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Germany

Zschäpe's courtroom statement 'a pathetic performance'

In a courtroom statement at her neo-Nazi murder trial, Beate Zschäpe implausibly portrayed herself as the 11th victim, says Barbara John, ombudswoman for the victims of NSU terror, in an interview with DW.

Deutsche Welle: After two and a half years on trial, Beate Zschäpe, the main defendant, has made her first statement. Many joint plaintiffs have been waiting for just that. What do they have to say about it?

Barbara John: The plaintiffs hardly expected that she would admit to being an accomplice, or that she would ask forgiveness from the families. We heard what was to be expected: that she is attempting to clear herself of guilt. She presented herself as Mundlos and Bönhardt's 11th victim. She claimed that she was not strong enough to challenge them, that they blackmailed her and threatened to kill themselves.

That is all totally implausible, for if she suffered the way that she says she did - "I was disgusted, I couldn't believe it" - then she would not have finished the job after the two men killed themselves, she would have been free. It's a familiar strategy, one designed to totally free herself from guilt. Once the murderers are dead, you can pin everything on them, and you maintain your innocence.

How does that play with the plaintiffs?

Deutschland Barbara John Ombudsfrau für NSU Opfer

Ombudswoman for NSU victims Barbara John

Of course, they do not believe a single word of it, and it comes across exactly as intended: "I didn't have anything to do with the murders. The most brutal crimes took place, but I didn't do anything. How could I have done anything? I am just a defenseless woman." She gave a truly pathetic performance.

What were the families hoping for?

Naturally, they were hoping that her statement would give at least some explanation of how the murders were planned, why the killers went to those particular cities, why they picked those particular sites. That would have given the families some information. But she did not want to do that. In this instance, she once again showed an absolute lack of empathy.

Many have called this the Zschäpe Show. In the courtroom she turned to the cameras and smiled. Is the defendant trying to take control of the trial? How do the plaintiffs see it?

Yes, you could certainly look at it that way. First, the image of the little housewife was pushed, but that was totally destroyed by witness testimonies that painted her as the logistics specialist - for everything from vacation trips, to life at home in the Zwickau underground. She was the one who gathered documents and rented apartments. She was the manager behind the scenes - the one that always had the say.

That does not fit with what she is propagating now: "I am the blackmailed, poor, weak woman in this male alliance; I don't have anything to do with this neo-Nazi pact." She didn't say a word about the motivation behind the murders. She would have wanted to know that, if she had been so opposed to the crimes. She never saw any connection between the murders and the crazy, obsessive idea of wanting to "protect the German people."

So everything that the plaintiffs were hoping for was missing?

There was nothing said about what actually happened, that's correct. On the other hand, she revealed a lot, much more than through her silence. Now she has finally confirmed publicly that she knew what was going on.

And it continued to go on: More murders. She stays and observes how loving the serial killers were, how nice they were with animals. Even after both murderers are dead, she acts in their interest. She blows up their shared apartment, mails the disgusting videos. She fulfills the murderers' wishes even after death. If that is not an admission of guilt, what is?

Zschäpe said that she apologizes sincerely to the victims of the NSU terror for which Uwe Bönhardt and Uwe Mundlos were responsible. She feels morally guilty. How does that come across?

An empty phrase. You say something like that when you step on someone's foot. It is just a standardized formulation: I am sorry, I had nothing to do with it, and you have to believe me. The statement is completely implausible.

Instead she could have said: "What on earth did I do? Why didn't I say something sooner?" I don't think that her statement did anything to help the victims or their families. She just proved that she was a person that was fully involved behind the scenes.

This interview was conducted by Andrea Grunau.

Barbara John was appointed as the German federal government's ombudswoman for the victims of the NSU terror attacks and the relatives of the NSU's 10 murder victims, in 2012. She served as the state of Berlin's commissioner for foreigners, for 22 years.

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