On October 9, Germany experienced one of its worst anti-Semitic attacks in years when an armed Neo-Nazi attacked Halle’s synagogue. Had it not been for the wooden door which stopped the attacker from entering even after he attempted to shoot his way in, Germany would likely have experienced its worst attack on Jews since the end of the Second World War – on Yom Kippur.
The door, described as “miraculous” and “holy” by Max Privorozki, chairman of Halle’s Jewish congregation, is now set to be erected as a memorial and harrowing reminder of the continuous threats to Jewish life in Germany.
One month later, Germans are holding memorials all over the country to commemorate the 1938 pogroms of the “Reichskristallnacht”. The Halle attack, in which two people were shot outside of the synagogue by the 27-year-old attacker Stephan Balliet, acts as a stern reminder to Germany’s Jewish community that with all the progress the country has made in the 74 years since the end of the Holocaust, there is still a very real threat.
Anti-Semitism in Germany has, in recent years, been a highly controversial topic, with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party regularly attempting to link rising figures in anti-Semitic crimes to Muslims living in the country.
In 2018, Germany recorded on average five anti-Semitic hate crimes a day. The large majority – 1,603 out of 1,799 recorded crimes, 90 % – were, however, perpetrated by right-wing extremists or influenced by far-right ideology.
While the monitoring process and the definition of what constitutes anti-Semitic hate crime is frequently criticized – independent monitoring groups and state-appointed special envoys on anti-Semitism cast doubt over the accuracy of the classification and the number of crimes actually recorded – the statistics paint a clear picture of German reality: The far-right is by far the biggest danger to Jewish life in Germany.
The Halle attack
This became apparent in Halle. The attacker uploaded a live stream of the attack on “Twitch”, a streaming platform popular in the video-game community. The 30-minute video saw Balliet give an insight into his anti-Semitic and racist mindset, with the attacker also denying the Holocaust. An eleven-page “manifest” and subsequent statements made during his police interrogation – in which he described himself as judenkritisch, critical of Jews – confirmed the nature of the attack.
This didn’t convince everyone. In Nuremberg, the Franconian city chosen by Hitler to host the Nazi party conferences and, ironically, the place in which high-ranking Nazis would be hanged after the war, the regional office of the AfD was quick to claim that Balliet was not a right-wing terrorist. In a Facebook post shared by party members and a German MP, the Nuremberg AfD claimed that the state was “constructing a right-wing motive that is not backed by questioning [of the suspect] but rather represented the wishful thinking of ‘investigators’”.
This reaction, albeit voiced by a regional party office, represents the political climate in parts of German society following the attack. Balliet has been described as mentally ill, yet not politically motivated. German Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer tried to shift the political debate. He choose to focus on a problem with a violent video-gaming community.
Whatever the political motives behind deflecting the debate away from anti-Semitism in modern Germany: It quickly became clear that Halle – apart from a tragedy – constituted an embarrassment to the German political landscape and, in large parts, society as a whole. Germany, the country lauded for its Erinnerungskultur, the culture of remembrance following World War II, had shown its ugly face once again. It wasn’t that of the past, however. It was very much the German present.
German President Frank-Walther Steinmeier responded to the attack by calling it “unimaginable” in modern Germany. For Jews living in Germany Halle came as a shock. But, having faced steadily high numbers of anti-Semitic attacks for several decades, unimaginable?
As Germany comes together to remember the Reichskristallnacht, painful questions will arise over the safety of Jewish life. With five attacks a day Germany must ask itself how it can eradicate these ugly flashbacks.
The attack in Halle may have constituted a “new level of escalation” as voiced by Bavaria’s envoy for targetting anti-Semitism, Ludwig Spaenle. The fact that Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress, criticized German authorities for not having armed guards on patrol at the Halle synagogue as is commonplace at Jewish institutions throughout the country, accurately highlights that Halle was by no means unimaginable.
Written by TPS | Photo by Anna Rudnitsky/TPS