The last remaining member of a neo-Nazi group — who's being called "the Nazi bride" by the German press, and probably soon the American tabloids — went on trial in Germany Monday for her role in the murder of ten people over a seven-year period, in a case that's remarkable as much for the horrible crimes as the retrograde justice for human-rights violations that were ignored for years.
Beate Zschaepe, 38, faces life in prison for her roles in the murder of eight Turks, one Greek, and German police woman between 2000 and 2007. She was allegedly the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Underground, the far-right neo-Nazi terror group. Along with her two accomplices, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt, Zschaepe is also thought to be responsible for two bombings and 15 bank robberies. It's unclear which of the two men she's suspected of being married to, but four other men, all suspected neo-Nazis, are also on trial as accessories to the murders or bank robberies. One of them has a tattoo that says "Die Jew Die" across his stomach.
Mundlos and Boenhardt killed themselves and set their van on fire in 2011 after a failed burglary attempt. Police found a handgun connected to the killings inside the van, along with a gruesome DVD that featured "the bodies of the murder victims are pictured while a cartoon Pink Panther tots up the number of dead," according to Reuters. Zschaepe turned herself in three days later. It was only after the van was discovered that the police realized neo-Nazis were behind the wave of attacks. (There's no connection between the NSU trial and the 93-year-old Auschwitz guard arrested Monday morning.)
The people who were killed were all local merchants — a flower seller, a grocer and a part-time tailor, those sorts of victims — so police figured they were killed because of ties to organized crime. Nazis were never suspected in the investigation. So when the NSU link surfaced, Germany had a huge problem on its hands:
The case has alarmed the country's 3 million people of Turkish descent and has been a huge embarrassment to Germany because of the catalogue of errors made by the police and security authorities that exposed them to accusations of institutional racism and of having been blind to the threat of right-wing extremism.
It was so bad that Germany apologized to the U.N. last month in Geneva, calling the failure to identify far-right Nazi extremism as the cause for the murders "without a doubt one of the worst human rights violations in Germany in the last decade." Still other officials have rebuffed the "blind eye" complaints by maintaining that the breadth of the crimes made it difficult to connect the killings.
So far Zschaepe has remained silent about her role within the NSU heading into the trial, which some suspect could go on for as long as two years. German federal prosecutor Wolfgang Range says he's "convinced that she wasn't just an accessory or merely a companion, but was in fact acting on the same level as the others." Zschaepe faces life in prison if convicted.