Neo-Nazis who killed five Turks are jailed

Skinheads in Germany's worst racist attack since the war are sentenced to at least 10 years, writes Imre Karacs

Bonn - A German court yesterday meted out stiff sentences to four skinheads convicted of carrying out what is regarded as the country's worst racist attack since the war. The torching ofan immigrant house in Solingen two years ago cost the lives of two women and three girls from a Turkish family, and sparked furious protests worldwide.

Three of those jailed, regarded as juveniles under the law, received the maximum 10 years, but the fourth defendant, who had faced life imprisonment, was given a 15-year sentence. That provoked renewed accusations that the courts remain soft on racist crime.

"The sentences show that Germany has not learned from its fascistic Hitler past," complained Suez Kolsuz, one of 200 Turks who had gathered outside the court in Dusseldorf to hear the verdict. "The judges should have sent out a signal that xenophobia and the murder of foreigners cannot go without proper punishment," said Kemal Kiran, chairman of a local Turkish organisation.

But throughout the 18-month trial, the prosecution's efforts to obtain maximum punishment were hampered by the lack of direct evidence. Their case rested on the testimony of two of the accused: Markus Gartmann, now 25, and Christian Reher, 19. But Gartmann, who at one point in the trial said: "I am infinitely ashamed of what we did," later retracted his confession, and Reher maintained he had acted alone. Reher gave a Nazi salute as he was being driven away after the sentencing.

Police failed to obtain physical evidence from the ruins of the house, and there were allegations from the defendants that the confessions had been obtained under duress. Gartmann contended at one point that the police had threatened to lock him up in a cell with Turks.

The two other defendants, Felix Kohnen, now 18, and Christian Buchholz, 22, pleaded not guilty throughout. "You swine. I am innocent," Kohnen shouted at the chief judge, Wolfgang Steffen, as the sentences were announced.

The house at number 81 Untere Werner Strasse in Solingen, a nondescript industrial town near Cologne, no longer stands. Only a small memorial nearby remains to testify to the horrors of the night two years ago when the home of the Genc family was consumed by the flames of racial hatred.

Although arguments about yesterday's verdict will go on - the three juveniles are appealing against the sentence - the basic facts are beyond dispute. All Germans accept that what happened in Solingen on the night of 29 May 1993 was the manifestation of a latent xenophobia which, despite the lessons of recent history, can still erupt without warning.

The immediate cause of outrage was almost trivial. Three skinheads out looking for a good time on Friday night tried to gatecrash a stag party, but were thrown out by the landlord of the pub and his two Yugoslav friends. In the youths' enraged minds the Yugoslavs became Turks - the lowest form of life in skinhead ideology - and they vowed revenge. They went to a petrol station, bought a can of fuel and walked up to number 81, the "Turks' house" opposite the home of one of the youths.

All 14 people in the house were asleep. The skinheads sneaked in, poured the petrol over a wooden chest and set fire to it with a rolled-up newspaper. They were seen by a neighbour as they fled. The police investigation later established that Gartmann belonged to the neo-Nazi organisation Deutsche Volks Union, and the others had all been neo-Nazi sympathisers.

"We are going to set the Turks' house on fire," one of them had vowed. The other members of the lynch party had kept swastikas and neo-Nazi literature at home.

Solingen came in the wake of a series of racist attacks in Germany, starting in the East after reunification and spreading slowly to the more prosperous western parts. Shocked Germans held candle-lit vigils and mass demonstrations throughout the country, and politicians were quick to condemn xenophobia; although Chancellor Helmut Kohl was conspicuously absent from the funeral of the Solingen victims.

Fears of the country being engulfed by resurgent xenophobia proved unjustified, however. Although violent acts against foreigners continue, especially in the East, there has been no repetition of Solingen, and the neo-Nazi tide appears to be ebbing. The Republican Party, the most prominent extreme right-wing group, did not even come close to gaining a seat in last year's parliamentary elections.

The Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, who had attended the burial of the five victims in Turkey, said yesterday the verdict had made clear that "our state cannot and will not accept violence, whoever it is from or directed against".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine