Beate Zschäpe: Neo Nazi Tried For 10 Racist Murders As Germany Grapples With Post-WWII Racism
''Hitler-child Zschaepe, you will pay for your crimes!" people chanted as Beate Zschäepe entered the courtroom past 500 police officers restraining angry mobs in Munich on Monday. Zschäepe's case has thoroughly shaken the German consciousness and has brought complex race-relations to the surface in confronting the worst Neo-Nazi violence in Germany since World War II.
She stands trial this week for racially-motivated murders and bank robberies over 13 years killing eight Turkish men, a Greek man, a policewoman, and carrying out two bombings as the founding member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU).
Zschäepe, 38, denies the murder charges and had a defiant expression on her face as she entered the courtroom, arms folded, and back turned to the camera and the family of her victims. Lawyers for the family of the first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, said: "With its historical, social and political dimensions, the NSU trial is one of the most significant of post-war German history."
This case has revealed uncomfortable fault lines in race relations in Germany because as BBC's Stephen Evans reports "The authorities have admitted things went wrong."
The German police wrongly blamed the Turkish mafia for the murders initially. The head of the German intelligence agencies were forced to resign because the files for right-wing extremists were shredded by police and security agencies in what is being touted as institutional racism when the NSU's activities were uncovered.
The trial was further delayed because Munich judges did not give Turkish and Greek newspapers permission to take up two of the 50 reserved spots inside the courtroom to cover the trial. Germany's highest court demanded the Munich judges allow the newspapers to cover the proceedings, further complicating the already rampant charges of German authorities' racism.
Zschäepe appeared unfazed by the outrage of the protestors outside, and spent most of the hearing tossing her long hair away from her face and nibbling on mints while her lawyers derailed the proceedings claiming the judge was biased against their client.
The lawyers representing 77 relatives of the victims are hoping to get as much support and attention in the case to expose the wider problem of far-right extremism in Germany. “The idea that the NSU only consisted of three very dangerous far-right extremists is very difficult to imagine,” Sebastian Scharmer, one of the lawyers said on Sunday.
The New York Times reports that the group was motivated to kill “as many people as possible only because of their non-German origin,” and also staged two bombings in Cologne, Germany, one in January 2001 and the other in June 2004 where 23 people were wounded but no one was killed.
Victims: Enver Simsek, Abdurrahim Ozudogru, Suleyman Taskopru, Habil Kilic and police woman Michele Kiesewetter, and bottom from left: Mehmet Turgut, Ismail Yasar, Theodorus Boulgarides, Mehmet Kubasik and Halit Yozgat
The Daily Mail reports that the NSU never claimed responsibility for any of the attacks hoping to intimidate Germany's immigrant population so they would start leaving the country on their own. They were functioning underground since 1998 supported by a loose network of Fourth Reich believers, but that all changed in Zschäepe blew up their apartment hoping to destroy mountains of evidence before turning herself in.
The case will continue over the next year as Germans engage in the uncomfortable reality of right-wing extremism in modern Germany. Meanwhile, Zschäepe seems to be speaking volumes of her stance in this case even though she will not be actually speaking on her own behalf. The last time she spoke publicly regarding this case was in November, 2011 when she turned herself in after a botched bank robbery saw her two accomplices dead.
She blew up her apartment to destroy evidence and walked into a police station, turning to authorities and confessing, "I'm the one you're looking for."