Beate Zschäpe on trial
January 2, 1975
Jena, East Germany
|Criminal charge||10 counts of murder, membership of a terrorist organisation and arson|
Beate Zschäpe (German: [beˈʔaːtə ˈtʃɛːpə]; née Apel; born 2 January 1975) is a German right-wing extremist and was a member of the neo-Nazi terror group National Socialist Underground (NSU). In July 2018, she was sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed in connection with the NSU, including murder and arson.
Beate Zschäpe's mother was a citizen of East Germany who studied dentistry at UMF Bucharest. According to her mother, Zschäpe's father was a Romanian fellow dentistry student. Zschäpe never met him, and she denied being his daughter until his death in 2000. Her mother worked in accounts at Zeiss until 1991, when she became (but did not register as) unemployed.
Living in an austere neighbourhood of Jena, Zschäpe's relationship with her mother was at best uneasy and she spent much of her time in the care of her grandmother. Her mother married and divorced twice and each time Zschäpe took on the surname of her mother's new partner. During the first fifteen years of her life, she moved six times within Jena and its surroundings.
A school report for her second school year (1982/1983) says, "Beate strives to achieve good learning results, but often lacks the necessary concentration and order, so she does not reach her full capability ... she is actively and joyfully involved in Pioneer Life".
In 1991, after she finished tenth grade (age 15–16), she left her mainstream school, the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe School, in the Winzerla district of Jena and began work under a job creation program as a painter's assistant. She then went on to do an apprenticeship as a gardener, from 1992–96, specializing in vegetable growing.
Around the time of the reunification of Germany in 1990, the politics around Zschäpe were in turmoil and, in contrast to official GDR propaganda, racism was already widespread.
Aged 14, Zschäpe joined a youth gang which called itself Die Zecken ("The Ticks"). Although the group considered itself politically leftist, there were also completely non-politically oriented members. When Die Zecken planned to attack a meeting of young right-extremists and beat a few of them up, she tagged along. Otherwise she is described at the time as just wanting to enjoy life, only seldom expressing herself politically, and as having a liking for the magazine Bravo (illegal in East Germany).
Her involvement with the political right began around 1991. She met Uwe Mundlos, the son of a computer science professor at the Jena University of Applied Sciences who arrived in Winzerla with his family just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She formed a relationship with him and entered Jena's neo-Nazi underground, coming into contact with the national and international neo-Nazi network. Uwe Böhnhardt, whose parents were a teacher and an engineer, became a close friend of theirs.
A friend at the time later described her as primitive, empty-headed, with a vulgar demeanour and way of expression lacking any concern for manners. Mundlos he describes as clever but lazy. Criminality (including stealing computers from his school) had left Böhnhardt without qualifications. Neither Zschäpe nor Mundlos were without criminal behaviour by this time. A co-accused in the NSU trial describes Zschäpe as an achiever and not one to be subordinated. A letter Zschäpe wrote while in prison is 26 pages long, in legible, clear script without spelling errors. Sketches in it show clear ability at drawing.
On 8 November 2011, Zschäpe tried to turn herself in to the police by a phone call, when she introduced herself saying, "Hello, this is Beate Zschäpe". She said that she was the person they had been looking for and that she was the reason why the whole city had been closed off. However, the policeman who had answered the call did not recognize her and said he did not know anything about such a case. A few hours later, Zschäpe herself arrived with her lawyer at the police station in Jena. Since 8 November 2011, she has been held in custody. On 11 November 2011, the Office of the Attorney General of Germany began investigating Zschäpe's [then alleged] membership of a terrorist unit.
On 8 November 2012, one year after the series of murders became known, the Office of the Attorney General pressed charges against Zschäpe and four alleged supporters. "As a founding member of the NSU", she was accused of having taken part in the murders of eight fellow citizens of Turkish origin and one fellow citizen of Greek origin, in the murderous attack on two police officers in Heilbronn, as well as in the attempted murders by bomb attacks of the NSU in the historic district of Cologne and in Cologne-Mülheim.
According to the charges, the NSU was a group of three members with equal rights who committed their crimes after having coordinated their division of labour. In this process, Zschäpe is said to have had the indispensable task of giving the existence of such a terrorist unit the appearance of normality and legality by, among other things, maintaining an inconspicuous façade at their respective places of residence and by securing their joint flat as a safe haven and headquarters for their actions. In addition, she is said to have been "significantly responsible for the logistics of the group".
In a fingerprint analysis, evidence of Zschäpe's DNA is said to have been found on newspaper articles about the bomb attack in Cologne and the murder of Habil Kilic. In addition, Zschäpe is accused of having "set the flat in Zwickau on fire, hereby having rendered herself liable for prosecution for the attempted murder of a neighbour and two craftsmen as well as for particularly serious arson".
The department of public prosecution in Zwickau also investigated her because child pornographic data had been found on her computer. However, this investigation was said to have been closed, since the penalty for this would be of "no significant weight" in comparison to the penalty for the actions of which she had already been accused.
In February 2013, 60-year-old Annerose Zschäpe told Focus that she thought her daughter was being prejudged and that her position was not being considered objectively. She said that part of a statement she had made to police was misrepresented in the press or taken out of context. She said there was a lot she would like to see put straight, but she did not want to say more before the trial commenced.
The trial started on 6 May 2013 before a division of the Higher Regional Court in Munich dealing with state security cases. According to the code of criminal procedure, the trial was required to take place in one of the federal states in which one of the crime scenes of the NSU is located. Five of the nine murders of immigrants took place in Bavaria. Zschäpe was defended by Wolfgang Heer (Cologne), Wolfgang Stahl (Koblenz) and Anja Sturm (Berlin).
Her defence counsel argued that Zschäpe could be accused of complicity in the NSU murders. In January 2013, the Higher Regional Court in Munich proposed to ease the conditions of Zschäpe’s imprisonment because the NSU did not exist anymore and, therefore, support of the group by the imprisoned woman was no longer possible.
In December 2015, Zschäpe, the only surviving member, broke her silence after two and a half years and made a statement, denying that she had been a member of the NSU; although she was involved with some of their members, she herself was not a member and disapproved of their actions. She apologised to victims' families, saying that she felt morally guilty that she could not prevent the murders and bomb attacks carried out by Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt. Few took her apology seriously or accepted it. Bild ran a headline "Zschaepe's confession - nothing but excuses!" In September 2017, the prosecutors demanded a life sentence for her.