Hundreds of people have gathered at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, to hold a vigil for the two people killed during a suspected far-right, anti-Semitic attack. Germany’s president and interior minister are both expected.
Near silence filled the narrow, leafy Humboldtstrasse in the eastern German city of Halle on Thursday morning, though the street outside the synagogue was packed with TV cameras, reporters, police officers, and several dozen mourners.
People filed by to lay flowers and candles at the synagogue and gather round the neighboring Jewish cemetery to remember the victims of the attack. Two people were killed on Wednesday by a gunman who expounded far-right hate speech on a video, he live-streamed during the attack.
“Hate and racism on the rise”
The synagogue itself, surrounded by a high brick wall, was shut away from those present. Dirk Gernhardt, who lives only 150 meters away, and was among those who had brought flowers.
“I come past here regularly and I always thought it was very sad that this synagogue is so shut away because I couldn’t imagine why,” he told DW. “Now I know that the fact that it was shut away may have saved many dozen lives. I think that’s extremely shocking.”
“This is a moment when one has to stop and give our thoughts to the victims,” he said. “But also to consider what has happened in the last few years in this country, that now there are people who think they can walk through the streets and murder people in cold blood for their personal kick.”
“The hate and the racism on the internet have massively increased,” he added. “Now things have become sayable that shouldn’t be sayable in this country, and these acts have followed those words.”
Questions asked about the lack of police presence
Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders have condemned the lack of police protection outside the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
“It is scandalous that the synagogue in Halle is not protected by police on a holiday like Yom Kippur,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “This negligence has now been bitterly repaid.”
Some synagogues in major German cities receive regular special police protection, but the synagogue in Halle was not among them on Wednesday. Instead, it was protected by a single private security guard.
Jeremy Borovitz, who was at the synagogue during the shooting, told DW, “It’s normal not to have a police presence at the synagogue. We asked why this was, and the response from community members was – it’s a holiday, it’s not so dangerous.”
Germany “a challenging environment”
For Israel Ben-Ami Welt is the head of crisis management at the Security and Crisis Center, an organization founded by the European Jewish Congress that provides guidance to Jewish communities throughout Europe facing anti-Semitic attacks. He said that the work of dealing with anti-Semitic attacks is particularly difficult in Germany.
“Germany is an extremely challenging environment because Germany has a large Jewish population, but they are spread over a hundred separate communities,” he told DW.
Welt also suggested that Halle’s relatively small Jewish community, of only 700, may not have been as well-prepared for such an attack as others.
“There are a lot of gaps to cover in this community,” he said. “Halle is in eastern Germany, which is more or less a backwater of Jewish life in Germany, and we haven’t been able to establish a relationship with this community before.”
A thousand-years-old Jewish community
Halle’s Jewish community is thought to be a thousand years old, though there has barely been a century when it wasn’t driven out by violent pogroms or repressed by new laws.
Halle’s synagogue is itself a replacement: a former hall next to the Jewish cemetery converted after World War II to replace the nearby Old Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazi-inspired pogroms of November 1938.