The German president has met with the families of NSU neo-Nazi murder victims. For years, these relatives were treated with suspicion rather than compassion. Now, they expect more than heartfelt words.
On September 9, 2000, five policemen stormed into the home of teenager Semiya Simsek right after her father Enver was shot and killed at his flower stand in Nuremburg. According to Semiya, speaking to the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, they asked her clueless mother how she could possibly be drinking coffee after killing her husband.
Unlike the claim made by their motto, the police were not a "friend and helper" to families like the Simseks and the Kubasiks, immigrants to Germany who lost a father, husband, brother and son to ruthless neo-Nazi killers.
Suspected of involvement
"For 11 years, we were not even allowed to be victims with a clear conscience," Simsek told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 1,200 guests at an official memorial service in Berlin a year ago. Her father, an ethnic Turk, was the first victim in a murder spree by the National Socialist Underground (NSU). That fact only came to light in November 2011, when the bodies of two NSU members who had committed suicide after a botched bank robbery were discovered, along with the murder weapon and a video claiming responsibility for the 2000 killing.
In the Simsek murder, the police had first suspected Enver Simsek's wife and her brother as being the killers, and had the victim pegged as a drug dealer. An extremist right-wing background to the murder was never investigated - and the killings continued.
Over the years, eight more men were brutally shot with the same weapon in Nuremberg, Hamburg, Munich, Rostock, Dortmund and Kassel, while authorities continued to investigate the victims' immediate environment, suspecting criminal ties. The media wrote about a "Turkish mafia." Victims and families with an ethnic background were "under general suspicion," Sebastian Scharmer told DW.
The German lawyer represents Gamze Kubasik. Her father, Mehmet Kubasik, was killed on April 4, 2006 in his newspaper stall in Dortmund. After the murder, police searched the family's home with drug-sniffing dogs, Scharmer said, adding that he was shocked to see "that over such a long period of time, no one even considered the possibility of a right-wing motive." The investigation was extremely one-sided, he said, pointing at "structural racism."
At the memorial service, Chancellor Merkel spoke of a "disgrace for our country" and apologized for the investigators' false suspicions. Scharmer said, however, that Merkel's promises to clear up the circumstances of the murders are still mere promises.
Scharmer said that Kubasik expects President Gauck to come up with more than just heartfelt words, adding that it's important that Gauck point out mistakes and problems and demand consequences. "Otherwise, this can happen again and again."
Commissioner laments mistrust
Ombudsman Barbara John, the former commissioner of foreigners' affairs and the government's contact person for the NSU victims' families, accompanied the relatives to Monday's meeting with Gauck. John is in touch with more than 70 people affected by the murders and is trying to help them, in particular when dealing with the authorities.
To this day, John said, the families are told: "What do you want? Victims? No, there is no connection to what happened back then." She laments the "cold-hearted attitude toward people who have in vain waited for help for many years." John added that some families fell into debt after they lost their main breadwinner, and students had to break off their education. Families even lost their homes.
But the false suspicions of the authorities were the worst of all "because that segregated the families from society," John said. The investigators were suspicious, she said, calling it "a form of rejection, something that urgently must be changed." As an example, she said when a widow told her colleagues that her husband had been killed, the answer was, "Well, but look how many Germans have been killed by foreigners."
In his Internet Cafe in Kassel, 21-year-old Halit Yozgat bled to death on April 6, 2006 in his father Ismail's arms. Since then, a square in the city has been named after his son, and a plaque remembers the young man's murder by the NSU.
Before the square and the adjoining tram stop were renamed, John said there were "ugly" online protests, with some people complaining that "now the Turks are deciding how we should name our streets." Memorial markers are still missing in Munich and Rostock, and John says she wants to ask Gauck to support the initiative.
Trust turns to fear
Before the murders, the families had great trust in Germany's rule of law, John said. Many have become disenchanted "and very pensive," she said, ever since the NSU parliamentary inquiry showed just how many mistakes were made in the investigation, how files were destroyed and information was blocked.
That is certainly true for the Kubasiks, according to their lawyer Sebastian Scharmer. He said their faith in civil protection was "badly disappointed." While Gamze Kubasik still lives in Germany and feels at home here, he said, her original confidence has been destroyed "for good."
Some families are clearly afraid, added John. "They say: it happened once, and the authorities did not take a close look. Are they looking now?"