The Magazine

Germany’s Not So New Extremists

The police, belatedly, solve a series of racist murders.

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Around three hours later, a second fire broke out in a rented apartment in a semi-detached house in Zwickau some 100 miles away. The apartment was the residence of Zschäpe, Böhnhardt, and Mundlos. The three neo-Nazis, who allegedly “disappeared” in 1998 and whom German police reportedly suspected had left the country, were in fact living less than an hour’s drive from their hometown of Jena. After leaving her cats with a neighbor, Zschäpe appears to have set fire to the apartment and fled. She would turn herself in to the police in Jena a few days later.

In the ashes, investigators discovered the 7.65 caliber Ceská used in the murders. They are also reported to have discovered DVDs containing a video in which a so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU)​—​apparently consisting of Zschäpe, Böhnhardt, and Mundlos​—​takes credit for the nine döner murders, as well as for the 2004 bombing in Cologne’s Keupstrasse. Despite the fact that the street is so well known as a Turkish commercial center that it is commonly referred to as “Little Istanbul,” the Keupstrasse bombing represents yet another major “unsolved” crime with respect to which German police had previously claimed to have “no clue” of xenophobic motives. The video also contains an image of the murdered policewoman, Michèle Kiesewetter. Excerpts from the NSU video that have been broadcast or posted online combine animated images from a Pink Panther cartoon and pictures of the group’s victims​—​including grisly crime scene photos that appear to have been taken by the perpetrators themselves.

According to initial reports, the NSU had been planning to distribute the video to a list of recipients. Some copies of the video had in fact already been sent, although it is not clear when. This could explain how the newsweekly Der Spiegel obtained a copy. One of the copies was addressed to the regional offices in Saxony of the post-Communist PDS or Party of Democratic Socialism. The party​—​which is today known simply as Die Linke or “The Left”​—​abandoned the name PDS in 2007, just a couple of months after the murder of Kiesewetter. The address on the package was also no longer current. This suggests the videos were prepared for sending already in 2007, presumably shortly after the Kiesewetter murder.

Another interesting discovery in the ruins of the Zwickau apartment was what the German media have described as “legal illegal” identity papers. The German parliamentarian and security expert Hans-Peter Uhl explained to the tabloid Bild that “normally the only people to receive such papers are covert investigators who work for an intelligence agency and are handled by an intelligence agency.” This is to say that one or more of the neo-Nazi trio appear to have been informants of the German domestic intelligence service known as the “Office for the Protection of the Constitution” or Verfassungsschutz. (There is both a federal Verfassungschutz office and regional offices in several German states.)

In 2001, it was revealed that Tino Brandt, the leader of the Thuringian Homeland Defense, was a Verfassungsschutz informant. Brandt is reported to have received around 200,000 Deutschmarks​—​or nearly $140,000​—​for his services. According to Bild, despite public denials, security officials have privately confirmed that Beate Zschäpe continued to have contact with Verfassungsschutz informants​—​including Tino Brandt​—​after she allegedly “disappeared” in 1998. The Leipziger Volkszeitung reports that investigators have evidence she may herself have been serving as an “occasional” informant right up until this year.

Moreover, it is known that a Verfassungsschutz officer​—​not a mere informant​—​was present in Halit Yozgat’s Internet café in Kassel when Yozgat was shot to death in 2006. This was discovered weeks after the crime by police investigators examining the hard drives of the computers in Yozgat’s shop.

The intelligence officer​—​who in German media reports has been identified only as “Andreas T.”​—​left the Internet café after the murder without notifying the police. He would subsequently be suspended from his job at the regional office of the Verfassungsschutz in the German state of Hesse and transferred to a new government job with the district administration of Kassel. According to news reports, he continues to be employed by the district administration of Kassel​—​this despite the fact that, as it turns out, Andreas T. is himself a Nazi sympathizer.

Indeed, Andreas T. was so open about his politics that in his hometown of Hofgeismar he was known as “Little Adolf.” There is now additional reason to believe that the German intelligence officer could have been implicated in the murders. According to a report in Bild, while working for the Verfassungsschutz Andreas T. was the official “handler” of an informant with connections to the Thuringian Homeland Defense.

Whatever the significance of the connections between the neo-Nazi trio and German domestic intelligence, one thing is already clear: The wave of racist and, above all, anti-Turkish violence that afflicted Germany in the 1990s in fact continued unabated in the new century. It would appear that political pressure to spare Germany’s “good reputation” (as a recent report on German news channel N24 put it) led both the authorities and virtually all of the German media to avoid the obvious.

It remains to be seen whether, after the dramatic self-outing of the “National Socialist Underground,” the German establishment will deal more candidly and effectively with Germany’s by no means “new” problem of neo-Nazi terror. It will be a sure sign that Germany is not dealing more frankly with the problem if investigators​—​after refusing to see racist motives in racist crimes for over a decade​—​now attempt to pin their entire backlog of “unsolved” cases on the trio of Nazis from Jena.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers