One year after the attack in Halle, the anti-Semitism officer Felix Klein worries about the Jewish community – and criticizes Saxony-Anhalt’s interior minister.
taz: Mr. Klein, A year ago a right-wing extremist attacked the synagogue in Halle and killed two people. Do you remember how you found out about it back then?
Felix Klein: Yes, my wife and I were on the way from the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial back to Berlin. It was a shock to me as it was to everyone. We had just launched important structures against anti-Semitism, a federal-state commission, the Rias reporting system. And then that. I felt very powerless.
The perpetrator wanted to cause a massacre. Only the synagogue door prevented him from doing so. Would you have thought such an act possible?
I thought that an attack was possible. Especially when you saw how radical the tone was on the Internet. But I did not expect such a hateful, inhuman act in this dimension.
The synagogue was not protected by the police at the time. An unforgivable mistake?
It would have been unforgivable if it had happened willfully. But apparently the police didn’t even know that Yom Kippur was being celebrated there and that there was an increased need for security.
But that’s also a problem.
the lawyer and diplomat is the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish life and the fight against anti-Semitism.
Yes of course. That was a negligence that is unacceptable. And this anti-Semitic attack, which ultimately cost the lives of two non-Jews, was also a turning point. He shook up the security authorities. Today the community in Halle is permanently guarded. And the police have evolved, the handling of religious holidays has improved.
A few days ago, however, a man attacked a believer in front of a synagogue in Hamburg, seriously injuring him. How safe do Jews still live in Germany?
Hamburg has shown that this time protective measures took effect. The police had the holiday on their radar there. And the police property guards immediately arrested the attacker and prevented further violence.
But not the attack on the young believer.
There can be no absolute protection. But of course the attack should be an occasion to re-examine the security measures in front of Jewish institutions.
So too little has happened since the attack in Halle?
In my opinion the opposite is the case. The federal government and the states are doing their utmost here. The Federal Ministry of the Interior has just made available 22 million euros for structural protection measures, and the federal states have also taken money into their hands again. In addition, the federal government has launched a comprehensive package of measures, such as the obligation to report online hate postings to the BKA, which I expect a lot from in the fight against anti-Semitism. Because the clientele backs away when they receive counter pressure and the police are at the door. And we saw in Halle that the root of the threat was radicalization on the Internet.
Is that enough? After the Hamburg attack, the Central Council of Jews once again called for more protection for religious institutions and a resolute social commitment against anti-Semitism.
There are certainly further opportunities for improvement. For example, I would like the police nationwide to know the Jewish calendar and on which occasions special protection is necessary. And it is also correct that the state cannot resolve the matter alone. This requires a courageous civil society that counteracts when anti-Semitism is expressed. That is the most important thing. I think the best protection would be if Jewish life were perceived much more as something that is taken for granted, as part of German diversity. We have to do more for that.
After the attack in Halle and the attack in Hambrug, the situation is different: the Jewish community feels seriously threatened.
Yes, that’s how I perceive it, she is very worried. And that is also very understandable. After politics reacted to Halle, my impression was that the community had settled down somewhat. But now the fears are back. We have to take that very seriously.
Isn’t that an indictment of poverty, especially for Germany with its history?
These concerns must alarm us, absolutely. The very fact that Jewish families are discussing whether they can continue to live in Germany is more than an alarm signal.
As the anti-Semitism commissioner, you report to the federal government. Don’t you have to put more pressure on in view of this?
We are making a significant effort. The Chancellor herself is also very committed. Everyone is aware of the seriousness of the situation.
But many of those affected say: we don’t want more encouragement, we want to see action.
It has already existed. Many of the measures decided must now be implemented first. Nevertheless, there will be another catalog of measures shortly, from the cabinet committee to combat right-wing extremism.
Last year the number of anti-Semitic crimes rose by 13 percent to a good 2,000 crimes. What’s your explanation for that?
The increase is mainly due to the brutality on the Internet and the local incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial. But there is also a positive explanation: those affected report these incidents more strongly. This is a good development and something that I also encourage. Making hatred visible is the first step in combating it.
Why does such hatred always end up in anti-Semitic attacks?
That does not surprise me. Anti-Semitism is so practiced in our culture that it is used again and again, especially in times of uncertainty. Jews were blamed for the plague as far back as the Middle Ages; today this is repeated with the corona virus. This is really fatal.
Even Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Minister Holger Stahlknecht (CDU) has just promoted anti-Semitism by referring to the times of police officers in front of Jewish buildings that were missing elsewhere.
To portray Jews as privileged people, for whom action would be taken at the expense of the general public, actually fuels anti-Semitism. It is not possible that groups are played off against each other. Unfortunately, Jewish communities need increased security, but that’s not because of the Jews, but because of the threats against them. And the state has a duty to ensure that they can practice their religion without restriction. I think he has to bear 100 percent of the security costs for this. Because this is a fundamental right.
Do you think anti-Semitism can one day be defeated?
It can at least be pushed back so far that the quality of life can be significantly improved. The whole of society benefits from this, not just the Jews. The vast majority in Germany is democratic and vigilant. That gives me hope.