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German of the Week
Beate Zschäpe: neo-Nazi of mystery
Photo: DPA

Beate Zschäpe: neo-Nazi of mystery

Published: 09 May 2013 11:19 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 May 2013 11:19 GMT+02:00

One person has been the focus of attention in Germany this week - when perhaps ten others should have been. The trial of Beate Zschäpe in connection with a neo-Nazi killing spree opened on Monday, making her our German of the Week.

Some have argued that the ten people Zschäpe stands accused of helping to murder - eight men of Turkish origin, another with Greek roots, and a German policewoman - were overshadowed during the chaotic start of the judicial process.

Others have gone further and say that although the process will take at least two years and be mind-blowingly detailed, the trial itself is more digestible for a nation hungry for answers about the murders, than the institutional incompetence and racism that was this week described as society's wallpaper.

And so, even as demonstrators outside the Munich court room held up photos of the victims, inside - and around the world - all eyes were inevitably on Zschäpe, or rather on the back she had firmly turned on photographers.

Different attention because of her gender?

And all that attention on Zschäpe has been - perhaps not greater - but skewed, because of her gender.

First, her presence in the fascist terrorist gang brought implications of salaciousness to the gory story and the National Socialist Underground trio. Apparently she had initially been girlfriend to Uwe Mundlos and then left him for Uwe Böhnhardt.

She shared with them the now notorious flat in Zwickau, introducing one to neighbours as her boyfriend, the other as her brother. It seems the men were crucial in her life and she told police her family was dead when she handed herself in shortly after the two Uwes died in a murder-suicide.

Was it this tangled relationship, or simply the fact that she was a woman, that led large parts of the German media to label her the Nazi Braut - Nazi bride or Nazi moll?

There has even been focus on her clothes. Zschäpe, whose dark suit and white shirt that she wore in court on Monday were subject to a detailed examination, is now back to wearing prison issue blue trousers, a checked shirt and white sweatshirt, tabloid paper Bild gleefully reported on Tuesday.

Did her gender make her any less complicit than the male accomplices also standing trial in Munich - for lesser and fewer crimes?

Is there an assumption that she could not have been a driving force behind the campaign of terror that the trio are alleged to have carried out against immigrants over seven years?

What really eludes us all in the Zschäpe enigma is any clue to her motivation. The details of her early life are fairly miserable, supposedly dominated by a dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

Still, it seems the pieces were picked up fairly effectively by her grandmother, and her childhood was no more miserable than many others who did not turn to neo-Nazism.

Reasons remain mysterious

Yet she broke off contact with her grandmother, and she and the two Uwes became heavily involved in the regional fascist scene. They became founder members of the Jena area Kameradschaft group, and had links to the highly unpleasant Thuringia Homeland Protection League (THS).

Why the trio decided to form their little National Socialist Underground cell and jump headlong into direct action allegedly culminating in serial murder, is also a puzzle, not least because Zschäpe has refused to speak during her pre-trial custody.

Yet for Zschäpe, being a neo-Nazi was a full time occupation. While she juggled several identities in order to defraud the social security system the Uwes repeatedly risked discovery and arrest by carrying out multiple bank robberies.

And all the while the trio were allegedly planning the murders and bombings that the two men travelled the length and breadth of the country to carry out.

Zschäpe has so far refused to make any statements to the police, and her lawyers - with names which are German for Steel, Storm and Army - have said she will not speak in court - all of which only heightens the mystery shrouding the woman at the centre of Germany's neo-Nazi storm.

Hannah Cleaver

hannah.cleaver@thelocal.com

twitter.com/hannahcleaver2

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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