Judge in neo-Nazi trial accused of bias

String of slayings renews debate on race in Germany

Judge Goetzl suspended the proceedings after lawyers challenged his neutrality.
Judge Goetzl suspended the proceedings after lawyers challenged his neutrality.

MUNICH — The murder trial of an alleged German neo-Nazi was put on hold Monday after defense lawyers accused the presiding judge of bias.

Judge Manfred Goetzl said he would rule by May 14 on defense motions that he should recuse himself.

Beate Zschäpe, 38, the surviving member of a neo-Nazi trio accused of a string of anti-immigrant killings in the last decade, faces trial amid a renewed debate about racism in Germany’s security services and society.


Zschäpe is charged with killing eight men of Turkish descent, a man of Greek descent, and a policewoman as well as carrying out two bombings and belonging to a terrorist group.

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She will be tried with four men who are charged with supporting the trio that called itself the National Socialist Underground, or NSU, a play on the name for Hitler’s National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis.

The case has shaken the country’s security services and confronted Germans with uncomfortable questions about prejudice against the immigrants who make up an increasingly large part of society.

The trial, expected to take more than a year, will be closely watched by the 3 million Turks and other immigrants who call Germany home. Many of the country’s Turks have questioned how the country’s security services could have overlooked the group for so long.

Many of the country’s allies are following it as a test of Germans’ ability to come to terms with their modern, multicultural identity.


Mehmet Daimagüler, a lawyer representing several of the victims’ survivors, who are allowed to take part in the trial as co-plaintiffs, compared the importance of the trial to the Allies’ prosecution of Nazis after World War II.

“This is no different than Nuremberg,” Daimagüler said.

The group is charged with killing the nine men between 2000 and 2006.

The killings were initially known as the “döner murders,” a reference to the Turkish kebabs sold in stands across the country, a tag the survivors found demeaning. The group is also charged with killing a female police officer in 2007.

For years, however, investigators focused on members of organized crime as the main suspects in the killings.


Only after two of the group members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, killed themselves as police officers closed in on them after a bank robbery in 2011 did evidence emerge that led authorities to focus on far-right hate as a reason for the crimes.

After the opening formalities, Goetzl suspended the proceedings after Zschäpe’s lawyers challenged his neutrality on the grounds he required her lawyers to go through security controls. The lawyers called that an “open discrimination” against the defense.

A small woman with long dark hair that she frequently tossed back from her face, Zschäpe stood with her arms crossed and her back to the courtroom for 20 minutes, nibbling mints offered by her lawyers. The four others facing accessory charges partly covered their faces as they entered the packed courtroom.