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Crime

'Don't let NSU murders be forgotten'

Barbara John is the German government's ombudsperson for the NSU victims' families. She told DW that it's important that the neo-Nazi murders should not be forgotten.

Deutsche Welle:you are urging the creation of a foundation to commemorate the murders of the rightwing extremist NSU group. What is behind this appeal?

Barbara John: The basic idea is that the relatives can get active. The process of coming to terms with the worst series of murders in post-war Germany since those of the leftwing extremist RAF should not come to an end the moment the parliamentary inquiry finishes its work and the memorial plaques have all been put up. The foundation should mainly work to get security officials - the police and possibly justice authorities - to deal with victims better. One could get the families concerned involved, with all their experience. It is also very important to ensure that the documents - the investigation records, the documents from the future court case and the minutes of the parliamentary inquiry - are not again dispersed all over the place. Much is to be learned from these documents, and that is only possible if they are kept in one place - that means there should be a documentation center.

How would you finance the project?

Barbara John
Photo: Britta Pedersen dpa/lbn

Barbara John says she would like to see citizens contributing to a fund

There are no funds yet. It would be groundbreaking if civil society would make it possible. If every citizen who earns money were to donate 50 cents just once, such a foundation could become reality.

Isn't that first and foremost a task for politics or the government?

It would certainly be easier, but a civil society foundation, where the citizens themselves say "we want things to change," would be an important stimulus for society. It would express the commitment of the citizens that we want to push back rightwing radical thought and action.

Speaking about money: you campaigned for payments to the murder victims' families - are you and the families satisfied?

That varies. There is one family that will not accept a cent. The Yozgat family from Kassel wanted a permanent memorial for their son Halit. They wanted the street where the 21-year-old was born and murdered renamed after him. Currently, there's a square which bears his name. Apart from that, the family refuses any kind of compensation.

The street sign for Halitplatz 
Photo: Uwe Zucchi dpa/lhe

A square in Kassel has been named after one of the victims

Of course, no amount of material compensation can compensate for the death of a family member. But it is also about compensation for expenses. Every close relative has received 10,000 euros ($13,383.) As far as I am concerned, this is a meager sum. Just think of the victims on the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground in Italy. Everyone on that ship got more money than the NSU murder victims' families.

The German Chancellor wants to meet the relatives once again. How significant is that?

It is exceedingly important to be noticed and to continue to remind the public that these inconceivable events really happened. What we know so far about the security authorities' botched investigations will play a great role in the meeting with the chancellor. I think it is very important for the chancellor to hear first-hand what effect that had on the families and how they think one might create a better atmosphere in general between natives and immigrants.

What must change, what lessons must Germany learn from the neo-Nazi killing spree?

Two things - when I was commissioner of foreigners' affairs, this was always the most important issue, too: there should never be mixed political messages. On one hand, there are demands for immigration and better integration, but at the same time, foreigners across the board are held responsible for things that go wrong. Demonizing or denying the existence of a multifaceted, multicultural society also sends the wrong signals: "They are just a nuisance here." That must stop. The second point concerns us all: how often do you hear a derogatory, negative remark about immigrants in your own circles. People accept it or ignore it. Instead, you should broach the subject, and try to find out why people think that way. It is important not to give any space to such opinions which want to exclude some people. Rightwing radicals can only spread into the spaces we leave for them.

For 22 years, Barbara John was commissioner for foreigners' affairs for the city-state of Berlin. She heads the Association of Social Movements in Berlin. In 2007, John was elected head of the federal government's antidiscrimination advisory board. In 2012, she was appointed ombudsman and government contact person for the families of the victims of the NSU.

Interview: Andrea Grunau / db

DW.DE