Photo Credit: Reise Reise via Wikimedia
Halle Synagogue's heavy wooden door showing the bullet holes from Yom Kippur, 2019 attack.

A 27-year-old German neo-Nazi named Stephan Balliet attacked innocent victims outside a synagogue in the city of Halle, Germany, on October 9, 2019, and continued his rampage in nearby Landsberg. After unsuccessfully trying to enter the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, the attacker fatally shot two passersby and later injured two others.

Incidentally, Hamas was among the groups that denounced the shooting, saying it “poses a danger for all people” and “terrorism has no religion or is not restricted to a single nation.”

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German government investigators pinned the attack on far-right and anti-Semitic terrorism, and the federal Public Prosecutor General took over the investigation, declaring the attack a “violation of Germany’s internal security.” Balliet was charged with two counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. He confessed to the charges on November 10, 2019. In June 2020, Balliet attempted to escape from prison, climbing an 11-foot fence. He was captured five minutes later and transferred to a maximum-security prison.

Deutsche Welle reported on Sunday that across Germany, members of the Jewish community are preparing for Yom Kippur with last year’s attack on their minds. The news service interviewed two transplanted Israelis living in Berlin, Nirit Bialer and Dekel Peretz, who have lived in Germany for 14 years and are friends with some of the survivors from the Halle synagogue attack. Many are still experiencing PTSD, they say. Bialer said she goes to synagogue on Yom Kippur even though she is not religious, claiming “it’s a Jewish person’s right. I consider it my duty to go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur, also for those before me who couldn’t.”

According to Deutsche Welle, security was the most pressing issue for German Jews after the Halle synagogue attack. Some accuse the local police of failing to protect Jews in the city, suggesting the heavy wooden door was their only real protection last year. Apparently, there was no regular police presence near the synagogue, only an occasional drive by of police patrols.

Most German states have increased resources for protecting their Jewish communities since last, according to Deutsche Welle. The money mostly went to install bulletproof doors and gates. The federal government announced a plan to invest €22 million ($25.6 million) in Jewish facilities, to bring their protective measures up to the national standard. Or, as Deutsche Welle puts it: “The reality is forcing Jewish communities to become fortresses.”

Juergen Peter, the deputy head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, claimed recently that “the protection of Jewish institutions is better than last year, but it is not good enough nationwide.” He clarified: “Overall, we cannot be satisfied with the current status quo.”

Peter noted there have been, on average, more than five anti-Semitic incidents registered per day in Germany in 2019, which included physical attacks, property damage, threats, anti-Semitic propaganda, giving the Nazi salute in front of a Jewish person. Last Tuesday, a report released by the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism Berlin, or RIAS, documented 410 incidents – more than two a day – for the first half of 2020 as well. The group’s count of anti-Semitic acts included six physical attacks, 25 cases of property damage, 20 threats, 58 examples of anti-Semitic propaganda, and 301 examples of malicious behavior such as giving the stiff-armed Nazi salute.

Ronen Steinke, whose recently published book “Terror Against Jews” was based on his visits to more than 20 Jewish communities around Germany, suggests the authorities are helpful enough with offering security assessments, but in the end, if the Jewish communities want real protection, they must take care of it themselves. This goes especially for smaller communities, which struggle with their security costs “because they have problems with the bureaucracy or because they can’t agree with the state on a common line,” Steinke told the Associated Press.

Steinke, who is himself Jewish, stated angrily that “danger prevention is the task of the state, not the job of those who are threatened by danger.” He described the current security situation for German Jews, saying, “It’s a perverted state of siege, in which one can only go to school or religious service if people with pistols have to watch out for you.”

Last May, Germany’s Interior Ministry reported a 13% increase in anti-Semitic crimes to 2,032, more than 93% of which were attributed to the far right. Anti-Muslim crimes also rose 4.4% to 950, more than 90% of them committed by alleged far-right perpetrators.

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