Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Are The New German Nazis Really Up To?

Defiant in pose: Defendant Beate Zschäpe keeps her arms cross in court on Monday.
Nazi Beate Zschäpe as she appeared in a Munich court three weeks ago. She’s charged with butchering eight Turkish immigrants and a Greek, in a case that’s dredged up all the old Nazi horrors.

In 1985, two former Wehrmacht soldiers confided to me that they feared the Nazi horrors in Germany, during the Third Reich, had not been killed by time but had only gone 'underground'. Not long after we arrived in Munich for a stay in Germany we were reminded of this in a case that made national headlines. For unbeknownst to Germans, a number of immigrants - nine to be exact- had been murdered over 13 years in acts originally assigned to run- of- the- mill killers - but only recently exposed as being perpetrated by a National Socialist Undergound (NSU).

As we know, those of us who pay attention to history, "National Socialism" was spawned under Hitler’s NSDAP (National Socialist German Worker's party) which was in reality the farthest thing from being socialist. Indeed.. they would regularly beat Marxists, real socialists, or any people deemed leftists on the streets while holding up signs that read: “Tot dem Marxem” (Death to Marxists). They were also known for a venomous xenophobia - fearing any "foreigners" who might seed their alien customs and even foods into Germany.

Evidently it is this fanatic xenophobia that has reared it's head once more. At the center of it all, and dubbed the "Nazi Bride" by German media,  is  Beate Zschäpe, 38, charged with killing eight men of Turkish descent, a man of Greek descent and a policewoman. Also charged with carrying out two bombings and belonging to a terrorist group. They were described in one issue of Die Welt (May 14)  as "Rechts-Terroristen" or Right wing terrorists.

Zschäpe will be tried with four men who are charged with supporting the three-member group (Wolfgang Heer, Wolfgang Stahl and Anja Sturm) , which called itself the National Socialist Underground, or N.S.U., a play on the name for Hitler’s National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis.

The case, to be sure,  has shaken the country’s security services - obviously as they'd been more focused on Islamic terrorists - as our own gov't has- and ignored the Right Wing variants. The case has also confronted Germans with uncomfortable questions about prejudice against the immigrants who make up an increasingly large part of society. (Turks now make up nearly 3 million of the German populace and one can find their shops and people congregating on nearly ever street corner in Munich).

The trial, was expected to last more than a year, and will be closely watched by the Turks and other immigrants who call Germany home. Many of the country’s partners abroad are also following it as a test of the Germans’ ability to come to terms with their modern multicultural identity. But it is also a test of coming to grips with the country's Nazi past, as Reinhart pointed out.  Mehmet Daimagüler, a lawyer representing several of the victims’ survivors, who are allowed to take part in the trial as co-plaintiffs, compared its political importance beyond the courtroom with the Allies’ prosecution of Nazis in 1945 and 1946 in the occupied German city of Nuremberg.

Six of the killings occurred between 2000 and 2006 and were initially known as the “döner murders,” a reference to the Turkish kebabs sold in stands across Germany, a tag that some found to be demeaning. The policewoman was killed in 2007.

For years, investigators suspected the killings were connected to organized crime. Only after two members of the neo-Nazi organization, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, killed themselves as police officers closed in on them after a bank robbery in 2011 did evidence — including video that spliced together bloody photographs of the victims taken at the crime scenes — emerge that led the authorities to focus on far-right hate groups.

On Monday, May 13, moments after the trial’s opening formalities, the presiding judge, Manfred Götzl, called a recess after Ms. Zschäpe’s lawyers challenged his neutrality on the grounds that he required her lawyers to go through security, arguing it was “open discrimination” against the defense.  The delay - according to Die Welt:

"...will entail an additional burden for the relatives of the victims. They had emotionally prepared themselves for the trial and now face organizational challenges: They will have to cancel their travel arrangements, reschedule their requested leave from work"

Meanwhile, Germans of all classes are being forced to face a past they thought had already been reformed and properly reconstructed. Amazingly also, the term in the press "NSU Prozess" has come to mean two things depending on who is doing the explaining. To the German media and most of the cognoscenti it has come to mean the judicial process of putting Zschäpe and the other co-conspirators on trial. However, Reinhart had a different take:

He explained to us that to these N.S.U. members and their supporters (which he estimated numbered far more than the press had portrayed) the "process" lay in the intent of the group - which was to eliminate all foreign immigrants living in Germany. Reinhart explained that to these neo-Nazi types Hitler was still the Fuhrer and they admired him as a dictator - also that he had no use for those who threatened German integrity. Thus, they clambored for a "strong hand' to return Germany to Germans and this group promised to do it in its "process".

For sure, the antipathy felt on the street for Turks was raw, open. Even our friends - in moments of excitement- let their guard down and referred to the unwillingness of most to learn the language and hence better themselves, and also for the men to "do nothing but congregate on street corners" - but "live off the hard work of the women".  From what we saw - even given the limited time there, this was apparent, but again we couldn't possibly see more than a small fraction while we were in Munich, for example. (We did enjoy the döner kebabs eaten from one Turkish shop near our hotel in Munich.)

What we learned is that in many ways the German problem with its influx with immigrants - especially on the Right, parallels similar problems in the U.S. One hopes that both countries can soon come to terms with them, as opposed to allowing their respective immigrant issues to fester, which bodes ill for both nations.

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