The judgment of the Court protects the state and once more abandons the victims.
The Higher Regional Court of Munich, with its judgment today, has dealt a severe blow to those who are interested in a real fact-finding on the crimes of the NSU and their background. By limiting itself to a severe conviction for Beate Zschäpe, while at the same time playing down the criminal acts and ideology of supporters and denying any responsibility of state organs, the court goes a lot farther than was to be feared based on the evidence heard in court.
The court has convicted Beate Zschäpe as a co-perpetrator of all counts in the indictment, sentenced her to a life sentence and found a particular seriousness of her guilt. Accordingly, Zschäpe will likely stay in jail for about two decades. By contrast, the male accused who had not shown any remorse, who had remained silent, who had openly shown their ideological connectedness to the NSU and who therefore are considered heroes by the militant Nazi scene, i.e. Ralf Wohlleben and André Eminger, have been treated with particular leniency by the court.
In sentencing Wohlleben, who was convicted of aiding and abetting nine counts of murder, to only ten years, the court remained significantly below the sentence proposed by the prosecution. Despite Wohlleben’s open commitment to his ideology, despite his important support for Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt in building up the NSU and despite the particularly dangerous nature of the NSU, the court has not come even close to the upper limit of the sentencing range. It is to be feared that Wohlleben may be able to leave the courtroom today as a free man since further provisional detention would prove disproportionate after nearly seven years and in the face of a ten-year sentence. Wohlleben will be welcomed as a hero by his supporters, supporters which include former Blood and Hounour activists from Saxony and Thuringia who are currently organizing a booming infrastructure comprised of neo-Nazi concerts and free fight events in Thuringia, and who by their statements of solidarity with the accused openly place themselves in a line of continuity with the NSU network while preparing for the next wave of right-wing terror by means of propaganda and amassing of financial resources.
The second accused shown particular leniency by the court is André Eminger. Even if one could follow the court in finding that his aiding and abetting the bombing attack in the Probsteigasse in Cologne could not be proven, the sentence of two and a half years is hard to understand. The court has held that Eminger had not had any knowledge of the terrorist activities of Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe until he was told about them in 2007. After having gained that knowledge, he had provided them with frequent traveler’s cards for the German rail service, this being the only act of support for which he is being convicted. This explanation by the court not only contradicts what the court had found, after all the evidence had been heard in court, in its decision on provisional detention. In addition, it entirely ignores the ideology espoused by Eminger, which has been amply proven in court. Among other things, Eminger was responsible for a fanzine which celebrated and called for racist murders, which spread concepts for Nazi terror cells. This is why victims’ counsel had moved that the informer Ralph Marschner from Zwickau be heard as witness since Marschner would have been able to say more on Eminger’s activities. This was thwarted by the secret service and the federal prosecution; the court was not interested in further fact-finding on this issue either. Now the court claims that there is no information on whether Eminger had had knowledge of the plans of Zschäpe, Böhnhardt and Mundlos. Thus, the secret service has successfully prevented further fact-finding, resulting in a much more lenient conviction and sentence for Eminger.
This leniency towards Wohlleben and Eminger can only have one aim: the court wants to support and defend the main line of argument of the federal prosecution, namely that the NSU had consisted only of a small and isolated group of three people whose few supporters had known hardly anything. The court is thus trying to draw a line under the whole issue of the NSU and end the fact-finding concerning the network’s crimes and structure. In addition, by remaining far below the sentences asked for by the prosecution and by setting the prerequisites for membership extremely high, the court also presents the rather lengthy sentences passed against members and supporters of other Nazi terrorist organizations, such as the “Freital group”, as almost excessive. Its message to the Nazi “comrades” of Eminger and Wohlleben is that even a racist murder series spanning a number of years and its wide-spread support have not led German courts to realistically consider the dangers of neo-Nazi violence.
The family members of those killed and the survivors of the bombing attacks, after having been subjected to institutional racism during the investigation, now had to witness the court trying to close the file on murderous Nazi organizations and on hinderance of fact-finding by state organs. The court has thus done its part to destroy any hope for an adequate reaction by the state to attacks on minorities, in the final instance dealing a heavy blow to hopes for a multicultural society.
At the end of five years of trial, the victims of the NSU have received hardly any answers while new questions have arisen. State agencies have been strengthened rather than made to face up to their responsibilities, mainstream politicians will it find it more likely to declare the whole case closed, and Wohlleben and Eminger will return triumphantly to a Nazi scene whose militancy is unbroken, which has made possible the crimes of the NSU and which has now weathered the trial wholly unscathed.
The court has ignored the central lesson to be learned from the NSU terror, namely the necessity of taking seriously Nazi ideology and their murderous activities. Those who are (potentially) affected by racist acts of violence, and those fighting against these dangers, have learned once again that they will not be able to rely on state organs in this fight.