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Worldcrunch

Our Son Was A Neo-Nazi Terrorist

In the former East German state of Thuringia, Uwe Bhnhardt was a good student in elementary school. Then something changed. He would wind up at the center of a murderous Neo-Nazi criminal cell. Bhnhardt's parents try to retrace the steps that led to his ugly demise.

Article illustrative image Partner logo German right-wing terror suspects Beate Zschpe, Uwe Bhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos (Wikipedia)

JENA-LOBEDA - The teenager in the photographs is 16 years old. In one picture, he and his girlfriend hold hands and smile shyly at the camera. Maybe its better hes dead, says his mother softly. We wouldnt know how to relate to him after what hes done.

The pictures were taken in 1996 and show Uwe Bhnhardt, who was to become a multiple murderer, and Beate Zschpe, his girlfriend and accomplice-to-be.

The couple belonged to the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU) National Socialist Underground a terror cell. Also involved in the group was a man named Uwe Mundlos, with whom Bhnhardt and Zschpe allegedly robbed 14 banks and shot nine people to death. They may also have been involved in the killing of a policewoman in Heilbronn. In 2004, they set off a bomb in Cologne and apparently had a video made in which they bragged about it. The series of attacks was the most deadly committed in Germany in the last 20 years.

Along with Mundlos, Bhnhardt died in an apparent suicide pact earlier this month. It was the first news the parents had of their grown son in more than a decade, recount Brigitte, 63, and Jrgen Bhnhardt, 67, as they sit in their apartment in Jena-Lobeda, in the state of Thuringia, formerly in East Germany. Mrs. Bhnhardt has made coffee, and placed a tin of homemade cookies on the table.

She and her husband speak of trying to understand and forgive their child. They look for reasons, causes, signs, some hint as to how their lanky teenage boy could have become a cold-blooded murderer. They still love him: Hes our son, we cant help it, says Brigitte Bhnhardt.

Her husband, an avid hiker and retired engineer who worked for decades in the development department of the German glass company Schott, follows the conversation attentively but mostly just nods.

Slippery slope

He always did well in school, always did his homework,  says Brigitte Bhnhardt, an important marker for a woman who was a teacher for 40 years in both the East and West German systems. Uwes brother, eight years his senior, developed without problems, she said.

Then Uwe failed seventh grade. This was the summer of 1991, the dawn of a new era, when the whole school system in East Germany and everything else -- was being overhauled. It was a tumultuous time with totally frustrated kids and totally frustrated parents, says Bhnhardt.

In the fall of 1991, Uwe began to skip school. As far as his parents were concerned, all was well: he got up every morning and his mother watched him walk into the nearby school from the balcony. What she didnt know was that he was walking in the front door and right out the back.

Then the stealing began, starting with things like candy and cigarettes. Uwe was breaking into kiosks and early in 1992 the police came to the flat to search for stolen goods. It was a very tough time for us," says Brigitte. "We could feel how he was slipping away from us.

Reluctantly, in early 1992 Uwes parents sought out the youth welfare department, which placed him in a home for juveniles. From there he was bussed to and from another school every day. His parents kept telling themselves it was only a few months until the end of the year, when he wouldbe back home, hopefully having passed seventh grade.

Dangerous liaisons

But Uwe managed to skip school in his new set-up just as he had in the old, and after two months his parents were asked to take him back. For a while he attended a special class, which seemed to be going pretty well until Uwe and some of his friends broke into the school and stole computers. Uwe was expelled.

After a series of thefts, break-ins and acts of violence, he finally ended up in jail where his parents visited him every week. Uwe Bhnhardt looked set to pursue a career as a criminal but then signed up to train as a skilled construction worker, getting 81/100 on his final exam. That was a period of great hope for us, says his father.

It was around this time beginning in 1994 that Uwe got to know some right-wing extremists, including his would-be partner-in-crime, Uwe Mundlos. His parents, hoping he would soon find a job, bought him a red Hyundai. His mother dreamt that he would also meet a girl and fall in love. That can sometimes make all the difference, she says.

But Uwe Bhnhardt couldnt keep a job. In 1997, he allegedly hung a doll from an overhead pass spanning the Autobahn. He adorned the doll with a star, like the ones Jews had to wear during the Nazi era, and the words Danger! Bomb!

His parents were outraged. I said to him Do you even know any Jews? Where do you get these ideas? his mother recalls. By now, Uwe was meeting his right-wing friends almost daily, and his girlfriend, Beate who his parents liked had started hanging out with them too.

Uwe Bhnhardt started ranting about the Fhrer, Volk and Vaterland. His parents tried to talk sense into him, but he would just laugh and say I think its time we stopped this discussion, says Brigitte.

How to prevail? In one case, a judge asked them why they just didnt kick their son out. He couldnt believe we showed up at every court session to give Uwe moral support.

The police paid regular visits to the Bhnhardt flat, looking for weapons, stolen goods, and propaganda material. But his parents continued to let Uwe live at home, so as not to lose touch with him completely. And they kept thinking they could somehow fight whatever was taking over their son's life.

A losing game

On Jan. 26, 1998, Brigitte and Jrgen Bhnhardt finally realized the battle was lost. During yet another search of their apartment, authorities seized a computer, plasticene and insulating tape. They then found a pipe bomb containing 1.5 kilos of TNT in a garage nearby. Uwe disappeared. His life underground had begun. An acquaintance drove his red Hyundai back and threw the keys into the mailbox.

Later his parents found a note in the mailbox, saying to go to a specific phone booth on such a day at such a time and wait for the phone to ring. The Bhnhardts followed the instructions and spoke with Uwe. It was a relief to know he was still alive, says his father. They tried to talk him into giving himself up, saying they would support him, that he could get through these problems. All three of them were crying. Uwe refused. There were a couple more contacts like that, and then nothing.

His parents eventually cleared their sons room. His mother told herself hed probably left Germany, gone someplace like Australia, made a fresh start. But an early morning phone call this past Nov. 5 ended those illusions. Brigitte picked up the receiver.

Hi, this is Beate, a womans voice said.

Who?

Me, Beate. Beate Zschpe.

Beate? Hows Uwe?

Uwe wont be back.

Are you going to give yourselves up?

No.

Is he dead?

Yes

The story dominated news reports. The parents read, listened, confused, disbelieving. Our Uwe? The police came round, asking when theyd last seen their son. His body needed to be identified before he could officially be declared dead. Uwe Mundlos had been found dead with him.

Every day brought new revelations about the NSU, and what its members had done. It was a long time before Uwes parents could finally believe it. Thats not my son, it cant be, his mother says she kept thinking. But I have to accept it.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Wikipedia

 

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About this article source Website: http://www.welt.de/

Die Welt (The World) is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.

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