Taking a Stand Against Neo-Nazi Terror: Merkel Asks Victims' Relatives for Forgiveness

At a memorial event for the victims of the neo-Nazi terror cell on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked their relatives for forgiveness for investigators' wrongful suspicions about the victims and their families. She called on Germany not to forget. "Indifference has a devastating effect," she said.

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Germany has paid tribute to the victims of the neo-Nazi terror cell with a moving ceremony in Berlin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the keynote speech at the event in Berlin's Konzerthaus concert hall on Thursday morning. In front of around 1,200 guests, including relatives of the victims and many leading politicians, she described the murder series as an "attack" on Germany and a "disgrace for our country."

Merkel read out the names of the murder victims and described their family backgrounds and future plans. "He had no chance to achieve his dreams," she said, in reference to one of the victims.

The Zwickau-based neo-Nazi terror cell is believed to have murdered nine small businessmen of Turkish and Greek origin and one policewoman between 2000 and 2007. The revelations about the murder series shocked Germany when the terror cell was discovered in November 2011 and sparked a heated debate about the threat of right-wing extremism.

Police had earlier failed to solve the murder series despite extensive efforts. The victims' families have complained that investigators initially assumed that the murders must have been motivated by family tensions or criminal ties, and argued that such suppositions were racist.

At Thursday's event, Merkel asked the victims' relatives for forgiveness for investigators' false suspicions. "These years must have been a never-ending nightmare for you," she said. Nobody could undo the anger and the desperation, she said, but added: "You are no longer alone with your sorrow. We share your pain, we mourn with you." She promised that the authorities would do everything in their power to clear up the circumstances of the murders.

Merkel also called on all Germans to show empathy and awareness. "We forget too quickly and we repress things too quickly," she said. "Indifference has a devastating effect."

'We Weren't Even Allowed to Be Victims'

Members of the victims' families also paid moving tribute to their late relatives. Semiya Simsek's father Enver Simsek was murdered in Nuremberg in broad daylight on Sept. 9, 2000, the first of the victims of the murder series. "I lost my father," she said during her speech at the service. "Let us prevent that from happening to other families."

Simsek also talked of the burden of having to live with the false suspicion that family-related or criminal motives must have been behind the murder. "For 11 years, we weren't even allowed to be victims with a clear conscience."

She called on Germans to strive for tolerance in the country and to do more to make sure that everyone could achieve their potential, regardless of their origin. "Let us not close our eyes and pretend we have already reached this goal," she said.

Gamze Kubasik, whose father was murdered in Dortmund on April 4, 2006, spoke of her hope "for a future that is characterized by more solidarity." She said that future was symbolized by the candle that she and Simsek carried out of the hall at the end of the event.

Originally, former German President Christian Wulff, who had organized the event at the victims' request, was to hold the keynote speech at the service. Merkel stood in for him after his resignation last week.

Companies, public institutions and schools across Germany also held a one-minute silence at noon on Thursday to commemorate the victims. Public transport in Berlin and Hamburg stood still for one minute, and flags were flown at half-mast in many places.

dgs -- with wire reports

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