Iona Berger was on Yom Kippur during the attack in the synagogue in Halle in 2019. To this day, she struggles with feelings of guilt.
taz: Ms. Berger, last year on Yom Kippur you were in the synagogue in Halle when a right-wing extremist assassin tried to storm the synagogue and then killed Jana L. and Kevin S. September 28th is Yom Kippur again. What does this time mean for you personally?
Iona Berger: During this time it is decided whether to be inscribed in the Book of Life, and on Yom Kippur it is then sealed. It’s about asking people to forgive you before you can ask God for forgiveness. It is traditionally a time when you reflect a lot. This year I find it very difficult to get involved in this time. I feel unprepared for Yom Kippur. The last year has been so chaotic, not just because of Halle, but for all of us. What does repentance to God mean after what has happened? How can I deal with my own guilt?
You have already said in court that you feel guilty for the victims because the attack was actually aimed at you. Has Halle become a place that you avoid?
Not at all. There was just no reason for me to go to Halle. I was there on the day of Jana’s funeral. Before that I was in the synagogue and looked around again.
Are you in Halle again for Yom Kippur this year?
No. Halle is problematic because of the Corona distance rules. But it was clear to me: I want to spend Yom Kippur with “Base Berlin” – no matter where. “Base Berlin” is the group with whom I drove from Berlin to the synagogue in Halle last year, and I want to spend this difficult day with the same people again. I will be back in Halle on October 9th, when it will be the anniversary of the attack.
What will be different about Yom Kippur this year?
Due to the distance rules, not everyone can go to the synagogue, there is simply not enough space for that. That is why “Base Berlin” has rented space in Berlin. What has also changed: In the past, “Base Berlin” never had security guards, there was no reason for them. From now on there will always be. There will also be psychological support on the day.
30, studied in England with a Masters degree in International Security. In 2019 she traveled to Yom Kippur with a young Jewish group from Berlin to Halle.
According to your statement, you noticed that there was no police in front of the synagogue in Halle the day before Yom Kippur. But “the idea that someone in Halle was shooting at the synagogue struck me as completely absurd,” you said in court. How do you rate the security of synagogues in Germany today?
There is a difference between rational knowledge and the subjective feeling of security when I go into a synagogue. Rationally, it is incredibly unlikely that anything would happen in this very synagogue. It was the first time it was attacked, and it is even more improbable that it will happen again in the synagogue I am in, of all places. On the other hand, I now always look around twice to see where the officers are, for example.
Should police presence in front of synagogues be compulsory?
Before the attack I was sometimes amused by the increased police presence, now I don’t do that anymore. I still don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, but if the police had been in front of the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur last year, Jana and Kevin would probably still be alive. It’s not just about our own safety, but also about that of the people around us. The attack clearly showed that again.
Some co-plaintiffs expressed their lack of trust in the police in court. Do you share that?
I know that the police in Halle and the police in Berlin are not the same. The police themselves testified in court that they had never experienced a situation like this before. I think the police in Berlin are simply better prepared for such a dangerous situation and have more experience in operations involving firearms. I don’t generally think that all police officers are maliciously hired or incapable. I have a basic trust in this, although I know that there are systematic problems.
There are increasing reports of additional trauma caused by the behavior of the officers on site.
I think it is important to also criticize the police approach in Halle without accusing certain female police officers. I hope that the next attack on a synagogue or mosque or the like will go better and that the next survivors will not be additionally traumatized by the police operation. And yes, I think there will be a next time, unfortunately.