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Konrad Werner: Zschäpe is just returning the favour

Suspected Nazi terrorist Beate Zschäpe has kept silent in all 101 days of her trial. Maybe she's just returning the favour bestowed by the German intelligence agency, who apparently protected her for so long.

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Memorial for murdered Heilbronn police officer in 2007. Photo by Peter Schmelzle

Beate Zschäpe has not said anything for all 101 days of her trial. She’s charged with accessory to the murder of 10 people, the attempted murder of a lot of other people, and for being a member of a Nazi terrorist organization. This is her right, but it’s also really shit. Not only because it’d be interesting to know what she thinks about all the things she probably did, but also because there’s still so much that we don’t know about the worst series of terrorist attacks we’ve had in Germany since, well, since the last time the Nazis tried to kill a lot of people.

From what we do know, there are probably quite a few Verfassungsschutz (the German intelligence agency) officials who are pretty glad that she’s decided to make use of her right. But here are some questions she might know the answers to:

  • How big was the NSU network? It’s constantly reported that the NSU was a trio (the other two are dead now), but that there were lots of helpers (including the four suspects on trial with Zschäpe) but no one knows exactly what they knew about the murders and what level of help they provided.
  • Who saw the murders? One Verfassungsschutz agent was detained for a while in 2006 because he was at the scene of one of the murders and did not offer the police any information. This investigation was dropped for lack of evidence after a search of his home.
  • How were the victims chosen? Nine of them were immigrants or Germans with immigrant roots, all were shopkeepers or stallholders, and all were killed at work – but otherwise there is nothing connecting them with each other or their killers. Even if they were just chosen at random because they were non-white – that still leaves the mystery of Michèle Kiesewetter. No one seems to have any clue at all why two NSU members (presumably the two Uwes) sneaked up on her police car and shot the 22-year-old officer and her colleague in the head in 2007. Though it emerged in 2012 that a policewoman who had covered up NSU activities knew Kiesewetter, and that another policeman who knew Kiesewetter and had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan and had been on duty that day and had been at a railway station where Zschäpe was seen. No one knows what any of this means.
  • Did any Verfassungsschutz agents or informants cover for the NSU or help them commit the murders? Unfortunately, the files on Nazi informants at the Thuringia Verfassungschutz were shredded.

Obviously some of these questions are not necessarily for the trial itself, but since the Bundestag investigative committee has now finished without answering them, it’s all we’ve got. This weight of expectation has led to two very different views of the trial. State prosecutor Herbert Diemer says he’s satisfied with the proceedings so far, and that what has emerged in the past 101 days reflects the results of police investigations. But the victims’ families are angry. Gamze Kubasik, whose dad was shot dead in Dortmund in 2006, told the Tagesspiegel, “I know now that more was lied about and hidden than I thought. What angers me the most is that the federal lawyers are showing no interest in supporting us in searching for the truth. Files are being withheld and our lawyers are not being told information.”

And we also know that this has blown a huge hole in the “integration” of the Turkish communities, which Germans think is so important. One of the lawyers representing the families, Seda Basay-Yildiz, told the Tagesspiegel: “This trial has made clear to me that I will never belong to this society.” Celal Özcan, Europe editor for one of Turkey’s biggest newspapers Hürriyet, told Bild, that the Turks’ trust in German authorities “has been badly shaken.”

But we have learned one thing – in fact we learned it at the trial this week. Some of the state informants in the Nazi scene were being paid “between 200 and 400 deutschmarks a week” by the taxpayers in the 1990s. Money that almost certainly went into funding Nazi activities – perhaps including protecting the NSU. At the moment, Zschäpe seems to be returning the favour.