Neo-Nazi Nuremberg: Germany forced to confront its dark side - Europe - World - The Independent

Neo-Nazi Nuremberg: Germany forced to confront its dark side

The long-awaited appearance in court of a far-right group accused of murdering immigrants has revived awkward questions for the country

Munich

The four men and one woman charged in Germany’s biggest Nazi-linked trial since 1945 will find it hard to distance themselves from the racist ideology behind the string of murders they are accused of: when they appear in a heavily guarded Munich courtroom on Monday, some will have the creed of xenophobia etched indelibly into their skin.

“Die Jew Die” are the words tattooed on to André Eminger’s stomach. On his leg, the 33-year-old east German also sports a black sun tattoo comprising three swastikas. The face of the Nazi cult hero Horst Wessel is tattooed on his chest, and the image of a Second World War German soldier adorns  his arm.

With Beate Zschäpe, 38, the suspected ringleader, Eminger and three others are charged with complicity in the worst acts of neo-Nazi violence in Germany since the Second World War. They include the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman, and two bomb attacks which inflicted appalling wounds from which many of the victims will never recover.

“Their motive was to unsettle citizens of foreign origin in the hope that they would start leaving Germany out of fear for their own safety,” is how Harald Range, the chief state prosecutor charged with collecting evidence in the case, explains the background to the killings.

The victims were nearly all immigrant shopkeepers who were shot in the face or side of the head without warning and at point-blank range. In one case, a Turkish shopkeeper was severely injured when a nail bomb in a cake box exploded in his face. Another nail bomb ripped through a crowded Cologne street market and injured dozens.

The case has provoked shock and outrage in Germany, particularly within the country’s three-million-strong Turkish immigrant community, and especially because for nearly a decade the murders went unsolved. Instead of exploring the possibility that neo-Nazis were behind the attacks, the police claimed that “Islamists” or an immigrant “mafia” were responsible.

The inability of the police and intelligence services to solve the case has prompted the head of the German Turkish community to accuse both of institutionalised racism. Last year the head of German intelligence  was forced to resign in belated acknowledgement of his office’s shocking failure to trace the perpetrators for so long.

The killers were finally and unintentionally unmasked 18 months ago –more than a decade after they launched their campaign of racist murders. In November 2011 police were called to investigate a bungled bank robbery in the east German town of Eisenach. They followed a trail which led them to a burned-out caravan. Inside were the charred bodies of Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, who together with Zschäpe co-founded the neo-Nazi terrorist organisation National Socialist Underground, or NSU, in the mid-1990s.

The trio had gone into hiding in 1998 to escape police detection. Realising that they had been run to ground by the police, Mundlos and Boehnhardt took their own lives. On hearing the news, Zschäpe set fire to the flat she shared with the two men in the east German town of Zwickau and went on the run. Four days later she turned herself in to the police. In the meantime, investigators had found the Ceska 83 pistol used to carry out all the anti-immigrant shootings in the charred remains of the caravan.

The murder weapon was not their only discovery; they also unearthed a macabre DVD showing the NSU’s blood-soaked victims. A giggling cartoon “Pink Panther” counts up the “kill” on the video. The terror gang had previously never claimed responsibility for any of the murders.

Zschäpe, who has been idolised by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, is the only surviving member of the NSU. She will bear the brunt of the charges during her trial which is expected to last into next year. It will be attended by scores of co-plaintiffs from the victims’ families who are intent on seeing the perpetrators brought to justice.

Brought up by her mother in communist East Germany, Zschäpe, like many young people, became disillusioned by the mass unemployment that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. “Beate was a young, friendly girl when she came here,” recalls Thomas Grund, a worker at the youth club in the east German town of Jena that Zschäpe used to frequent.

But then she started to hang out with Mundlos and Boehnhardt, two combat-boot-wearing “bovver boys” who espoused the  type of far-right politics and violence against foreigners that suddenly erupted in east Germany in the early 1990s. She eventually took both men as lovers. Unwitting neighbours who lived next door to the flat the trio shared described Zschäpe as a “charming” person who took an interest in their children.

State prosecutor Range says he is convinced that she was no mere accessory to the killings but a participant who acted on “the same level as the others”. Zschäpe has sworn to remain silent during her trial.

Far-right ideology is an issue for Germany that will not go away. Last year a study by the country’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation found that 15.8 per cent of east Germans had extreme-right views. There are an estimated 23,000 far-right sympathisers in the country as a whole, and a recent government survey concluded disturbingly that neo-Nazis were “younger, more violent and more militant”. Der Spiegel has complained that there is “no big push in society” to root out the problem. “The far right is not a major theme in public debate,” it said.

Many in Germany are hoping that Monday’s court case will ring the changes. An intelligence service shake-up is already under way.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week