What can the Holocaust teach about German woman convicted of ISIS crimes?

The crimes between ISIS and the Nazis have many parallels, including the difficulty in bringing them to justice – Europeans who joined ISIS replayed the Nazi genocide

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic "Caliphate" and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a st (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic "Caliphate" and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a st
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

A German woman has been convicted of crimes against humanity in Germany for her role in the “enslavement resulting in the death of another” during her time with ISIS. The Higher Regional Court in Munich found her guilty.

It is one of the only examples of an ISIS criminal being brought to justice and a rarity in Europe. More than 5,000 Europeans joined ISIS between 2013 and 2015, engaging in genocide and mass murder, terror and other crimes in Syria and Iraq.  

The details of the case are shocking and harrowing. According to the court's findings, the woman, whose name is given as “Jennifer W” in Germany, went to Iraq with her husband and they joined ISIS. They were in Iraq in 2015 when they purchased several people as “slaves.” These were members of the Yazidi minority that ISIS had committed genocide against, murdering the men and selling the women and children as slaves.

In scenes that conjure up the Holocaust and the role of a different generation of Germans in the Einsatzgruppen, Yazidis were machine-gunned and dumped in mass graves. Survivors were sold, raped and abused.  

According to the reports the couple abused the people they kept as slaves. "The 5-year-old daughter was abused by blows to the head and pushing on the floor, which was so strong that the child injured her shoulder," court spokesperson Florian Gliwitzky said.

"The child began to wet the bed from August 2015... when it happened again, the husband tied the child with a leash and left her in the blazing sun in the yard. When Jennifer W. found the child like this, she told her husband that he had to do something, otherwise the child would die. However, she did nothing to save the child.” The child died.  

Elsewhere in Germany, another trial is underway for a 96-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary. Irmgard Furchner is the first woman to be prosecuted for Nazi-era crimes in decades.

From Irmgard to Jennifer, some 70 years separate the crimes but the nature of the ideology that led to the crimes is similar. At its heart, ISIS was a genocidal organization that used mass murder and enslavement to exterminate minorities.

Displaced Yazidis fleeing ISIS in Sinjar walk toward the Syrian border in August 2014 (credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)
Displaced Yazidis fleeing ISIS in Sinjar walk toward the Syrian border in August 2014 (credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)

The Nazis also used various forms of mass murder and work camps with enslavement to exterminate minorities. For ISIS, the murder was directed at non-Muslims, specifically non-Sunnis, while the Nazis targets Jews, Roma and massacred other groups such as Serbs. For both ideologies, there was the concept of the sub-human and those who were viewed as a kind of master race. For Europeans who joined ISIS, they were able to go to Iraq and Syria and replay the Nazi genocide again.  

ACCORDING TO the Daily Beast, the story of “Jennifer” begins in Germany when she was 27-year-old Jennifer Wenisch. A convert to Islam, she “traveled from northwest Germany to Syria to join ISIS in 2014. Once with ISIS, she married Taha al-Jumailly and lived with him in Mosul, where they bought an enslaved Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter. The couple was subsequently implicated in the murder of the child.” 

The story is complex. According to the Daily Beast, the perpetrator, much like Nazis after 1945 who decided to return to normal lives, had returned to Germany. “Thinking she was chatting over the Internet to a fellow ISIS supporter in 2018, German police said that Wenisch began admitting that she was a member of the ISIS hisbah (ISIS’s brutal morality police) and that she had owned an enslaved Yazidi woman.

"She agreed to meet the FBI informant she was chatting with and let him drive her across the country to leave Germany under the radar," the report said. "Unknown to Wenisch was that the FBI and German police cooperating on the case had installed a microphone in the dashboard of the car and that all of her admissions of crime were being recorded as they drove across the country together. Playing his part, the FBI informant told her he wished he could accompany her to Syria.” 

According to this report, “Wenisch admitted to the informant about the slave girl’s murder and about how she had been recruited in mid-2015 to ISIS’s morality police. She, like other Western women who served in the ISIS hisbah, had been armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol and an explosives vest, as she patrolled city parks in ISIS-occupied Fallujah and Mosul to enforce ISIS’s dress code and bans on alcohol and tobacco.”

The German police, acting on this evidence, arrested her. Prosecutors were able to locate the Yazidi mother of the girl that had been killed and bring her to testify. “Yazidi activists working with Amal Clooney were trying to get the child’s murder prosecuted on behalf of the surviving Yazidi mother,” the report says. 

THE FREE Yazidi Foundation (FYF) put out a statement after the conviction. “Today, a court in Munich, Germany, sentenced ISIS member Jennifer Wenisch to 10 years in prison for multiple crimes, including enslavement and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed against the Yezidi community,” the statement says.

“Like many other women who joined ISIS, Wenisch, who travelled to Iraq in 2014, was not merely an ‘ISIS bride,’ but played an active role in the enslavement and genocide of the Yezidi people," it said. "Along with her husband, Wenisch took a Yezidi woman and her daughter as slaves in Mosul. They later chained the five-year-old child outside, where she died of thirst in the summer heat.

"It should be noted that the crimes committed by Wenisch and her husband were revealed in Europe when she explained to an FBI informant, who was posing as an ISIS supporter, what she had done.” 

The FYF notes that many Yazidi women who were enslaved said that ISIS women were often the most brutal in the treatment of the minority. “Wenisch, who also served in the infamous morality police in Mosul and Fallujah, was not a bystander or a victim, but an active participant in some of the worst crimes seen in modern history.” 

The group applauds Germany’s efforts to help Yazidis. “Today’s ruling, while historic, is still far less than what the Yazidi community hoped for and deserves. The enslavement, sexual violence, torture and genocide committed by ISIS must be met with appropriate punishment for the most horrific crimes. FYF contends that participation in genocide and the murder of a child warrants more than a ten-year sentence.” 

IN FACT, thousands of Yazidis remain missing. Some have even been found in places like Idlib, apparently trafficked via Turkey by extremists. Turkey enabled many of the tens of thousands who joined ISIS to cross its borders in 2014 and Ankara has often supported extremists in Syria who persecute minorities. Ankara’s invasion of Afrin and parts of northern Syria in 2018 and 2019 led to more Yazidis being displaced; Ankara often bombs Yazidis in Sinjar, continuing the crimes of ISIS.  

The case in Germany is a stark reminder of how many Europeans, some of them converts, have played a leading role in the crimes of groups like ISIS. Many of the converts appear to be embracing a new Nazi-like ideology.

For instance a convert in Norway murdered five people in October, killing four women and one man, aged 52 to 78. Is it a coincidence that he targeted women and the elderly, or is it part of the overall mentality of these types of attacks? 

The German case reminds us of how many Nazi criminals were able to escape after the Shoah. Many returned to normal life in Germany, while others went abroad. It took many years to bring just a handful, like Adolf Eichmann, to justice. When we think of the young Yazidi girl left to die, tied with a leash, it reminds us of the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem. The memorial commemorates the approximately one-and-a-half million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust.

The lack of justice for those children, much like the lack of justice for Yazidis, is a reminder of Israel’s place in the world. This week, Israel’s air force practiced with foreign air forces, illustrating the strength of Israel’s defenses. The Yazidis had no such air force in 2015, much as Jews had no protections in 1939. They were at the mercy of Europeans who joined the Nazis and later ISIS; the victims had to beg for justice afterward, hoping a court might convict one or two perpetrators.