On 4 November 2011, the police finally tracked down two men who were wanted for questioning in connection with at least 14 bank raids in towns across East Germany. Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found dead in a camping bus in Eisenach, along with a pistol that had been used to kill at least nine men between 1999 and 2007. Eight of the victims were of Turkish origin, the ninth was born in Greece. The authorities had not previously considered that the murders might be racially motivated: racist attacks are often explained away by the police as ‘drunken brawls over private issues’. Official data put the number of racially motivated murders in Germany since 1990 at 48, but activist groups and journalists say the figure is closer to 140.
On 11 November, after a fire in a flat in Zwickau, a small town 150 km east of Eisenach, the police found evidence linking the woman who had rented the flat to Böhnhardt and Mundlos, and a pistol originally issued to a policewoman who had been shot in April 2007 in Heilbronn, 300 km south-west of Zwickau. There was also a DVD documenting the nine murders and a homemade board game based on them.
By mid-November it was clear that Böhnhardt and Mundlos were responsible for the deaths of at least ten people, and had carried out a large number of bank raids. Documents revealed that they were members of a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which the police had apparently never heard of. But neo-Nazi sympathisers must have supplied Böhnhardt and Mundlos with cash, cars, documents and accommodation, and the search began for these supporters.
It has since emerged that the security services had been watching the NSU since 1998, when they found explosives in a garage used by the cell. Somehow, the men escaped and went into hiding – at least that was the official version of events, but evidence now indicates that the security services were in close contact with the group but didn’t keep the police informed about their activities.
It seems likely that the National Democratic Party (NPD), which openly proclaims racist policies, has informal contacts with members of such cells as the Zwickau NSU. Gerhard Schroeder’s government tried in 2003 to have the NPD banned by the Federal Supreme Court but the application was rejected when the judges learned that around 20 per cent of the party leadership were paid informants of the security services.
The German intelligence services don’t reveal classified information or the names of their moles to the police forces at national or local level. A senior police officer said in December that a meeting with the intelligence services in his region consisted of them giving him all the reasons they could not give him any relevant information on neo-Nazi cells. A ‘Co-ordination Centre on Right-Wing Extremism’ has now been established at national level to pool information on neo-Nazi groups and their activities, but to judge by the results of the work of the intelligence services in the past there’s no reason to think that the incidence of racial violence will now decrease. One of their paid informants was present when Halit K. was killed by Böhnhardt and Mundlos in an internet café in 2006. His nickname in the service was ‘Little Adolf’ and he had a copy of Mein Kampf at home.
In the wake of the revelations about the Zwickau NSU cell, politicians now plan to keep a closer watch on such groups and the national government intends to raise the issue of the legality of the NPD before the Federal Supreme Court again – a difficult task in itself, and quite what it would achieve is unclear. There is an argument that it would simply drive the activists underground and make it more difficult to monitor them. To improve the effectiveness of the undercover work the liberal minister of justice has suggested reducing the number of intelligence services, but they are under the control of the local state authorities which are unlikely to give them up.
According to a study conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Society in 2010, 39 per cent of German adults believe that migrants ‘constitute a danger to the stability of the country’ and ‘come to Germany to live off social security’; 15 per cent believe that ‘Jews do not belong’ in Germany. These views were expressed by members of all social groups and by supporters of all of the political parties.