Before the verdict of the Halle-Trial on Monday, 21th of Decembre, we are documenting the closing statements of survivors of the right-wing terrorist, anti-Semitic, racist and misogynist attack on the synagogue and Kiez Döner in Halle (Saale) on Yom Kippur on October 9th, 2019 together with Verband der Beratungsstellen für Betroffene rechter, rassistischer und antisemitischer Gewalt e.V., dem Bundesverband der Recherche- und Informationsstellen Antisemitismus e.V. , OFEK e.V. – Beratungsstelle bei antisemitischer Gewalt und Diskriminierung, Zentrum Demokratischer Widerspruch – democ.de and Belltower News.
Press-release about the documentation (in German).
“Why have I been having nightmares for over a year about him trying to kill me and about everything being so painful?”
Concluding statement by İsmet Tekin
Your Honour, esteemed representatives of the Public Prosecutor General’s Office, ladies and gentlemen … with the exception of one person!
I should like today to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Presiding Judge. This is the first court trial I have ever experienced and it is very important to me.
With all due respect, I do not accept the comments the Public Prosecutor General’s Office, has made against me. I would ask the Public Prosecutor General’s Office to consider: if that coward had not wanted to kill me, I would certainly have gone to him and stopped him. I would have made sure that he could not continue and hurt other people too.
Why have I been having nightmares for over a year about him trying to kill me and about everything being so painful? Moreover, we have heard from a police officer who stated that he had been a police officer since 1988 and that due to these events he had suffered from severe psychological damage for over seven months and had not yet fully recovered.
If a trained professional comes to an operation, well-prepared – with a bullet-proof vest, with weapons – and is subsequently traumatised like that: what should we say as co-plaintiffs? Then we really don’t need to say another word!
I should like to thank you for your attention, with the exception of one person.
“The idea of ‘Never again’ has already been disproven.”
Closing Statement of a Survivor from the Synagogue
Note: The original German version was read during the trial proceedings on December 1st, 2020. The following English version has been amended in order to clarify and give further background to German memorial culture and history.
There have been two attacks on the two synagogues of the Jewish community. Each occurred on the 9th day of an autumn month.
The first was in November 1938, during the November Pogrom [often called Kristallnacht in English].
The second was in October 2019, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
We are here today because of both of them.
There is a physical, historical connection linking the attacks. The present-day synagogue, that is the second synagogue, stands only because the first was destroyed on November 9th, 1938. This is already evident in the current synagogue’s layout, as a cemetery lies between the synagogue building and the street. Synagogues are not typically built next to cemeteries.
There is also an ideological connection linking the attacks – anti-Semitism. Above all, anti-Semitism impacts Jews. One of the main principles of anti-Semitism is to mark Jews as foreign. Sometimes this idea of “foreignness” is extended to other groups. This is what happened in the Halle attack, when, after the onslaught of the synagogue, others were attacked due to their perceived “otherness”-including those in the Kiezdöner.
The perpetrator very much referenced this historical and ideological continuity when, at the beginning of his live-stream, he denied the Holocaust and professed anti-Semitism.
While I was in the synagogue, and tried to protect myself and hide somewhere, I could not have known what the perpetrator said. I did not see the live-stream. Neither did I need too in order to understand that there are still people who would gladly live in a homogenous society, according to their specific standards. This idea shaped Europe in the 20th century and was the reason why my ancestors needed to flee to the United States. For that I can only be thankful, as it’s much of the reason why I’m alive today.
The expression “L’Dor V’Dor” is one that those ancestors transmitted. It’s an influential idea from Judaism that means “from generation to generation” in Hebrew. As a kid, I never imagined that at some point I would fear, as a Jew, for my life. Such a thing belonged to the past, I thought. What I did not understand was that the past remains a part of our present.
“L’Dor V’Dor” is often used in an educational sense. The older generation teaches the younger one. We are obligated to learn about the past so that we can make the present, and thereby the future, better.
As I learned more about the concept of Erinnerungskultur, I couldn’t help but compare it with the more familiar idea of “L’Dor V’Dor.” One translation of Erinnerungskultur is Memorial Culture. Though it has roots in the 1950s in both East and West Germany, Erinnerungskultur as known today began in the 60s and 70s, after the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Although Erinnerungskultur and “L’Dor V’Dor” are ideas that stem from two distinct perspectives and time periods, both are attempts to answer the question: how should a group engage with the events of the past?
One might say that Memorial Sites and Museums at former Concentration Camps are one concrete answer to this question, from the perspective of Erinnerungskultur.
As an exchange student in high school and then in the past year while completing a volunteer service year at a Memorial Site, I learned extensively about this German memorial culture. At work, two sentences that I heard almost daily were “Never again” [Nie wieder] and “Never forget” [Nie vergessen].
“Never again” – Never again should Germany become a dictatorship. Never again should genocide happen. Never again should people who do not belong to the “national community” [i.e. the “Volksgemeinschaft”], be imprisoned and interned in prisons and concentration camps. And, above all, never again should Jews, and other minorities, fear for their lives.
The idea of “Never again” has already been disproven.
While attending the German Parliament’s Memorial Hour on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of National Socialism, German President Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier said something noteworthy in his speech:
“My worry is that we [Germans] understand the past better than the present. We thought that the older ghosts would pass with time. But no: The evil ghosts of the past are revealing themselves today in a different guise.”
Two attacks belong now to the past. Though 75 years separate them, they are connected through an ideology of hate.
After the attack I had many questions. In the time since the attack several of them have been answered, though I still have many. One of those remaining is: how many people must die and how many people must fear for their lives, until the societal majority understands that hatred of minorities has never gone away??
There was even discrimination and violence against Jews shortly after the end of the Second World War! Yet at the same time, there were many Jews who just wanted to live and celebrate and try to enjoy the world after having been ripped from it.
In Judaism, the past, and remembrance of it, is important. Many Jewish holidays explain what happened long ago. Why? Because Zichronot, Hebrew for memories, remain with us. We must remember what happened, whether good or bad, and transmit it to future generations.
Though they both reference remembering, there is a great difference between the understanding of Erinnerungskultur [German memorial culture] and Zichronot. This difference is not only one of thousands of years; rather, it’s one of time orientation. German Memorial Culture tries to remember and to memorialize the past in the present. Zichronot, however, is dually concerned with the past and future. This is why every year on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we say “Yizkor.”
Yizkor: it means, “one will remember.” The word is etymologically tied to Zichronot. Yet Yizkor is grammatically a word that belongs to the future and not the past, since it is in the future tense. It is a promise to remember that must be renewed each year. It is a wake-up call that rings regularly, so that we do not get too comfortable and begin to forget.
The idea is perhaps paradoxical as it divides time by dividing it into what was, what is, and what will be while uniting them in the present. That is exactly why it works. Remembrance works when one allows the cacophonous cries of the past, the present, and the future to be heard at once. No time period can exist without the influence of others.
I am young and have my entire life in front of me. I cannot forget what happened during the attack. It will forever be something that impacts my present and my future in various ways, even though it is something that occurred in my past. As long as I am alive, I will continue to write about what I lived through then and what continues to affect me. As part of that, I will give voice to those 6 million victims of the Shoah who cannot speak for themselves as well as those who survived violence after the war yet were not taken seriously by authorities. I am able to do this because I survived. I only hope that people will listen.
I would like to recall the words of an earlier survivor by the name of Ellie Wiesel. After surviving Auschwitz and Buchenwald, he wrote a book now known as Night. His first draft of the book, written in Yiddish, gave it a different title “Un di velt hot geshvign,” meaning “And the World Remained Silent.”
The silence against anti-Semitism and against white supremacy must be broken. You all, as members of the dominant culture, must play a part.
Two attacks are already two too many. Let it not be more.
“At least one man is guilty. But all of German society is responsible.”
Closing Statement by Jeremy Borovitz
The famed 20th century American Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, in response to his work in the Civil Rights movement in the United States: “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Over the course of this trial, I have begun to feel this more and more.
Before Halle, I was afraid to walk down the street with a Kippah. After Halle, I walk mostly everywhere with a Kippah. And at least a few times a month, I am confronted with an anti-Semitic incident. Mostly it comes in the form of hateful comments, related to stereotypes or Israel or, most popularly, echoes of the Nazi past. Occasionally it comes in the form of shows of aggression.
And I have to say—it is not the comments that bother me the most. Yes, they wear me down. It is sometimes exhausting. But what bothers me most is on only one occasion has anyone else come to my defense after one of these comments.
Sure, sometimes there is no one around to hear them. But most of the time, I get the feeling that they don’t want to hear them. They don’t want to get involved. It isn’t their problem. And besides, nothing happened anyway. It was just words, no one got physically injured.
The prosecutor asked in his closing statement the question: where in the perpetrator’s education did he go wrong? My answer is: did anyone ever tell him that the things he was saying were wrong? Did anyone of his family, his friends, confront him on his hatred, on his vitriolic beliefs? Violence doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It simmers inside, it builds, and the more this perpetrator was able to get away with his comments, the closer he came to acting on his horrific ideology and beliefs.
In my testimony, I often focused on the actions of the police that day in Halle. And that is because it is the average German citizen—the policemen as well as the passenger on the ubahn or the pedestrian at the cafe—who are the ones who need to stop the spread of antisemitism, racism, and hatred.
When the police came in that day and treated us more like suspects than as victims, they isolated the events of that day into an aberration. It was an extension of a classic German strategy—’it couldn’t happen here’—in the exact moment that it WAS happening here. The whole concept of the attack on Yom Kippur was inconceivable to German society before Halle, during Halle, and after Halle. And this is tied to German society’s refusal to accept THEIR responsibility.
At least one man is guilty. This much is clear. But all of German society is responsible. The lawyers, the judges, the police in this courtroom, the politicians, even my fellow coplaintiffs—we are all responsible to create a better and more just society. A society that combats antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, and hatred not on a political basis but on an hourly basis. Every day, every moment, we must speak out. If we see something, if we hear something, we must say something, we must do something.
The only thing that will prevent another Halle, another Hanau, is for the good and decent people of German society to refuse to allow it to happen.
“In this trial, we have been disappointed time and again.”
Closing Statement by Jessica Wax-Edwards
What is the purpose of this trial?
We have video evidence of the crime, we watched it. The defendant has acknowledged without a doubt that he is the perpetrator of the crime and even takes pride in it.
With much of this ‘burden of proof’ removed from the equation, there is a palpable attitude in this courtroom of ‘let’s tie this up’ rather than probing further and identifying which questions are still to be answered.
But this trial has a greater purpose and bigger meaning. To understand and challenge the conditions and contexts that made this act possible, conditions that will, unless addressed, continue to engender further crimes of this nature.
As co-plaintiffs many of us have been trying to understand this event since the day it happened. For our part, we’ve dug deep into the root of online radicalisation, the looming and once again growing presence of far right extremism in Germany (and globally), the embedded sexism, racism and hegemonic masculinity that all comes into play here.
We have become involuntary experts on these topics – despite the personal impact, despite our other commitments. jobs, study, family, friends, not to mention a global pandemic. This shouldn’t have fallen to us. But as the trial goes on it is clear that it has. And we are exhausted.
To see the so-called actual experts – the prosecution, those co-plaintiff lawyers who didn’t want to investigate the ideology any further and worst of all the criminal investigators such as the BKA,– neglect the opportunity to properly assess what happened here – the why as well as the how – has felt dismissive, naïve and painfully short-sighted.
While we spent our time trying to understand the crime, it was shameful to observe the criminal investigators who passed the buck to their colleagues, claimed they weren’t responsible for such things and refused to investigate anything beyond their narrowly prescribed remit. Obvious and clear associations with other attacks like Christchurch were diminished.
Listening to the agents of the BKA report on their investigation and respond to questions from the court was reminiscent of “Ich habe nur Befehle befolgt”. Not an ounce of responsibility assumed, not a hint of initiative or broader understanding conveyed by their approach. There is no doubt in my mind that their passivity and indifference towards right wing extremism will do nothing to prevent further crimes of this nature and is highly indicative of the ignorance that has enabled this type of terror to flourish in our society.
We’ve patiently and silently sat through their excuses, their shortcomings, their bumbling incompetence.
It is no understatement to say that their outright negligence has caused us further pain and should be a source of shame for German institutions of authority.
In this trial, we have been disappointed time and again – by failure to moderate the racist language deployed by the defendant and replicated by some of the lawyers during this trial, by the total lack of accountability on the part of the BKA, by the exclusion of certain voices/co-plaintiffs, and most recently by the struggle to have highly relevant expert witness heard by this court. We the co-plaintiffs have instead taken great pains to apply serious pressure so that these voices are heard and some, of course, those on the broader reaching consequences of right wing terror and the internet were not accepted.
Despite all of the nonsense we’ve had to deal with, this is not about us. But in many ways, it is not really about him either. He is completely forgettable and in fact after the sentencing is over he will most likely be forgotten – even by his online peers. Instead there is a bigger picture here that is being wilfully ignored.
This attack was just one in a growing list of attacks in Germany and the West. It is one of many incidents of violence against minorities that have happened in the past decade, and its aim was explicitly to be celebrated and replicated just as Christchurch, Oslo, and Poway are. It was purposeful in its set up, in its trolling of its victims, of the criminal investigators, of the court. It was directly addressing a global community that is known for its toxic masculinity and its racism. This attack was textbook and a clear product of imageboard culture. The failure of the German state to recognize this is all the more damning and quite frankly pathetic.
How can it be that the abundant connections to Christchurch are dismissed because the defendant was less extensive with regard to ideology or as the agent of the BKA put it:
Hier lässt sich feststellen, dass der Attentäter von Christchurch umfangreich schreibt… Das ist im pre action report nun nicht der Fall…
As if the same racist ideology becomes less harmful dependent on volume or verbosity.
How is it possible that investigators with no knowledge of gaming culture were assigned to investigate just that?
This attack was widely deemed one of the worst antisemitic attacks in the post-war era and as far as I can tell the BKA responded by putting inexperienced graduates on the case.
References to memes and inside jokes were missed because a shallow understanding seemed “sufficient”, according to representatives of the BKA.
The incompetency of the BKA is so clear, that the defendant was laughing in their faces for their lack of understanding.
How can a man build his own arsenal, kill two people, injure and attempt to kill many more, and his motivations, the environment that shaped him are then not meticulously dissected?
Frankly those co-plaintiffs and researchers who put together the Halle Timemap resource did a better job – and this was entirely volunteered work, time and resources.
This trial has only served to expose an outdated understanding of how individuals are radicalised and how the far right organises itself, evidenced by the court’s obsession with trying to find in-person offline interaction with neo nazi groups by the perpetrator. When none such were found no further attempts were made to understand the community that produced and encouraged him.
As we all migrate our lives to the online realm how can it be so unclear to this room that entire communities and social identities exist exclusively online and have done so since well before Corona?
He is quite plainly part of a community.
This community has a defined language, culture, and code. It gathers regularly online, exchanges ideas, knowledge, and resources, and is highly organized. It is a community, that after the attack, has recognized this man as their own. They have a clear understanding of who belongs and who does not, and time and again they have shown they are willing to act on their beliefs.
This trial could have shed light on the global networks of right-wing extremism that continue to operate within Germany. It could have helped us, as a society to formulate a response to extremist violence. A response that goes beyond “nie wieder”. It is happening again and again and again and these are not isolated incidents – though they are treated as such.
We’ve seen here that the system would rather rely on the comfortable trope of the Jewish victim and the fringe neo nazi. There is a reluctance to hear black and Muslim voices and to treat them with the same importance and validity, to acknowledge the racism they experience.
This trial could have been an opportunity to confront the racism in our society. To, for once, not minimize right-wing terror but to acknowledge that its roots stretch beyond this one man, this courtroom, this country.
This trial was an opportunity, as it turns out 4 months later it was an opportunity missed.
“Sitting in this courtroom, I am constantly reminded that the law is not justice.”
Closing Statement by Talya Feldman
We have now heard the final statement of the Attorney General and of many lawyers representing co-plaintiffs from the Kiez-Döner shop, from Weidersdorf, Kai’s Garage, from those targeted and run-over on the street, from the synagogue. We are all here to find justice in its varying forms, from that day, that evil, that we all experienced differently.
I became a co-plaintiff in this case when I became aware that the Attorney General had not been intending to include any of the Jewish survivors from the synagogue, the pre-meditated targets of this attack — as victims of attempted murder in the original indictment. Not at first.
And now, after months of listening to this man spew racist and anti-Semitic ideologies, Aftax I., Ibrahim and İsmet Tekin have still yet to be recognized as attempted murder victims — when it is evident that they were targeted due to the color of their skin, because of where they come from, and because of what they believe in. It is incredibly disheartening and devastating to see – to see that this justice is not yet there.
Yet sitting in this courtroom, I am constantly reminded that the law is not justice. We know what this man did, his motives have been clear from the beginning. I hope, I trust, that you will put him in prison for life. But he is a symptom of a right-wing extremist, white supremacist ideology that is rapidly permeating our society, filtering into the words of our politicians and mainstream media — not just here in Germany, but in the world. To quote one of my fellow co-plaintiffs, Conrad R., this man may have acted alone that day in Halle, but he did not think alone. And he does not think alone still.
None of the hate-filled conspiracies that this man has voiced are new. We’ve heard them all before. And we know where they lead. We know what happens when this propaganda and this speech goes unchecked. Germany knows it. I know it.
On the 9th of October, I survived because of the quick actions of the community in Halle, and of the community in Halle alone. At the moment of the attack, I knew we would do whatever we needed to do to keep each other safe, and because of this, I was not frightened.
But participating in this trial, I have become frightened. And I have become angry. Angry by the number of witnesses who safely share their casual attitudes towards racism, their unwillingness to intervene when derogatory terms are used against minorities, their own involvement in hate groups and in propagating anti-Semitic attitudes.
Angry at the BKA — who by stating that it’s not their job to understand context, to make the evident connections between this attack and other forms of online and offline radicalization — are actually saying that they do not believe in keeping any of us safe from violence like this in the future. That they do not believe that white supremacist extremists, who are racially and ethnically motivated, are a lethal and persistent threat within our governments, our law enforcement, our civil society — because it is not their job to do so. And I am angry at the testifying police officers who carelessly throw around racial slurs and stereotypes — and ignorantly state everything that we, the survivors, did wrong, rather than acknowledging their own fault in allowing this to happen. We did not ask for this to happen to us. And it is not an anger, a pain, a grief, that we can or should bear alone. It is a pain that we and all of you must bear.
Jana Karin Lange. Kevin Schwarze. Say their names. Let their loss and the pain of their families weigh heavily on your hearts and on your conscience.
At this point I would like to address the press and the media specifically. This man is using this trial as a platform to disseminate hate and encourage further violence on all of us. He will use his final statement as an opportunity to inspire others, just like he was inspired. Do not be complicit in this. Do not quote him. Do not use his name. Do not print his picture. If you do, you will be guilty of contributing to a cycle of brutality that must end here and now.
Enough is enough.
“Germany has an anti-Semitism and racism problem. That is a fact we cannot ignore any longer.”
Closing Statement of Christina Feist
Ladies and gentlemen,
I should like to start by briefly looking back:
Over the past five months since the trial began, I have repeatedly received messages on social media. Initially and throughout the summer, those messages trivialised the events
of 9th, October 2019 and called into question my perception and assessment of the current
political situation in Germany.
However, I also received queries that sounded genuinely astonished, sent by people who live in Germany and simply could not believe that democracy and an open society are in such a dire state in this country. They came from people who are reluctant to admit that right-wing ideologies are still widespread across Germany and that anti-Semitism and racism are still deeply rooted in this society, even after the Shoah.
A few weeks ago, I received the first openly anti-Semitic and misogynist hate message. The tone had rapidly shifted from “What are you all making such a fuss about when nothing happened to you Jews anyway?” to become “Fuck you, you damned Jewess.”
In July, after the first day of the court proceedings, a user on Facebook asked whether the situation in Germany is really so bad. I would like to reply to that question once again today: “Yes, it is.”
Germany has an anti-Semitism and racism problem. That is a fact we cannot ignore any longer. That is an insight that has become apparent in this trial, if not before. Although these right-wing ideologies have been around for a long time, people nonetheless question whether they exist, while the threat they pose and the extent to which they are present are also played down.
The recurring narrative of the so-called poor crazy lone perpetrator has also been refuted once and for all in this trial. That however was not thanks to testimony from public officials from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) or from police officers, but rather thanks to the experts summoned to testify: Karolin Schwarz, journalist; Benjamin Steinitz, Head of the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS); and Matthias Quent, founding Director of the Institut für Demokratie und Zivilgesellschaft [Institute for Democracy and Civil Society] in Jena.
In my testimony in September, I talked about having lost any trust whatsoever in Germany and in the rule of law here because of the way the police treated us on the day of the attack. So far, nothing has changed in that respect in the course of this trial.
The incredible reluctance with which most of the police officers and BKA officials who were summoned have testified in this courtroom, along with their shocking ignorance about online radicalisation, which has come to light here, destroyed any hope I might have had that things could get better or at least be approached differently.
In recent months, both here in the courtroom and outside it, I have talked repeatedly about responsibility.
It appears almost excessive to require that you, Your Honour, along with everyone in this courtroom, should take on responsibility on behalf of Germany – on behalf of politicians and of society. But only almost excessive.
For you, just like us, are also part of Germany. Despite our trauma, despite our weariness and exhaustion, we, the people directly affected, the co-plaintiffs in this trial have taken on the task of stating what the majority outside this courtroom is so unwilling to admit: The defendant is not a lone perpetrator.
The attack on 9th, October 2019 was not an isolated incident.
Anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny are not new phenomena and are most certainly not mere
misconceptions, but form part of a right-wing extremist ideology that poses a constant threat to democracy.
People who do not face up to these realities trivialise the danger and scope of right-wing ideology.
People who continue to stubbornly deny these realities play down a despicable attack, such as
the one in Halle, and thus ultimately also pour scorn on those affected and the loved ones of those killed in the attack.
It cannot go on like this.
And because things cannot go on like this, remaining silent is not an option. As members of an open
society with democratic values, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye, not even once.
For just looking away will not stop someone from being physically attacked right in front of us; turning a deaf ear will by no means stop people from being bombarded with anti-Semitic or racist insults right next to us; doing nothing does not mean that anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, racist and misogynist ideologies will just evaporate.
We simply cannot afford to sit back and remain silent. We must take a stand again and again, highlighting what is happening and we must never tire of ensuring these issues remain on the agenda.
We have to get involved.
Better times do not come about because of inaction. Bringing about change calls for action, it calls for commitment and above all else it calls for courage, the courage to face uncomfortable facts.
In this trial, Your Honour, you have the final word. And you thus bear an enormous
responsibility. That responsibility, however, also comes with opportunities: the opportunity to
set a good example and face up to responsibility.
And the opportunity to hand down a fitting judgement that is couched in fitting terms.
For there is hardly anything more despicable than shooting an innocent person who is huddled up in a corner, begging to be spared. And there is nothing more cowardly than shooting an innocent person in the back in the middle of the street. Nothing can really compensate for such a heinous murder of two innocent people. And that is why, in my view, there can never be a truly just punishment for such a crime, but only a fitting one.
By handing down a fitting sentence, you would also give me an opportunity to regain my trust, at least to some extent, that the rule of law applies here. You would give me an opportunity to be able to trust and believe that, if it comes to the crunch, I will not be left all alone.
I stand here before you and I am stronger than I was a year ago, stronger than when the trial began. I am standing here because I want to put my trauma behind me. You have offered me the pre-conditions to do so, by listening to all of us, to all those who wanted to speak. And I should like to express my gratitude to you, Your Honour, for that.
However, being able to put my trauma behind me is not just about being able to speak and be heard; it is also above all about pain and suffering being acknowledged.
A fitting judgement, therefore, also entails recognising all the parties affected and acknowledging that they have been affected, giving legal substance and validity to the pain they have experienced and recounted here.
You have an enormous task ahead of you and bear a huge burden, but please, I beg you, do not let this opportunity slip away, do not leave us alone.
You have the final word in this trial, Your Honour. But outside this courtroom, we all have the final word. And by “we”, I mean everyone who has taken part in this trial and continues to do so – judges, lawyers, co-plaintiffs, interpreters, judicial officers, journalists, sound engineers, members of the public.
From now on, we all have a moral obligation that extends far beyond the end of this trial: we must not give in!
We must take a stand again and again, show moral courage, and work indefatigably to uphold our democracy.
We must take what we have seen and heard in this courtroom over the past few months and carry it with us into the outside world and into the future. Blotting it out and forgetting are not an option!
I will never forget 9th October 2019.
Nor will I forget the outcome of this trial.
Above all, I shall remember Jana and Kevin forever.
And because I remember them, I will not remain silent.
“What grew out of the misery of that day is solidarity.”
Closing Statement of Naomi Henkel-Guembel
“There is meaning beyond absurdity” – I wish those words were mine – but they are those of Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua Heschel, one of the many great Jewish thinkers and rabbis who had to flee Germany in order to escape the Shoah. Someone who became a vehement fighter for human rights. Those words – they eventually became mine.
What happened that day, on October 9th, 2019 is incomprehensible. It is not comprehensible not to you, senate. Not to us, the affected. And not the families of the deceased of blessed memory. Not even to that guy over there. Or in other words: What happened on that day is absurd – it is contrary to all reason or common sense.
No one, but really no one, should fear for their lives – based on their skin color, their origin, their identity, their faith or who they love, to begin with. And in the phantasy of the accused we would all be dead – but yet, we are still alive.
We are alive. And we mourn those lost lives of Kevin Schwarze and Jana Karin Lange. Those lost lives – they are part of the scars we carry with us from that day.
But what do you do if the absurdity continues? Just like a spiral the absurdity is winding deeper and deeper and the number of questions is growing bigger and bigger. The events of that day shape how we look at the world from now on. As we have heard in the testimonies, each and every one of us experienced that day differently – and yet, we all have in common that this day shaped us. It marked us. And it still does until this very day.
“How could this attack happen?
How could there have even been a doubt whether I was a victim of an attempted murder?
How do I move on from here?
Can I really call this place “home”?
How can, less than five months later, another attack take place that costed the lives of nine – Isn’t the continuity of the hatred and racism obvious?
How is my pain not being seen?”
Those questions. They are just a selected few. And they might sound familiar to some of you. We should not just strive to find answers to those questions alone, but to search beyond that for meaning. To look for purpose.
But how do you do that?
“(…) take utmost care and watch yourselves carefully, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children (Deuteronomy 4: 9)”
I am reciting this verse from the Torah here, because I think it’s universally true – regardless of what you believe in, where you come from and really regardless of any biographical markers. We all carry the responsibility not to forget. Not to forget what took place in this courtroom in the pursuit of justice. And for those who have witnessed that day: The events that summoned us here in this very room – but in order not to forget you have to make it mean something. You have to find purpose.
This verse. It basically shows why I decided to become a co-plaintiff: Out of a sense of responsibility – towards the past, the present and the future marginalized. Towards my grandparents, who were too intimidated to pursue justice. Towards people in my communities and outside of them: I would like them to dare to pursue justice, where justice is due.
Initially, it wasn’t clear whether the 50 people who were with me in the synagogue on that day would be considered victims of attempted murder. Over months we were in limbo, left in uncertainty. Now, it is İsmet Tekin and Aftax I. who are left in that uncertainty – even though the evidence is seemingly obvious. Doubting it seems absurd, beyond reason as Illil Friedman, Onur Özata and İsmet Tekin himself have outlined over and over again throughout the trial and in their final statements.
I also joined out of a sense of responsibility towards myself – I do not want the events of October 9th, 2019 to rule over me. To dictate my life. But rather I wanted to know all the facets of the attack and what enabled it to happen – all of that in order to heal. I would like to contribute my share in shaping the narrative of what happened that day.
I have attended nearly all trial dates. I have seen how racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism played out here, in this very courtroom. All those blunt and obvious statements, but the minor actions, interactions and exchanges as well.
Those moments. They were painful, agonizing and draining – and not rarely, they left a sense of despair and hopelessness. They brought up memories of that day. And the question whether all the effort is even worth it. On those days, you could find me listening to the proceedings, while soothing my soul with the words of the book Esh Kodesh, the Holy Fire, by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira who tried to instill hope in times of great misery among his followers in the Warsaw Ghetto.
“In the face of death and bereavement, I have found the strength to find happiness and have inspired others to joy as well. When others observed my self-possession and joy in the face of such great troubles, they too found inner strength in the face of their own troubles, through my example. This inner strengthening will itself have the effect of turning evil into good.”
– R’ Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Esh Kodesh, Sermon of September 21st 1940.
Even if our circumstances have been different, I am yet going back to those words again and again. Those words – they don’t apply to me alone, but rather they reflect the strength, the growth and the solidarity which many of the co-plaintiffs brought up over the past months. Against all odds.
We have listened to each other and have moved closer together. We have formed alliances across the board, and we have each other’s backs.
What grew out of the misery of that day is solidarity.
We are still learning how to live with those scars – on somedays we succeed better than on others.
This learning and healing process – it won’t be over with the trial. I would like to quote my good friend and fellow co-plaintiff, Talya Feldman on that occasion:
“Some of us have had the chance to face our attacker in court and some of us not. Some of us have chosen to speak to this evil directly and some have chosen to speak in different ways – through family, through music, through writing, through art. (…) some of us have found justice in its varying colors, and some of us are still fighting for those colors.
The violence we have witnessed carries a weight on our hearts, but also on our communities and our country. But we are here, we are staying here, and we will continue.”
I would like to end with where I began:
“There is meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that we can do, everyone, our share to redeem the world, in spite of all absurdities, and all the frustrations, and all the disappointment. And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to live life as if it were a work of art.”
Those words there were once Heschel’s, but now they became mine.
And I genuinely hope that they will become yours as well.
That they will become yours – as we are turning this evil into good and continue to pursue a more just and inclusive society.
“The attack affected me as a Jew. However, the attitude represented by the defendant also affects me as a migrant, as a woman and as part of German society (…).”
Concluding statement by Anastassia Pletoukhina
Ladies and gentlemen,
Lawyers representing the co-plaintiffs,
All those affected,
Representatives of the general public
Since 9th October 2019, I have gone through various different phases in terms of my personal state, public behaviour and trust in our democracy and my attitude towards the collectivising term “WE”.
The first phase was characterised by survival. We had survived the attack and for months afterwards we felt the adrenaline coursing in our veins, which drove me personally to shout at the top of my voice: “You won’t wear us down, damned anti-Semitism”, “You won’t break us”, “We’ll come out of this stronger than we were before”, “And no! We are not afraid” – we proclaimed this loudly, and I did too, into every microphone held in front of us, almost like a mantra. Then in the personal setting, amongst ourselves, the usual questions were: “And what about the panic attacks? Is it still hard to be in confined spaces? Are you sleeping well again by now? Have you found a good therapist yet? Are you taking good care of yourself?” Together we were silent and occasionally we cried together in silence.
But subsequently other phases occurred. A period of feeling down emotionally, a realisation of what has happened to us, reintegration into everyday life, which is still proceeding step by step, reactions from those close to us and from the general public.
I have noticed how it became difficult for some of those affected, and also for me personally, to talk about the events of 9th October with friends and also with our parents. All of us had such different feelings, with which each of us was after all alone. I am still trying to find words to express my feelings and how they manifest themselves in my everyday life.
However, what I found most disturbing was that many of my acquaintances attempted to act as if the attack had not happened or as if it had not affected people with real lives, real plans for the future. As if it hadn’t affected people they knew personally. At some point I realised that it is fear that makes these people silent. Fear of feeling, fear of asking, fear of questioning: themselves, their own family history, society and that famous “never again”. “Has ‘never again’ mutated after all into ‘yet again’ while we were asleep?”
I am also afraid of these questions, especially the last one. However, I am already practised in articulating precisely this fear. I have a language for it and experience in using it. I know how to ask these questions of those around me and of society. Now the time has come for others to find this language for themselves as well, to face up to their fears and learn to articulate them before they mutate into denial and hatred.
The group of survivors of the attack on the synagogue has been very active and present in the media and in society over the past year, both in Germany and beyond. I, too, have used this channel to speak about precisely those fears I just mentioned. However, it is important for me to not simply talk but also to look for approaches to taking action and to make proposals about how we can optimise the school system, how the police can make improvements, what could be expected from politicians. Various topics were important for each of us but we shared one wish: to increase awareness of the injustice that we have experienced as Jews, but also as migrants, women, people affected by racism and as members of a society in which this was possible. For me personally, this event forms part of a pattern of right-wing terror that has existed for years, which had always been present in my perception, surging up in waves, sometimes more aggressively, sometimes more subtly. That was the case both for me as a Jewish woman but also as someone with an unmistakably Slavic-sounding name.
Yes, we are unfortunately experts on issues of disadvantage and exclusion. As citizens of this society, we have thought a thousand times about what could be changed, but who was really listening to us?
And yet the attack on 9th October seemed to be a turning point. Unfortunately, it was only with the attack in Hanau on 19th February 2020 that the burning political issue of right-wing terror really became clear and could no longer be dismissed as a matter of isolated individual cases.
I am a social scientist but also a social pedagogue with a very practical focus and the most important questions for me are always: And now what? What will we make of this? How do we apply the experience, what conclusions do we draw from it and how do we make our society a fairer place to live together?
For me, this trial offers an opportunity to stand united against inhumanity; an opportunity to urge some of the systems within the state that bear responsibility to express empathy, to take action against the objectification of those affected, to act against the continuity of violence, to counteract the perpetual process of looking away and relativising these issues at all levels of society.
As someone who lives in Germany, what is important to me in the trial is not only that the defendant is sentenced, but also that structural imbalances and weak points are revealed, that public awareness be raised concerning everyday manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism, chauvinism and above all concerning the unfortunately omnipresent lack of empathy for one another, the lack of critical faculties and the inability to reflect on one’s own actions, and the constant fear of feeling and empathising, of reflecting on one’s own family history. There is a constant attempt to barricade oneself behind politically correct statements, while betraying them at the very same moment by not acting accordingly.
Yes, it is painful but we must go through this as a society if we want to preserve our democratic values.
We have talked about the culture of remembrance, paying lip service to politics, as well as about the predominance of obedience to authority, which often pushes aside any compassion for individuals.
These manifestations are as far removed as can be imagined from human beings and from “seeing” another human being. In the course of this trial, we have been able to establish how complex an individual’s biography is and how many events, people and circumstances lead to someone taking the kind of action that is at the centre of this process. I do research on life-stories and I see the biographies of each person as individual developments within the context of the society in which the person in question lives, moves and acts. An individual life-story can serve as a litmus test that reveals societal developments and show us exactly what is happening in the society in which we live. Every life-story is important and that of the defendant has also revealed patterns that explain his actions, his development, as well as external influences and the general framing circumstances that ultimately led to the attack. In my view, it is those precisely those general framing circumstances and structural influences that we can and must begin to address within society.
I am regularly asked what being Jewish means to me as a person with a Jewish background. For me, it means choosing every day to live according to Jewish law and to show that I am Jewish in the public sphere. I choose every day to be Jewish, which means beautiful traditions and a strong community, but also means confronting various forms of resentment and hatred.
At several points the co-plaintiffs were asked after their statements in court whether they would like to continue living in Germany. The question was primarily directed to Jewish co-plaintiffs, as if it was only a question that could possibly be considered by Jews. Almost an expectation that they would reconsider. Or was it a fear that they would reconsider? The famous suitcases, packed and waiting.
I expected that this trial would touch people. To make people who either follow it closely or just occasionally see it in the news or on social media empathise and reflect on the society we live in and the responsibility each and every one of us has within that society and for that society.
The attack affected me as a Jew. However, the attitude represented by the defendant also affects me as a migrant, as a woman and as part of German society, which is so diverse and varied that each and every one of us can belong to some minority that could be marked out for discrimination under certain circumstances. Let us then ask everyone within this society: “Do you want to stay in Germany after the attack?”
I can speak for myself and say: Yes, I want to stay here in this country. But I have a few conditions. And they are: listen, take these issues seriously, reflect, admit mistakes and act in the spirit of democracy. But first and foremost: really see other human beings and do not be afraid of empathy.
“You cannot be part of our society. We exclude you.”
Closing words by Conrad Rößler
This is what I would like to say to the defendant, to the other people present here and to anyone who would like to hear my views on the trial.
It is human nature to distinguish between two groups. Our own group and other people who are outside our circle. Both groups are adjusted depending on the situation. Our own group can be our family, work colleagues, the local sports club or our circle of friends and each of us tries to support and protect our own group. Knowing we are not alone gives us a sense of security.
You are on your own a lot and have chosen what are perhaps the largest of all the groups: that of your nationality and skin colour. You wanted to protect these groups from everything that you find foreign. But the attribute of having white skin or German as your mother tongue is just as meaningless as being left-handed or right-handed.
Gender, sexuality, nationality – none of these can be chosen, so why do you attach importance to them? The only thing that can be judged is how someone acts. And your actions allow us to make the following judgement: You cannot be part of our society. We exclude you. We do not want to share your hatred. We are united in mourning the victims of your ideology, but we will not descend to your level. We recognise rights for you that you want to deny to other people. You have the right to live. Just not with us anymore. You will have a lot of time to reflect on yourself and your ideologies. You will have to come to terms with your deeds. I sincerely hope that you will regret what you have done. That you will regret no longer being allowed to be part of us.
This trial has shown which ideals we want to live out in our society. For that reason, I would like to thank everyone who has given their time and energy to the people affected.”
“Who of the people I grew up with might also be capable of such a crime?”
Closing Statement of I. B.
I decided to become a co-plaintiff because I wanted to understand how something like this could happen. I wanted to understand how an average country kid could become a hate-fuelled murderer.
When I testified as a witness the judge asked me, if I was related to the defendant, my reply to her was “Not that I am aware of”. Because the truth is, it is not impossible. My father‘s family is from East-Germany a lot of them still live there. Some of my happiest childhood memories are connected to family visits in Wallendorf near Merseburg. So many times during the trial I would ask myself if maybe we ever crossed paths as children. After all, we all know that so often the world is so much smaller than one might think.
From the age of 12 years onwards I myself grew up in the countryside, in Lower Saxony. The descriptions of the social environment in which the accused grew up were very familiar to me.
I grew up under similar circumstances.
So many times during the trial I was reminded of my own upbringing. The derogatory comments and jokes that were so ordinary and so normal that you didn’t even notice them any more. This so-called “Alltagsrassismus” [everyday racism]pervaded all sectors of society. It didn’t matter if they were staunch Antifas, punks, or professed NPD-voters: they all pretty much used the same language.
And so during the trial I often found myself wondering who of my old acquaintances and former friends from back then may have supported the actions of the accused last year?
Could this have been one of them sitting there? Who of the people I grew up with might also be capable of such a crime? Do I maybe know the next perpetrator already? And if so, what could I personally have done better back then to prevent it?
When was I silent, when I should have spoken out?
Was I also standing silently by while the foundations for such an attack were being laid?
Would it even have made a difference, if I had spoken up more often?
I don’t know.
After I finished high school I moved to Israel, unsurprisingly I lost touch after that with most of the people I had grown up with. The move also caused problems for my mother who was suddenly faced with so many antisemitic comments that she could no longer visit certain neighbours. When I go home I am hardly in contact with anyone except for my mother. That is simply the way it is in this country today. But maybe this is a mistake. Maybe I should purposefully expose myself more to this environment, to take a stand instead of withdrawing from it out of self-protection. So many times during this trial I asked myself what the accused’s family and environment could have done better in order to prevent this attack. But I also asked myself what could I have done better back then? What can I do better now?
I wish I was standing here in front of you today with some answers. I wish that I could say that after this long and gruelling trial I now know how the accused turned out this way. I wish we had discovered his point of no return – that moment in time when the accused was so lost in his ideology that there was no turning back any more.
But for his sake, I hope he hasn’t reached it yet. For his sake, I hope that one day he might be able to feel what he has done. I know many will find this naive, but for his sake, truly, I hope he will find remorse in him. That is my sincere wish for him.
So why am I standing here before you today, if all I have are questions? Because I know, that only together we will be able to find the right answers – or at the very least, that is what I hope.