Opinion: Will long trial of Zschäpe, NSU show results? | Opinion | DW | 06.05.2016
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Opinion: Will long trial of Zschäpe, NSU show results?

The trial against the NSU right-wing terrorist group began on May 6, 2013. Many are surprised that it is still going on three years later, but, DW's Marcel Fürstenau writes, the court's patience may be rewarded.

After 280 days in court and more than 550 witnesses, can there still be any surprises in store in the case against the National Socialist Underground (NSU)? Well, possibly, yes. Anyone who doubts this should recall the behavior of the principal defendant, Beate Zschäpe (pictured). For two years and seven months, this right-wing extremist companion of the accused murderers Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos refused to give evidence before the Higher Regional Court in Munich. On December 9, she broke her silence. That was something in itself.

Whatever her motivation for speaking, Zschäpe disappointed the relatives of the victims by attempting to paint herself as an innocent. Nonetheless, her explanation, which was read out by a court-appointed defense lawyer and corroborated the key points in the indictment, did move the NSU trial forward considerably. This was important as there are no eyewitnesses to the murders of nine men of foreign background and one German policewoman.

Zschäpe's claim that her friends only told her about their actions after the fact seems rather implausible. Even the federal public prosecutor's office assumed that she was not present when the victims were shot in cold blood. Nonetheless, she has been charged with murder because for 13 years she organized the necessary "safe refuges" for her accomplices. This is audacious reasoning, presumably prompted by the fact that it is difficult to determine the dimension of this racist crime.

Zschäpe's admission that she set fire to the NSU trio's final hiding place in Zwickau will likely have more bearing on her sentencing. The public prosecutor's view is that she knew her arson could jeopardize the lives of a neighbor and some construction workers. All of the accusations would have been harder to prove without the principal defendant's testimony. However, this charge is crucial for her sentencing, and for this reason alone the presiding judge, Manfred Götzl, was right to go along with Zschäpe's sometimes opaque maneuvers: He seems to have done this in the hope of persuading her to talk.

Wohlleben takes stand

A fourth defense attorney was appointed last summer - over two years after the start of the trial. Zschäpe trusts this attorney and now refuses to speak to the other three. Paradoxically, the breakdown in communication between Zschäpe and her original defense team contributed to her sudden decision to end her silence. Ralf Wohlleben, who is believed to have played a central role in obtaining the murder weapon, also subsequently testified.

The hearing of evidence could soon be over. It is by no means certain that all the trial dates scheduled between now and January will be needed. The sentences Zschäpe, Wohlleben and three other accused are likely to receive remain a matter of speculation.

There will certainly be disappointments. The relatives of the victims will never find out why their fathers, sons and brothers were the ones killed by the NSU. Zschäpe will not say anything about that. However, if she had remained silent right up to the end of the trial, the disappointment would have been even greater.

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