Beate Zschaepe and the four men charged in Germany’s biggest Nazi-linked trial since 1945 are on trial and will find it hard to distance themselves from the racist ideology behind the string of murders they are accused of.
“Die Jew Die” are the words tattooed on to Andre Eminger’s stomach. On his leg, the 33-year-old east German also sports a black sun tattoo comprising three swastikas. The face of the Nazi cult hero Horst Wessel is tattooed on his chest, and the image of a Second World War German soldier adorns his arm.
With Beate Zschape, 38, the suspected ringleader, Eminger and three others are charged with complicity in the worst acts of neo-Nazi violence in Germany since the Second World War. They include the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman, and two bomb attacks which inflicted appalling wounds from which many of the victims will never recover.
“Their motive was to unsettle citizens of foreign origin in the hope that they would start leaving Germany out of fear for their own safety,” is how Harald Range, the chief state prosecutor charged with collecting evidence in the case, explains the background to the killings.
The victims were nearly all immigrant shopkeepers who were shot in the face or side of the head without warning and at point-blank range. In one case, a Turkish shopkeeper was severely injured when a nail bomb in a cake box exploded in his face. Another nail bomb ripped through a crowded Cologne street market and injured dozens.
The case has provoked shock and outrage in Germany, particularly within the country’s three-million-strong Turkish immigrant community, and especially because for nearly a decade the murders went unsolved. Instead of exploring the possibility that neo-Nazis were behind the attacks, the police claimed that “Islamists” or an immigrant “mafia” were responsible.
The inability of the police and intelligence services to solve the case has prompted the head of the German Turkish community to accuse both of institutionalized racism. Last year the head of German intelligence was forced to resign in belated acknowledgement of his office’s shocking failure to trace the perpetrators for so long.
The killers were finally and unintentionally unmasked 18 months ago — more than a decade after they launched their campaign of racist murders.