It is difficult to overstate the importance of the trial that begins on Monday in Munich. Nominally, the proceedings are to determine the degree to which the defendant Beate Zschäpe was involved in the murder of 10 people, nine of them with immigrant backgrounds, between 2000 and 2007. Expectations, however, are much higher. First and foremost, German society is demanding answers to one central question: In a country marked so deeply by its Nazi past, how could a murderous trio of neo-Nazis remain undetected for so long?
Protesters in front of the heavily guarded courthouse highlighted those questions on Monday, with some holding up a banner which read “Why were the authorities blind?” Indeed, Germany’s Turkish community — to which eight of the murder victims belonged — along with many others in the country continue to wonder how police failed for years to explore the possibility that racism was the primary motive behind the killings. The series of blunders that characterized official handling of the case has further undermined confidence in German authorities.
The trial, narrowly focused as it is, will not likely be able to answer all of the questions that have arisen since the existence of the terror trio, known as the National Socialist Underground or NSU, came to light in November of 2011. Indeed, there is no guarantee that Zschäpe, as the primary defendant, or any of the four alleged accomplices also in the dock will even be found guilty. The two NSU members widely believed to have been responsible for pulling the trigger in the 10 murders — Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt — committed suicide on Nov. 4, 2011 after being cornered by police following a bank robbery. And Zschäpe has refused to talk. Whether it can be proven that she and the other defendants knew about the killings and provided assistance remains to be seen; the trial is expected to last up to two years, and perhaps longer.
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