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Court Cases

Landmark moments in the NSU trial

After 15 months of proceedings against Beate Zschäpe and alleged NSU supporters, the trial has been adjourned for the summer. Here is an overview of the most significant moments and statements in the courtroom so far.

First day of trial, May 6, 2013: The defendant

At 9:55 a.m. Beate Zschäpe enters the courtroom at the Higher Regional Court in Munich. Cameras are flashing and filming, trying to capture as much as possible of the notorious suspect. Zschäpe turns her back to the reporters, surrounded by her three lawyers. The room is filled with around 200 people: the victims' relatives, lawyers, prosecutors, dozens of journalists and many onlookers.

Zschäpe wears a blue pantsuit. She has long, wavy hair. It is striking how normal she looks - her appearance doesn't divulge anything about the crimes she is accused of. Zschäpe is believed to have lived with the two other members of the NSU (National Socialist Underground) terror cell, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt for more than 13 years. Together they planned and carried out a series of murders, mainly of people with a Turkish background.

May 14, 2013: The chief prosecutor

Federal Prosecutor General Herbert Diemer reads out from the bill of indictment, which is 500 pages long. Zschäpe is charged with 10 counts of murder, 25 counts of attempted murder, 10 counts of robbery, extortion and membership in a terrorist organization.

Members of the German Federal Prosecutor's Office arrive for the continuation of the NSU trial on September 30, 2013
(Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

With a series of crimes to clarify, the trial is a lengthy one

According to the plaintiffs, the murders committed by Zschäpe and her accomplices were fueled by their racist beliefs. The acts themselves were carried out by Böhnhardt and Mundlos, who committed suicide when the terror group was uncovered. But as Zschäpe was considered indispensible in the planning of the crimes, she is accused of being a co-perpetrator. She faces a possible life sentence.

June 19, 2013: The alleged accomplices

A man associated with the NSU, Carsten S., is one of the five people charged as part of the trial. Unlike the others, he provides a lengthy testimony. He supplied the NSU trio with the most essential murder weapon: a pistol with a silencer.

Over several days, Carsten S. sheds light on the NSU's activities in the 1990s. It is a world of hate, violence and inhumane ideology. Carsten S. apologizes for his own involvement and expresses deep sympathy towards the victims. He says he cannot imagine what "incredible suffering" has been brought on the families.

June 25, 2014: The terrorists' apartment

More accusations against Zschäpe - this time based on testimony from an arson investigator. Shortly after Mundlos and Böhnhardt took their lives in November 2011 following a failed bank robbery, Zschäpe left the house in the city of Zwickau that the trio inhabited. Moments later it went up in flames.

Investigators managed to find various pieces of evidence in the burned-out building, including weapons and money obtained during bank robberies. In 19 places they found traces of fire accelerant, including in Zschäpe's clothing.

July 24, 2013: The local scene

A weapon that was found in the NSU members' apartment
(Photo: Franziska Kraufmann/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

The weapons found in the terror cell's apartment provide clues

Olaf B. resides in the street where the NSU house stood. Every now and then he likes to meet up with his neighbors for a glass of wine or a beer. In the past, Zschäpe sometimes took part in these spirited gatherings, and as a result Olaf B. has been summoned to testify as a witness.

He says he knew nothing of Zschäpe's NSU involvement; she lived under a false name. Nevertheless, he has to answer some unpleasant questions about his own ties to right-wing radicalism. He allegedly had a picture of Adolf Hitler standing on his television set and his admissions reveal how widespread xenophobic thinking is in certain parts of the country.

October 1, 2013: The victim

Ismail Yozgat gives a moving testimony of the murder of his 21-year-old son, Halit Yozgat, by the NSU. He then yells out with pain in his voice, "What gave you the right to do this?" He explains what the family has had to live through, treated as suspects by the police following the murder. Yozgat suffered a heart attack as a result of all the stress.

Zschäpe sits through the testimony seemingly unaffected. Most of the time she stares at her laptop screen.

November 27, 2013: The family

On the 61st day of the trial, Zschäpe's mother appears in court. She doesn't say much and refuses to testify. Zschäpe stares into the distance and doesn't react to her mother's presence.

July 16, 2014: The defenders

It is midday on the 128th day of the proceedings when a surprising turn occurs: Zschäpe communicates her decision to reject her lawyers via a police officer, indicating she has lost confidence in them. The court is forced to assess the bid, but rejects it a few days later.

A neo-Nazi demonstration in Germany
(Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka /dpa)

The NSU could rely on support from other neo-Nazis in Germany

July 22, 2014: The supporters

Thomas G. is a staunch neo-Nazi. He regularly disseminates racist and anti-democratic slogans via social media. He is made to testify in the trial as he belongs to the right-wing-extremist circles associated with the NSU. Like most other neo-Nazis in these proceedings, he refuses to answer most of the questions.

After months of testimonies it has become clear that the neo-Nazi network is tightly knit. The NSU crimes and the subsequent trial don't seem to have weakened the solidarity that exists within it. And this brings up the question whether the NSU had a broader support base than has so far been apparent.

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