Revelation of the NSU Murders

2011

Germany

Race & Ethnicity Violence

Between 1998 and 2006, the extreme right-wing terrorist group “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) carried out a series of murders, bombings and bank robberies. On November 8, 2011, the last surviving member of the organization, BeateZschäpe, turned herself in to the authorities.

Between 2000 and 2006, EnverŞimsek, AbdurrahimÖzüdoğru, SüleymanTaşköprü, HabilKılıç, YunusTurgut, İsmail Yaşar, TheodorosBoulgarides, Mehmet Kubaşık, HalitYozgat and Michele Kiesewetter were murdered by members of the right-wing terrorist group NSU. Despite numerous indications, including testimony provided by relatives of the deceased, that their murders were likely of a targeted, racially motivated nature, the investigative authorities persistently rejected the possibility of a right-wing extremist background to the crimes. Rather, assuming that the killings arose out of their personal conflicts and relationships, they criminalized the victims posthumously. This would only change in November, 2011, when the last surviving member of the NSU, BeateZschäpe, turned herself in to the police.

On November 4, 2011, the NSU members Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found dead in their camper van in a suburb of Eisenach. The authorities assumed suicide. Shortly thereafter, Zschäpe set fire to the flat in Zwickau where the trio had last resided, before approaching the police on November 8. The three members of the NSU had already been active for some time within the neo-Nazi scene in Thuringia (associated, for example, with the “Thuringian Homeland Security” organization) and were known to the authorities.

When the NSU murders and their right-wing extremist background came to light in 2011, the revelations provoked an uproar in politics and the media. Above all, the role and conduct of the investigative and domestic security agencies involved, including the Federal and State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (Vefassungsschutz), generated intense criticism. The Federal Vefassungsschutzhad operated several informants within Thuringian neo-Nazi circles, important documentation in whose files was destroyed internally and irregularly on November 11. Arising from these revelations, a federal parliamentary investigating committee was formed in early 2012 to shed light on the murders and the roll of the German authorities in the NSU affair.

In its final report, the committee focussed on the misconduct and failures of individual actors as well as the lack of effective communication between the various agencies involved, while avoiding entirely the question of institutional racism of the kind evident in the initial handling of the murders by the police and legal authorities. The term racism surfaced in the report only in reference to the mindset of the perpetrators. Thus, racism was treated as an issue pertaining to an isolated, right-wing terrorist group and not as a structural and institutional problem pervading the media, politics, the behavior of legal authorities and state agencies, and ultimately the society at large. Many questions remain unanswered in connection with the NSU murders, their background, and the degree of responsibility and complicity on the part of the German authorities. It is therefore not yet possible to speak of a serious societal or political reckoning having been made with the NSU affair.

The criminal trial of BeateZschäpe and four co-defendants, which began on May 6, 2013, is projected to continue into 2016.