German state failures: parallels between Gröning and neo-Nazi trials
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German state failures: parallels between Gröning and neo-Nazi trials

Mehmet Daimagüler represented an Auschwitz survivor in the Gröning trial and relatives of NSU murder victims in the ongoing trial of Beate Zschäpe. He told DW about Germany’s persistent blindness to Nazism.

Many people question whether it’s still necessary to put on trial the 94-year-old Oskar Gröning, a self-professed “small cog” in the Auschwitz murder machine that was stopped 70 years ago. For Mehmet Daimagüler, “It is more necessary now than ever.”

The Berlin lawyer is representing co-plaintiffs in both the trial against the former Nazi officer, who was convicted Wednesday on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder in 1944, and the ongoing trial of Beate Zschäpe, a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground group. Zschäpe is accused of helping murder at least 10 people in a series of attacks between 2000 and 2006.

In Gröning’s trial in Lüneburg on Tuesday, Daimagüler was the last of a long line of plaintiffs’ lawyers to offer a closing argument, but he was one of the few to put the Holocaust trial in the context of neo-Nazi atrocities happening in Germany today.

“In Munich there are anti-Semites in the dock who both in word and deed propagated murder fantasies about Jews and immigrants, and at the same time bluster about the ‘Auschwitz lie,'” he told the court. “Friends and acquaintances of the accused appear as witnesses and have a similar attitude. Let’s not have any illusions: these are not just individual tragic cases.”

Every year, he added, thousands of people take to the streets of Dresden to condemn what they call the “bomb Holocaust” that destroyed the city during the war: “What are they doing but trivializing the Holocaust?”

Failures of the state

Outside the court in Lüneburg, just after Judge Franz Kompisch had delivered his verdict to Gröning, Daimagüler said he had reservations about the judge’s closing statement.

“I was pleased about many things, but for my taste the judge should have been more frank when it comes to the failure of German justice in the past 40, 50, 60 years,” Daimagüler said. “Putting a 94-year-old man on trial who is not going to spend a single day in jail – this is really missing something. We should speak very clear and very loud – this is the last trial of its kind. I think he missed a chance to talk about the failure in German politics and German justice in post-war history.”

In the NSU trial, Daimagüler is representing relatives of Abdurrahim Özüdogru, a factory worker killed in Nuremberg in 2001, and Ismail Yasar, a kebab shop owner killed in the same city in 2005. As with the other murders attributed to the NSU, the police failed to solve the crimes partly because they did not attribute them to neo-Nazis. As the trial and several parliamentary inquiries have shown, authorities wasted years chasing non-existent connections between victims and the Turkish mafia and put surviving relatives under surveillance for no reason.

‘A kind of blindness’

That is part of the reason why Daimagüler said he sees more parallels between the trials than just the ideology of the defendants. “There is the question of the failure of the government, of the state,” he said. “In the Munich trial, we have to say that many of the victims would be alive if the authorities had acted in the proper way.

“And when it comes to this trial here in Lüneburg, we have to deal with the obvious fact that for decades, the German justice system failed to prosecute Nazis properly,” he said. “There are always two aspects – the behavior of the defendant, and the behavior of the authorities.”

Daimagüler’s colleague Cornelius Nestler, who represented 49 Holocaust survivors in the Gröning trial, was more cautious about drawing connections between the cases but agreed that the German judiciary’s historical failure to prosecute Holocaust crimes is also a symptom of the state’s unwillingness to face Nazism.

“There is still not enough awareness among the German authorities of the importance of really fighting crimes of anti-Semitism,” Nestler said. “It’s a kind of blindness.”