Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Beate Zschäpe - The Face of the National Socialist Underground in Germany

Beate Zschäpe was recently charged in Munich
German efforts to reconcile with the horrors and tyranny of the Third Reich, the rise of Adolph Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, it's role in the Holocaust and plunging the globe into World War II are monumental in scope; a daunting task that is still ongoing almost 70 years since the end of the most destructive war in modern history.

The difficulty became even more apparent in November of 2011 when a botched bank robbery in the German town of Eisenach turned out to be the work of the Nationalist Socialist Underground or NSU; a little-known violent right-wing neo-Nazi faction. When police found the two robbery suspects Uwe Bonhardt and Uwe Mundlos dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in a mobile home, they also found a pistol belonging to murdered policewoman Michele Kiesewetter and a horrifying truth began to unravel.

The two men along with a woman named Beate Zschäpe were the core members of a ultra nationalist terrorist group determined to use murder to scare foreigners out of the country. Between 2000 and 2007, the three of them murdered eight Turkish immigrants, one Greek immigrant and the policewoman Kiesewetter in towns across Germany. 

According to a recent article in Der Spiegel, the year-long investigation into the murders that led to Zschäpe being charged have uncovered some unsettling lapses in domestic German law enforcement and intelligence that have left the majority of the nation shocked and confused.

It has led to a number of resignations of high security officials. For example, Heinz Fromm, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution resigned back in July not long before it was revealed members of his own staff had destroyed documents that might have implicated them in the murders. A number of German law enforcement personnel have come under scrutiny and suspicion for being more than sympathetic to the NSU's xenophobic ideology.

An article in the November 24th issue of The Economist magazine alleges that German authorities spent years focusing their investigations of the murders of Turkish immigrants on members of the Turkish community (even members of the victims own families) rather than considering the neo-Nazi underground movement as suspects. As if Turks would detonate a nail bomb on a busy street lined with Turkish shops as the NSU did on a Cologne street in 2004

According to sources cited by Wikipedia an agent for the Hessian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution known only as "Andreas T" was present in a cafe in 2006 when the NSU killed the Turkish owner. Andreas T was known in his hometown by the nickname "Little Adolph" and was known to be open about his extremist political views. 

Part of what has left many in Germany outraged and confused about these killings is how so many different levels of the law enforcement institutions within the country (both local and national) could not have suspected the NSU much earlier. After all Germans tend to crack down hard on any kind of neo-Nazi activity; flying the Swastika is a serious crime.

I've been to Berlin twice and you're not even supposed to talk about Nazis in bars or restaurants. Doing so will get you cold stares from Germans seated nearby; total strangers will politely tell you it's not permitted to discuss such things in public.

As recently as 2011, officials in the town of Wunsiedel, Germany tired of being linked with extremists, exhumed the remains of Hitler's deputy Rudolph Hess and removed the headstone because his grave had become a shrine for neo-Nazis. In the years since the reunification of Germany, the nation has worked hard to stamp out the last vestiges of the Nazi Party and take responsibility for the extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, eastern Europeans and enemies of the Third Reich in the concentration camps scattered across the central and eastern Europe.

The trial of Beate Zschäpe and other members of the NSU demonstrates the unsettling reality that there remains a sympathetic element within Germany for Nazi ideology and the use of violence to "cleanse" the nation of those deemed unfit to be there. According to the Economist article, 7.3% of the West German population subscribe to right-wing political views based on research by the Frederich Ebert Foundation; 15.8% in Eastern Germany where the NSU trio lived under assumed names for years.

It's an unsettling trend no matter which way you look at it, especially given the country's past. But remember, such beliefs and acts are not restricted to Germany. That mindset exists here in the US and across Europe too. While it's a sad reminder during the Hanukkah holiday, I think it's important not to forget what often lies just beneath the surface.

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