03/18/2022

The Hammerskins in the context of the ‘NSU Complex’

Article 5 of 7 in the Hammerskins Series

This article was first published in German by Exif – Recherche & Analyse

In November 2011, the “Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund” [“National Socialist Underground,” or NSU] and their right-wing terrorist murder series were exposed. The NSU-Complex has remained unresolved to this day. Several of its supporters are at large (again). Many were never even targeted by investigators. The Hammerskins moved almost entirely below their radar. 

In mid-July 2021, Exif-Recherche [an anti-fascist research organisation] published their findings in a dossier about the Hammerskins in the context of the NSU. In the NSU investigations, their members appear without being marked as Hammerskins. Several of them, in particular from the “Chapter Sachsen” [Saxony chapter], had been in contact with the convicted NSU supporters on various occasions since the 1990s. They jointly set up substantial organisational structures in Thuringia and Saxony during the 2000s. Hammerskins were critical in organising financial support for the imprisoned NSU accomplice Ralf Wohlleben and also socialised with him privately.

The front row around Kapke, Wohlleben and Eminger

André Kapke from Jena was an important figure in what would become the NSU. He was a member of the “Thüringer Heimatschutz” [Thuringia Homeland Protection, or THS] network, the same organisation in which the core NSU trio had been active and become politicised. He participated in various activities together with Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe. 

When the core trio went into hiding in 1998, Kapke tried to organise their support via neo-Nazis in Berlin. Together with the NSU accomplice Ralf Wohlleben, he organised donations for the core trio. Kapke was also involved in the attempt to provide the NSU with false passports. 

When, on 4 November 2011, a motorhome used by the NSU was burned in Eisenach and the corpses of Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt were found inside, André Kapke’s mobile phone was logged into a nearby radio cell for 12 minutes. The investigating authorities suspected him of having contacted Beate Zschäpe via mobile phone on that day. To date, it remains a mystery as to how Beate Zschäpe learned that her allies committed suicide in the motorhome in Eisenach. 

The neo-Nazi Ralf Wohlleben was arrested a few days after they unmasked themselves. He is one of the major supporters of the NSU. He coordinated the aid in collaboration with the support structures in Saxony. He supplied the NSU with the weapon they used in their racist series of murders. In 2018, Wohlleben was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for complicity in murder and released a few days later from custody, as he had already served his full sentence.

The defendant André Eminger was treated far more leniently by the judge. He and his spouse Susann Eminger were the closest associates of the core NSU trio and their confidantes. Both had provided substantial assistance to Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt during their life under false names. André Eminger also facilitated the logistics underlying the terrorist activities. On three occasions between 2000 and 2003, he had rented motorhomes on behalf of the trio, which the latter then used for robberies and for the bomb attack in Cologne’s Probsteigasse. 

In November 2011, Beate Zschäpe tried to erase all traces in her home by setting it ablaze. She quickly phoned André Eminger, who then helped her escape from Zwickau. Zschäpe—and, presumably, others—then mailed at least fifteen DVDs to different recipients in which the NSU claimed responsibility for the murders. Six of the DVDs were supposedly sent by Beate Zschäpe herself. André Eminger received a prison sentence after being convicted for supporting a terrorist group.

The untouched second row

It would appear more than obvious that the NSU relied on a larger support network in order to live underground and continue killing for so long. But the network surrounding the prominent NSU supporters was spared any meaningful investigations in connection with the NSU case. And this is precisely where we find important representatives of the Hammerskins, too.

The Struck connection

This included, for example, the neo-Nazi activist Mandy Struck from Schwarzenberg, who enabled Beate Zschäpe to live underground by allowing her to use her identity for several years. 

Struck organised one of the first hideouts for the fugitive trio in 1998. It was the home of Struck’s then partner Max-Florian Burkhardt in Chemnitz, Saxony. By the time the NSU unmasked itself in 2011, his name had come up in connection with the renting of apartments and an account—while a passport used by Uwe Mundlos was also issued in Burkhardt’s name. 

From Struck, the trail leads to Thomas Gerlach from the Altenburger Land region in Thuringia—who remains a member of the “Hammerskin Nation” to this day. He is even supposed to have had a love affair with Beate Zschäpe at one point, according to the report by a so-called “V-Mann” [a paid informant]. He himself denies this. 

When Gerlach was in custody in the early 2000s, he kept in touch with Mandy Struck via the “Aid organisation for national political prisoners” (HNG). After his release in October 2004, the two were in a brief relationship. When the neo-Nazi forum “HatecoreTK” was hacked at the end of 2005, it transpired that Gerlach used the name of Struck as a personal password. Using his alias “Ace”, he wrote numerous articles on the main forum and also communicated with neo-Nazis from all over Germany on a secret sub-forum. To access both, he used the password “struck-mandy”. Even in March 2005, Struck and Gerlach took part in a rally in the Thuringian town of Greiz. 

When Thomas Gerlach had to go to the witness box at the NSU trial in 2014, he stated that his ‘own value system’ prevented him from commenting in any way on the subject of the Hammerskins. One day before his second summons to the witness box, he met with the European head of the Hammerskins, Malte Redeker. Afterwards, Gerlach announced via his lawyer that he could not comment on the Hammerskins without incriminating himself. And, indeed, he got away with that.

The Richter connection

Upon request, Gerlach, however, admitted at the NSU trial to having known the neo-Nazi Thomas Richter from Halle. Richter’s details were found on an NSU contact list in the NSU’s garage in Jena, and he knew Uwe Mundlos from his time in the German army. 

Thomas Richter was an active informant (“V-Mann”) for the intelligence service. From the mid-2000s until the early 2010s, he moved within the circle of the Hammerskins. On their internal forum, the Hammerskins gave Richter a warm welcome in January 2010. He had registered with the forum in 2009 and used the “Crew 38” logo as an avatar. One quite delicate aspect about this is that Richter himself had temporarily come under suspicion of having been aware of the NSU’s existence—well before its self-exposure. According to an expert, it can be said ‘with great certainty’ that he was producing CDs as early as 2003 in which reference to the name NSU was made for the first time.

The Bielefeld connection

From the circle around Thomas Gerlach, there are also traces that lead to the NSU victim Michèle Kiesewetter. The murdered policewoman’s closest friends and contacts were harassed immediately after the exposure by the NSU, with the attacks coming from the Facebook account “Kritischer Mensch” [critical person] in 2011. 

A close friend of the policewoman was sent weblinks to the “Thüringer Heimatschutz”, among other things, from this account. She also received a friend request from the account, which she generally perceived as an attempt at intrusion and intimidation. The concluding report by the NSU inquiry committee in Thuringia of August 2019 states ‘that the “Kritischer Mensch” was in fact Mareike Bielefeld’. 

Mareike Bielefeld and Thomas Gerlach have known each other for years. Bielefeld is in a partnership with Andreas G.—the brother of Thomas Gerlach. The investigators should have listened more attentively when it became known, upon illuminating the background Andreas G., that he had successfully applied for a permit for highly explosive substances in January 2008. And yet, still no adequate reaction on the part of the authorities. 

Bielefeld and Gerlach were key actors among the “Nationale Sozialisten Altenburger Land” [National Socialists Altenburger Land] in the 2000s. Bielefeld went to school in Katzhütte; the NSU victim Kiesewetter grew up in the neighbouring town. Together with Marlen P., Bielefeld was one of the leaders of the “Mädelring Thüringen” [“Women’s Thuringian ring” or MRT], the women’s organisation of the “Thüringer Heimatschutz” (THS), in the 2000s. Marlen P. has since married Thomas Gerlach and is correspondingly called Marlen G. today. 

The Wagner connection

One conspicuous, recurring name in the context of the NSU investigations is that of Stefan Wagner. In 2005 and 2006, a certain Stefan Wagner received repeated payments from the NSU confidant André Eminger. Although investigators classified these transactions as “noteworthy bank transfer orders”, they failed to track their purpose. 

André Eminger also had a phone number assigned to a “Steffan Wagner” among his contacts on his mobile phone. The police investigation ultimately concluded that this number was not registered to anyone called Wagner, but instead to another person with no police record. And yet, even though this suggested that the phone was either registered under a false identity or by a different person—both of which may justifiably be interpreted as conspiratorial behaviour—the contact was classified as “not relevant”.

Shortly after the NSU exposed its activities, Ralf Wohlleben’s communication was placed under surveillance. Police recorded an exchange on Facebook between Ralf Wohlleben and a “Stefan Wagner”. In the chat, this “Stefan Wagner” appears to be aware of the gravity of Wohlleben’s predicament and tries to calm him down. Seven days after this exchange, Wohlleben was arrested and taken into custody. The Facebook chat reveals a degree of familiarity between Ralf Wohlleben and “Stefan Wagner”. Ultimately, however, the identity of this “Stefan Wagner” was never confirmed. 

In particular, investigators apparently saw no need to check whether the person in question might be Stefan Wagner from Schkeuditz—a member of the “Hammerskins Saxony” from 1995 to the mid-2010s—who, in his role as organiser and speaker at neo-Nazi gatherings and events, was a publicly visible figure who was acquainted with both André Kapke and Ralf Wohlleben via these political contexts.

The Saalfeld connection

A connection between the Hammerskins and the network of NSU supporters also appears plausible when considering the personal social context of the neo-Nazi Steffen R. from Saalfeld. 

He has sported codes of the brotherhood and presented himself as an HSN ‘supporter’ in the past and was already well acquainted with Ralf Wohlleben in the early 2000s. He is also supposed to have come into contact with Thomas Gerlach via Wohlleben. When Wohlleben’s started serving his prison term, he made substantial efforts to raise donations for Ralf Wohlleben. Steffen R. was involved in organising concerts, the proceeds of which were donated to the NSU supporter Wohlleben. For this purpose, he asked the European head of the HSN, Redeker, for band contacts. 

Redeker let him know: ‘Is there any kind of good cause involved in the Jena thing? If so, they might be more willing to perform.’ (sic.) When Steffen R. confirmed that it was about raising funds for Wohlleben, Redeker assured him: ‘I’ll get right to it.’ In 2012, the authorities had also learned that Ralf Wohlleben had exchanged secret messages with Steffen R. from his prison cell. In early October 2012, Wohlleben was therefore transferred from the Tonna correctional facility in Thuringia to Munich.

Hammerskins and NSU supporters at the “Fest der Völker” [“Festival of Nations”]

The “Fest der Völker” event evolved into a major neo-Nazi festival from 2005 onward and at its height was attended by more than a thousand visitors from all over Europe. Here, again, the main organisers included Gerlach, Kapke and Wohlleben, among others. 

On a number of occasions, Hammerskins have been actively involved in the event as performers and speakers: in 2005, Gergely Csirke, the head of the Hungarian Hammerskins, performed as the singer of the band “Vérszerzödés”; in 2006, Mário Machado, a leading Hammerskin from Portugal, who was close friends with Thomas Gerlach at the time, was scheduled as a speaker; and, in 2008, the Swiss Hammerskins Markus Martig and Adrian Segessenmann also spoke on stage—with André Kapke and Ralf Wohlleben once again acting as legally responsible organisers.

The trade fair construction job connection 

Gerlach, Wohlleben and Kapke were also close friends privately. Around 2010, Kapke gave jobs to Gerlach in his trade fair construction and assembly firm. They travelled on business together across Germany. A side benefit to this was that the work trips could be used for visiting neo-Nazis and explicitly also Hammerskins. All along, Gerlach maintained close contact with the imprisoned Wohlleben even when he could not be physically present.

The construction services job connection 

When inspecting the “Hammerskins Sachsen” more closely, one inevitably comes across Steffen K. from Auerbach. He became a “mull member” [of the Hammerskins] in early 1998 and, according to a statement by a former “brother” from Eastern Saxony, is supposed to have acted as the “Security Chief” of the “Chapter Sachsen”. 

In 1994, he attended what must be described as a rather delicate meeting from today’s perspective. K. had travelled to Straubing in Bavaria in early August. Neo-Nazi skinheads had gathered there to celebrate a small festival with music and plenty of alcohol at a secluded pond. ‘Blut muss fließen, knüppelhageldick’ [‘Blood must flow, thick and fast’] were some of the lyrics that were sung. In so doing, they attracted the attention of the police, who identified 25 people on site. Uwe Mundlos was one of them. 

The scene in southwestern Saxony was marked in particular by the activities of the “Blood & Honour” network. Ralf Marschner from Zwickau, referred to as “Manole”, was a key figure at the time. He ran the local cult store called “The Last Resort Shop” and played in the neo-Nazi band “Westsachsengesocks” [“West Saxony riff-raff”]. 

Mirko Hesse, the head of the “Hammerskins Sachsen” at the time, produced the only CD which Marschner ever recorded with his band. Marschner in turn helped Hesse and his “brothers” in organising major concerts around 1998. 

It is hardly surprising that jobs were passed on within this network as well. The “Bauservice Marschner” [Marschner construction service] became a focal point for the scene in this regard. Ralf Marschner had set up the firm in July 2000, specialising primarily in demolition work. Steffen K. was also employed here, before the business went bankrupt in March 2002. The company’s serviced construction sites were scattered across Germany. Steffen K., by his own account, had occasionally worked for Marschner in Munich. 

On 13 June 2001, around 8.45 pm, Abdurrahim Özüdoğru was murdered by the NSU in Nuremberg. Marschner’s firm had hired a car in Zwickau at 6 pm on that same day, supposedly returning it at 6 pm the following day. The car rental itself was, however, uncertain about the exact times, as their time documentation was not always accurate. The company went on to state that “6 pm” was often recorded as time of vehicle handover, even though cars may have been returned later at night. 

The neo-Nazi Jens Peer G. was indicated as the second driver on the day. According to eyewitness reports, he presented himself in a “Hammerskins Sachsen” T-shirt at his home in Zwickau in 2016. He lived diagonally opposite the apartment in Zwickau which André Eminger had provided to the NSU as a hideout. His connections with the immediate circle of NSU supporters are in fact difficult to miss. 

Together with André Eminger, Susann Häuser (later Eminger) and Ralf Marschner, Jens Peer G. was subject to a criminal investigation in 2001 after an assault in the Zwickau pub “Big Twin”. The investigations surrounding the company “Bauservice Marschner” were initiated in the context of the NSU-Complex not least because a former staff member—without ties to the far-right scene—stated at a hearing that he had seen Uwe Mundlos on several construction sites. 

The person he identified as Mundlos was known to him as “Max”. Mundlos had, among other things, used the identity of the Chemnitz-based neo-Nazi Max-Florian Burkhardt to obtain a passport. The reason this was not thoroughly investigated any further was presumably the fact that Ralf Marschner was working as an informant for the intelligence service from 1992 to 2002. Moreover, as Exif-Recherche revealed in their dossier, the former Hammerskin Steffen K. had also worked as a “V-Mann” for the intelligence service.

The WBE connection

The ties of the Hammerskins to the relevant people inside the NSU support circle were frequently quite close. Reports from the fanzine The Aryan Law & Order, the mouthpiece of the “Weisse Bruderschaft Erzgebirge” [“Erzgebirge White Brotherhood” (WBE)] further substantiate this. 

Maik and André Eminger were part of the WBE. In an issue of the zine from spring 2000, an article about a Hammerskins party in Leipzig  stated ‘(…) that nothing really stands in the way of a collaboration with the Hammerskins in our beautiful little state of Saxony.’ In another issue, André Eminger reports on a joint ‘hiking tour’ of the WBE with the Hammerskins in the article “HS-Marsch im Vogtland” [“HS trek in the Vogtland area”].

Second row or front row?

Establishing just how closely the Hammerskins and the NSU supporter network were connected must be clarified through further research. 

If we consider the elitist bearing of the Hammerskins, with waiting periods for their membership candidates lasting several years, etc., two research outcomes appear rather curious: the NSU supporters Kapke and Wohlleben repeatedly had direct access to activities of the otherwise hermetically sealed “Hammerskin Nation”. 

When attending a Ritteressen [knights’ banquet] at the Leuchtenburg Castle in Jena in 2006, Wohlleben was part of a select circle that included members of “Hammerskins Sachsen” and “Portugal Hammerskins”. André Kapke, in turn, went on trips organised by Hammerskins—for instance, when two membership candidates of the “Swiss Hammerskins” were on an introductory trip to meet the German Hammerskin chapters in April 2012.