One year after the attack in Halle: Länder protect synagogues better

Almost a year has passed since the anti-Semitic attack in Halle. Today more money is being used to protect Jewish institutions. But is that enough?

October 10, 2019: Police officers in front of the New Synagogue in Berlin Photo: Christian Mang / reuters

BERLIN taz | A year ago Naomi Henkel-Gümbel was in the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, the highest Jewish holiday, when a right-wing extremist tried to storm the building. Henkel-Gümbel was a guest in Halle, actually she lives in Berlin. She feels pretty safe here, she says, but the city is an exception. Small Jewish communities in particular often lack the money to effectively protect their institutions.

Henkel-Gümbel, who is also a joint plaintiff in the trial against the alleged assassin from Halle, is sitting in the New Synagogue in Berlin, the media service has invited to a press conference. “One year after Halle: How well are synagogues protected?” Is the question to be discussed.

The media service asked all federal states what they had changed since the attack. The result: Jewish institutions are more closely guarded in almost all federal states. In addition, almost all countries have made additional funds available to better protect synagogues, daycare centers or schools – for example with bulletproof doors, fences or sluices at the entrance. Bavaria has pledged eight million, Hesse four, and Saxony-Anhalt 2.4 million euros. In addition, there are 22 million from the federal government.

The litmus test is whether there is really construction going on, says Ronen Steinke, lawyer and journalist whose book “Terror gegen Juden” has just been published. For far too long, the Jewish communities had to rely on themselves to implement the police’s safety recommendations, and some communities would have to bear up to 50 percent of the costs themselves. Before the attack, not a single euro of tax money flowed into the synagogue in Halle for the protection of the building, said Steinke. “That was clearly a failure of the state.”

A double dark field

“Avoidance of danger is the task of the state”, emphasized the author. That is why the police must see it as their duty to counter this danger. Less than one hundred percent financing of security measures is not acceptable. “If we don’t ensure that, the right to practice one’s religion is not worth much.”

“The protection of Jewish communities has become better, but it is not yet good across the board,” admitted Jürgen Peter, Deputy Head of the Federal Criminal Police Office. “A lot more dialogue” between the Jewish communities and the police is also necessary. In the past year, the security authorities established 2023 anti-Semitic crimes, most of which are right-wing motivated, said Peter. “More than five crimes per day, that’s unbearable.” In addition, there is a double dark field: The police do not recognize anti-Semitic crimes as such – or they would not even report the offenses.

This was confirmed by Sigmount Königsberg, anti-Semitism commissioner for the Jewish community in Berlin. Incidents are often only recorded by the police as bodily harm, but not the anti-Semitic background of an act. In addition, according to an EU study, only every fifth anti-Semitic crime is reported.

Steinke emphasized how “perverse” the situation is that Jewish institutions have to be guarded and spoke of a state of siege. “So that we can go to school or to church services, the police are standing at the door.”

Henkel-Gümbel – the survivor of the Halle attack, had also sharply criticized the behavior of the police after the attack and the investigations in the past. On Tuesday, however, she emphasized that, despite everything, Germany was the country in which she would continue to live in the future. “I can’t leave the people here alone,” said the budding rabbi. One should not leave room for right-wing extremist ideologies and show solidarity. “I have to do my part.”