros Boulgarides was shot dead in Munich in his lock and key service shop. He was the only victim with Greek heritage. The 41-year-old father of two was the NSU's seventh murder victim.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Mehmet Kubasik

On a busy street at noon on April 4, 2006 in the western city of Dortmund, Turkish-born Mehmet Kubasik was killed by several shots to the head in his small convenience store. The 39-year-old left behind a wife and three children.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Halit Yozgat

In Kassel on April 6, 2006, Halit Yozgat was also shot in the head. He was killed in the internet cafe he ran with his father. Twenty-one years old, Turkish-born but with a German passport, Yozgat was taking night school classes to graduate from high school.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Michele Kiesewetter

Michele Kiesewetter, a 22-year-old police officer, was shot dead on April 25, 2007 in the southwestern city of Heilbronn. She was the NSU's 10th and final murder victim.

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