A year after the attack on the Halle synagogue, the victims were commemorated. The deed has not been forgotten, but the hatred has not won either.
Is combative: Max Privorozki (left), head of the Jewish community in Halle Photo: Ronny Hartmann / afp
HALLE / BERLIN taz | On Friday afternoon they stand in the courtyard of the Jewish synagogue in Halle: Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey, Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff, Halle’s Lord Mayor Bernd Wiegand. The police have cordoned off the street, the politicians are unveiling a memorial, laying flowers and lowering their heads. Now are all there.
A year ago the Jewish community in Halle was still alone.
On October 9, 2019, shortly after 12 noon, right-wing extremist Stephan B. drove up to the synagogue, heavily armed. The congregation just celebrated Yom Kippur, their highest holiday there. The uniformed 28-year-old wanted to cause a massacre and broadcast it live on the Internet. Police were not on site at the time, and the community was not considered to be at risk. Stephan B. failed anyway, at the locked entrance door to the synagogue. But he shot two other people: the passer-by Jana L. and the painter trainee Kevin L., who was having lunch in the nearby Kiezdöner. The assassin continued to kill there, now out of racist hatred.
The deed was and is a beacon. Politicians reacted horrified and initiated packages of measures. The attack is still being negotiated before the Magdeburg Regional Court. On Friday, on the first anniversary, commemorations in Halle commemorated the act. At noon, at 12:01 p.m., the bells rang across the city. In the evening Steinmeier spoke in the Ulrichskirche, at the central memorial event, of “shame and anger”, which he continues to feel about the attack. Demanded better protection of Jewish institutions. And to show a stance against anti-Semitism. This is a seismograph for the state of democracy, said the Federal President. The more openly he expresses himself, the more strongly the values of human dignity are challenged.
And it became clear: the wounds may not have healed, but hatred has not triumphed either.
Even after the attack, no services were canceled
In the afternoon, Max Privorozki, the community leader, also stands in the synagogue courtyard. He was in the prayer house during the attack, along with 51 other believers, some of whom have come from Berlin. After the attack, no service was canceled, said Privorozki in a conversation in advance. The first Shabbat was very well attended, including the Jewish Culture Days. And yet nothing was normal anymore. The believers received psychological support, politicians and journalists stormed the community.
Then came the corona pandemic. Initially, only 19 believers were allowed into the synagogue. The Passover festival was canceled for the first time since 1945, and the memory of the Shoah victims had to take place virtually. For the Jewish New Year, traditionally celebrated with a festive meal, there were only food parcels home.
“It is difficult to speak of normality,” says Privorozki. Most of all, people in their mid-fifties today are exhausted. He is startled when he hears helicopters in the sky – just like a year ago over the synagogue. New Year’s Eve was also a burden. The community itself has hardly spoken about the attack recently. But certainly about security issues. Recently, prayers alerted the police because a stranger was filming in front of the synagogue entrance. The incident had no consequences, but shows the tension.
The synagogue door becomes a monument
Lidia Edel is also standing in the synagogue courtyard this Friday. “Today everyone carries on with their life, but of course the attack stays in the back of everyone’s mind,” says the 20-year-old. Edel has been part of the Halle community for years, giving children and young people art lessons there – even if she is not Jewish at all. Noble, however, belongs to the city’s Eastern European community, which is strongly represented in the municipality. When the attack happened she was at home and a friend was in the synagogue. Edel heard about the attack from her – and how the door held out.
The door is the reason why Lidia Edel also takes part in the commemoration on Friday. Because it was she who designed the monument that has now been unveiled. Central element: the synagogue door, which was shot through and replaced a few weeks ago. “Everyone wanted the door not to go away. But nobody knew exactly what to do with it, ”says Edel. “That’s when I had the idea of an artistic redesign, because the symbolic power of the door is obvious.” The community approved the suggestion.
The monument now shows the door, encircled by an oak tree in the shape of a hand. 52 sheets hang behind the door, two in front of it. They stand for the 52 believers who were in the synagogue during the attack – and for Jana L. and Kevin S. Two more sheets have been added, which stand for the other injured who Stephan B. shot at. The memorial should remember all of these victims, says Edel. “But it is also a warning not to suppress anything. And it shows that life goes on, that everything is a cycle. “
Just recently another attack in Hamburg
Life goes on, but the danger remains. The police counted 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes nationwide in 2019, an increase of 13 percent. Only recently did a man hit a young believer in front of a synagogue in Hamburg with a spade. Again he was in uniform, again on a public holiday, this time the Feast of Tabernacles. The memory of Halle was immediately there. The fear in the Jewish community too.
The believers who experienced the attack in Halle also last described in the Magdeburg trial how they were sometimes still in therapy, how they suffered from anti-Semitism. Christina Feist, a philosophy doctoral student who has since moved to Paris, said it was “the sad everyday life of our everyday life”. “In Germany I live in fear.” You and others also criticized the police: after the fact, officials treated them insensitively without knowing the traditions on Yom Kippur. And far too little has been determined about the right-wing extremist network of the assassin.
Max Privorozki at least praises the security situation of his synagogue today. “Cooperation with the police is now different,” he says. There is constant contact, the officials know about all activities of the community. A police container is in front of the synagogue. But the truth also includes: Behind the scenes, the Jewish community in Saxony-Anhalt negotiated a security agreement with the state until the end. And this despite the fact that the interior ministers had unanimously promised better protection of Jewish institutions after the attack.
Long struggle for security agreement
Even if Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) put another 22 million euros into the budget for this purpose: Some municipalities complain that they are petitioners to this day when it comes to their safety; would have to take care of fences or their own security personnel. Saxony-Anhalt announced an agreement on Tuesday: The state will completely protect Jewish facilities, pay for renovations and security personnel, and invest 2.4 million euros in this. You are entering “new territory” nationwide. Privorozki was satisfied – now it is a matter of implementing the open list of security modifications for his community. “There is still a lot to do.”
When the community celebrated Yom Kippur again almost two weeks ago, this time because of Corona in the city’s cultural meeting place, the police showed their presence. Some of the believers from Berlin were there again. Of course, he couldn’t get the attack out of his head, says Privorozki. They prayed for the murdered Jana and Kevin. But it was a relief to say the closing prayer of Yom Kippur this time – which he was no longer able to do a year ago.
Prime Minister Haseloff also attended the service at noon and gave a short speech. It was supposed to be a sign of solidarity, but not everyone took it that way. Christina Feist then complained about a “PR showpiece” that the prayers on Yom Kippur had again been disrupted. Privorozki contradicts: he himself invited the delegation, the speech was “a nice sign”.
An anti-Semitic submission by the Interior Minister
Still, it wasn’t the only dissonance in the end. Only a few days ago, Saxony-Anhalt’s Minister of the Interior, Holger Stahlknecht, calculated the deployment times of police officers in front of Jewish institutions in the state – which would be missing elsewhere. An anti-Semitic steep template. Privorozki, who otherwise holds back politically, was outraged. “I couldn’t believe my ears.” The sentence is unbearable, it creates social unrest. And the community leader openly expresses this criticism on Friday at the commemoration in the Ulrichskirche, in which Stahlknecht also takes part.
After the attack, the community experienced one thing above all else: solidarity. When Privorozki recently testified at the Magdeburg trial, he reported on the rallies, the first on the day of the crime. The perpetrator belongs to an “absolute minority”. The majority would consist of “good people”.
At the commemoration on Friday in the synagogue courtyard, Privorozki also presented a thick book. This includes letters from all over the world that the community received after the attack, says the community leader. “That was encouraging.”
Solidarity among those affected
The victims of the attack also show solidarity with each other: some believers have now networked with those affected from the Kiezdöner. They spoke together at rallies, met this week for a festival in Berlin. On Wednesday, Privorozki informed the takeaway operator Ismet Tekin that his community would buy him food vouchers worth 1,000 euros. At the same time, the Jewish Student Union presented Tekin with just under 30,000 euros in donations that it had collected because business had faltered after the attack.
In the end, the attack also ensured: self-assertion. In the process, those affected repeatedly affirmed that they would continue their lives and their faith. Jewish life will continue to flourish in Germany. Ismet Tekin said to the assassin in the face: “You have failed all along the line. The result is even more solidarity and love. ”Privorozki also declared:“ After October 9th, I feel more at home here than before. ”
In his congregation, Yom Kippur believers remembered how the Jewish people never lost their optimism, even in the worst of times. It should apply again this time. On the holiday, the believers began to collect donations for a new Torah scroll.