Cumbersome questioning regarding Böhnhardt
The first witness today was Matthias Dienelt, who over a period of seven years had rented apartments for the NSU in Zwickau, first in the Polenzstraße, then in the Frühlingsstraße. Dienelt is subject of a criminal investigation charging him with providing support to the NSU; it was no surprise that he relied on his privilege against self-incrimination and refused to testify.
Accordingly, the court instead heard a police officer from Chemnitz who had questioned Dienelt shortly after the fire in the Frühlingsstraße. Back then, Dienelt had stated that his friend André Eminger had introduced him to a Max Florian B and that the latter had asked him to rent the apartments for him, stating that he was unable to sign the leases due to old debts. He has also stated that he had had a room in both of the apartments, but had seldom used that room, having last spent the night in the Frühlingsstraße apartment months earlier.
Dienelt had described Mundlos, Zschäpe and Böhnhardt as “Lise, Mac and Gerry”. Apart from this aspect, his testimony is hardly believable, making his refusing to testify a smart move. It rather seems more than plausible that Dienelt knew quite well why and for whom he had rented the apartments. Dienelt had been an active part of the Nazi scene in his hometown of Johanngeorgenstadt, together with André Eminger.
The next witness was Uwe Böhnhardt’s brother. He described his relationship to his brother Uwe, which apparently had not been all that close, his brother’s identification with the Nazi scene and his going underground. It seemed that, to the extent the two had had a somewhat close relationship at all, this had been the case during their childhoods. Lateron, the witness had apparently seen his Nazi brother wearing the SA uniform mostly as a strain on his own life.
At the end of the trial day, victims’ counsel brought an extensive motion for the taking of evidence regarding the connections of accused André Eminger to the “Hammerskins”, an organization which, similarly to “Blood and Honour”, used music and concerts to propagate Nazi ideologoy and terror concepts. Together with his brother Maik, Eminger had built up a group called “White Brotherhood Ore Mountains” which had close personal and ideological ties to the Hammerskins and for whom the “14 words” established by American Nazi terrorists (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.”) served as a quasi-religious motto.
Right wing lawyer Jauch: (former) lawyer to all those involved in the trial?
Today, the court first heard three witness who had rented the mobile home used by the NSU for the attack on two police officers after the NSU had rented it. Their rental period had started on the day after the attack and they had received the vehicle later than planned since it had only been returned after 10 pm the day of the attack.
Another witness reported that, on the Saturday or Sunday after the bank robbery in Eisenach and the death of Mundlos and Böhnhardt, she had seen Zschäpe running around in Eisenach seeming like she was in shock.
The federal prosecution continued in its strategy of trying to torpedo any and all motions which could lead to further elucidation of the facts. This time, they had to comment on a motion for evidence by counsel for the victims of the bombing attack in the Probsteigasse in Cologne. That motion concerned a Neonazis from Cologne who shows a striking resemblance to the photofit picture which was drawn up based on the statements of the shop owner who had been attacked. As it has done many times before, the prosecution moved that the motion be denied.
The prosecution reacted in the same way to a motion by victims’ counsel that the court ask agencies in Thuringia to downgrade files from the parliamentary enquiry in Thuringia currently classed as “secret”. Counsel had so moved in order to be able to quote from the files in questioning witnesses. The attempts by the prosecution to ensure that even material which is already in the files not be made subject of the trial hearing show a strong uncertainty on their part. The prosecution even refuses to hand out the written text of their statements in court, forcing other trial participants to rely on their handwritten notes and thus making it harder to deal with the prosecution’s arguments. It seems that the prosecution does not even want to be held to its own arguments.
Over the course of the afternoon, Thuringian Nazi lawyer Thomas Jauch testified in court. He had represented all accused at some point in the past and therefore refused to testify based on attorney-client privilege. When accused Gerlach and Schultze waived that privilege as far as they were concerned, Jauch claimed – unsurprisingly – that he could not remember anything. Similary, he claimed not to be able to recall who had rented his property in the years from 1998 to 2002 – in those years, there had been several Nazi concerts on that property, some claim that at least some of them money had been collected for “the Three” after they had gone underground.
Asked about an interview in the weekly “Focus” in which he had stated that Zschäpe had asked him to represent her and paid an advance, Jauch refused to answer. At least one answer given by him was obviously untrue – he claimed that he had first heard of the “Thuringia Home Guard” in 2006 or 2007. In fact, according to documents from the Thuringia secret service, “Home Guard” leaders Kapke and Brehme had already in 2000 wanted to discuss with Jauch the possibility of the “Home Guard” being banned and dissolved by the authorities.
No doubts concerning the guilt of Ralf Wohlleben
Today, the court refused the challenge for alleged bias brought by the Wohlleben defence. Its decision underscores what the decision by presiding judge Götzl and his colleagues on the continued detention of Wohlleben already showed: the three judges who had to decide on the challenge found that there was no bias if the court, after a preliminary examination of the evidence presented so far, found that there was no reason to doubt the guilt of Wohlleben, and if the court stated so in its decision. Now, the court of course had no doubts that Wohlleben, when procuring the Ceska for “the Three”, did so in the knowledge that it would be used to commit murders. And if this is the case for Wohlleben, there can be even less doubt that Zschäpe also acted with the same intent.
Wohlleben’s wife, who had been called as a witness, refused to testify.
The court then heard another police officer who had questioned Blood and Honour-activist and informer Starke. A concluding evaluation of Starke’s testimony will be possible after the final police officer has testified on 30 July.
The final witness today was a police detective from the political crimes unit of the Dortmund police who had questioned a witness to the Dortmund murder. That witness had, in her somewhat confusing statement, pointed to Nazis as possible suspects. However, since she had described them as “Nazis or junkies” and since nobody, including the officer who testified today, went into the details on this point, her statement was not followed up on. The detective testifying today, whose usual tasks are in “the area of Turks/Kurds”, thus proved less than helpful.
„Can’t recall“ – continued questioning of Enrico Theile
Today, the court continued hearing police officers who had questions Blood and Honour activist and informer Thomas Starke of Chemnitz, who himself refuses to testify in court. The detective testifying today had questioned Starke on 11 April 2011. Again it became clear that “the Three” had considerable support from “Blood and Honour” and that, during their contact with Starke, they always presented themselves as a close-knit unit.
The court then continued the questioning of Enrico Theile, who is suspected of having been involved in the provision of the Ceska pistol from Switzerland to Thuringia. Theile was and still is a close friend of Swiss Hans Peter Müller, who had testified the week before in Switzerland. Theile was apparently a part of the criminal milieu in Thuringia and twice found guilty of weapons offences. He had already been questioned by the presiding judge Götzl. Today, neither Götzl nor the federal prosecution showed much interest in his questioning. Theile was asked a number of questions by victims’ counsel, his answer in almost all cases was simply “can’t recall” – it was obvious that he simply did not want to answer.
The presiding judge as well as the prosecution put up with this form of refusal until Theile’s questioning by victims’ counsel was completed. Then, however, they used their chance to make sure that perjury proceedings be started against Theile. The prosecution moved that the most unbelievable of Theile’s answers to various questions be recored verbatim. From the point of view of victims’ counsel, it is more than probable that Theile will be convicted – and given his previews convictions, it would be very surprising indeed if that conviction did not result in a prison term.
Court finds that the evidence presented so far has confirmed the charges against Ralf Wohlleben
The trial day began with several interruptions and a challenge for alleged bias brought by the Wohlleben defence against all five judges. This challenge was a somewhat desperate reaction to a decision of 25 June in which the court rejected the defence’s challenge of Wohlleben’s detention. In that decision the court states very clearly that, after a preliminary evaluation of the evidence so far, the charges against Wohlleben – aiding and abetting nine counts of murder – have been fully confirmed. The court also stated that there had been no violations of the right to a speedy nor other reasons to lift or vary the detention order.
Today, the court decided to continue the trial proceedings while the other judges called upon to decide on the defence’s challenge of alleged bias are deliberating. Today’s challenge may well prove to be a boomerang for the Wohlleben defence since it may well result in additional judges supporting the evaluation of the evidence made by presiding judge Götzl and his colleagues. Whether the defence will also appeal the detention decision itself and bring about a decision by the Federal Court of Justice remains to be seen – after all, such a move would bring about the risk that Germany’s highest court also supports the Munich court’s evaluation of the evidence.
The decision to uphold the detention order not only shows that the activities of Wohlleben’s defence so far have not shown much effect on the Senate – it also shows that the doubts claimed by the Zschäpe defence concerning the evidence against their client will also remain just words. The court easily dismissed the doubts claimed by the Wohlleben defence, making it easy to imagine that it will find it similarly easy to dismiss claims about doubts concerning Zschäpe’s role in the NSU.
After the lunch break, the court then heard witness Thomas Gerlach, a central figure in the Thuringia Nazi scene and of some importance for the scene in Germany and internationally, above all because of his importance for the “Hammerskin” network.
Gerlach, like many Nazi witnesses before him, tried the strategy of „lies and trivialization.” He claimed not to have been active for at least two years – without however having changed his political persuasions. He claimed that an imprisonment of several years had made him find out that violence was not a method to be used in the political struggle – he also claimed that the entire scene of Nazi “comradeships” and the NPD, including accused Wohlleben, had held similarly. He had worked together with Wohlleben and Kapke since early 2000 in building up supraregional networks such as the “Free Net”, in conducting several Nazi campaigns and in operating the “Festival of Peoples.” This had lead to many international contacts in Switzerland, Portugal and other countries. It was quite apparent that the presiding judge could see through the way in which Gerlach tried to trivialize his efforts in building a nationwide Nazi network.
The real significance of the actions of Thomas Gerlach – who by the way is not related to accused Holger Gerlach – was sometimes reflected in his choice of words. At one time he spoke of “comradeships and actions groups” („Kameradschaften und Aktionsgruppen“) – terms used above all in strategy discussions about „leaderless“ military resistance as propagated by American Nazis and adapted by „Blood and Honour“ and the “Hammerskins”.
When it came to the Hammerskins, Gerlach did not so much lie and trivialize as simply refuse to answer: his former girlfriend Mandy Struck had testified that he was a member of that organization. When asked about that statement today, Gerlach stated that the “value system” he imposed on himself did not allow him to answer questions concerning the Hammerskins. He remained steadfast even when the presiding judge informed him that such refusal could lead to fines and imprisonment for contempt.
Today, the presiding judge did not force the issue, instead interrupting the questioning of Gerlach at about 4 pm. The court still has questions concerning topics that Gerlach has so far been willing to discuss. “Ace” Gerlach will thus have to appear in Munich again and will have to show whether he is ready to risk imprisonment for his “self-imposed value system”.