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Germany

Zschäpe's family takes the stand in NSU trial

Witness Stefan A., who belonged to the far-right scene in which the alleged NSU terrorists grew up, is giving testimony in Munich. He had a close relationship with his cousin, the main defendant, Beate Zschäpe.

Stefan A. must have had a difficult childhood. Although he had not said as much, it is the impression he gives: a few years in an orphanage, secondary school, later often unemployed. For two agonizingly long days, Stefan A. has faced questioning in the case against the alleged neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) before the Bavarian State Supreme Court in Munich. Like so many other witnesses from the far-right scene, the 39-year-old often has trouble remembering much, or anything, about his past. But insight into the milieu in which the NSU could thrive is what the court wants.

Prosecutors say the terror group committed ten racially motivated murders. Alleged perpetrators Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt are believed to have committed suicide on November 4, 2011 as their arrest was imminent. The third supposed accomplice was Beate Zschäpe, Stefan A.'s cousin and the main defendant in the NSU case. She faces murder charges, although there is so far no clear evidence of her complicity. The prosecution strategy is therefore to prove Zschäpe's substantial role in the alleged terror trio. To do this, they are trying to shed light on her circle of friends.

'A funny person'

Defendant Beate Zschaepe (C) enters the courtroom at the Higher Regional Court in Munich, Germany, 27 November 2013. Today Zschaepe's cousin and mother will give testimony during the murder and terrorism trial into the National Socialist Underground. Photo: MARC MUELLER

Chief defendant Beate Zschäpe has remained silent throughout the trial

They hope Stefan A. will play a key role for two reasons: he was active in the extreme right-wing subculture in Thuringia and he was a long-time confidant of his cousin Beate. Even as children they often played cards together, and later met at a local youth club. Zschäpe had a poor relationship with her mother, he told the court on the first day. She had been in sexual relationships with her alleged NSU accomplices Böhnhardt and Mundlos. An important person in her life had been her grandmother, who was "warm and honest." She became very worried after her granddaughter went underground in 1998, Stefan A. said. "Is Beate still alive?" she asked again and again.

He described his cousin as "loving, kind, likeable," and "a funny person." Other acquaintances who met her on holiday said much the same thing when they were called as witnesses in the past weeks. They learned the alleged true identity of the NSU trio only after their cover was blown in November 2011.

Mundlos 'wrote hate poems against foreigners'

dpa 1837; 08.05.2012

Uwe Mundlos is believed to be one of the killers. He committed suicide.

Stefan A. then told the court that his cousin had never had a heated argument with anyone, nor had she allowed others to pressure her into doing something. It was a statement that fit the picture painted by the prosecution and the joint plaintiffs' lawyers. They believe Zschäpe was the woman who egged on Böhnhardt and Mundlos, who held the reins firmly in her hand. On the other hand, her cousin told the court that she was "not as extreme right" as her NSU accomplices. This assessment tends to bolster her defense lawyers' statements. They are doing everything to make their client appear clueless. Zschäpe herself hasn't said a word since the trial began in early May.

While her cousin has spent two days talking about her and the right-wing scene sitting barely five meters away from her, Zschäpe has avoided any visible eye contact. What she hears about herself and her dead alleged accomplices would hardly come as a surprise to her. Mundlos wrote "hate poems" against foreigners on his computer. "I can't remember what they were about," Stefan A. said, who then casually described how his buddy had pelted "a gypsy" with a piece of cake. At that time they were against everything: the state, foreigners, leftists.

Dissolute life here, cross burnings there

He and Mundlos eventually quarreled, Stefan A. said. Mundlos had accused him of leading a "dissolute life." He admitted to constantly drinking a lot: "Party, fun, hardly working" - that had been his lifestyle in the first years after the collapse of East Germany. Mundlos therefore called him "antisocial." Stefan A. contrasted his own "fun" lifestyle with the crew-cut seriousness of the neo-Nazis.

This Browning with silencer is one of the alleged pistols used in the 10 NSU murders. Foto: Franziska Kraufmann/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

This Browning with silencer is one of the alleged pistols used in the 10 NSU murders

While the others drove to "some kinds of demonstrations and fellowship meetings," he preferred to attend concerts with far-right bands; one was called "Retaliation." Stefan A. had less to say about Uwe Böhnhardt. He was a "gun nut" who "always carried an air pistol."

Stefan A. said he had left the extreme-right scene in Jena, in which the NSU trio grew up, a long time ago. When exactly, he no longer knew. For eight years, he has lived in Mallorca, where he said he earns money as a craftsman. Answering the question of a co-plaintiff's lawyer, he described his political views as "normal." What that meant became clear when he was confronted with a screenshot of his Facebook account. It displayed election posters from the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD): "Money for grandma, not Sinti and Roma!" and "Being German is not a crime."

'Nothing wrong with that!'

Stefan A. was surprised at the question of what he thought about these: "There's nothing wrong with that," he said. A co-plaintiff's lawyer wanted to know where the images came from. "No idea, somebody sent it to me," he replied. Other photos Stefan A. is shown are older, from the 1990s. They show eight men in dark clothing. They raise their right arms in the so-called Kühnen salute, which is hardly distinguishable from the Hitler salute. In the background, a cross is burning.

Stefan A. admitted to having attended this Ku Klux Klan rally. A co-plaintiff's lawyer asked whom he recognized in the picture. But for Stefan A. it was just something they did "in a celebratory mood." In the photo he recognized five of the eight men as belonging to the far-right scene in Thuringia. One of them is dead: the alleged NSU killer Uwe Böhnhardt. Two others are sitting in the courtroom - Ralf Wohlleben and Holger G., accused of being accessories to murder.

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