German Jews plead for state security after Halle attack
Members of the Jewish community in the eastern German town of Dessau are living in fear since the extremist attack in Halle. They regularly receive threatening letters — but the community has little protection.
"If something like the attack in Halle had happened in our community, there would have been a lot of deaths," says Alexander Wassermann, glancing at his office door. "We have no security."
Wassermann has been the chairperson of the Jewish community in Dessau for almost 20 years. The east German town is only about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Halle, where the far-right, anti-Semitic attack took place. The door to the synagogue in Halle was able to stand firm and hold back the gunman — presumably sparing the faithful from a massacre.
"Our main door has been in use since 1904," Wassermann says. He points to the wooden windows next to him, which are also around 100 years old.
'My life is more precious than prayer'
"We're all in shock. Many members of our community are afraid. We have a lot of older people here who say, 'My life is more precious than prayer, so I prefer to stay at home.'" Wassermann and two colleagues are sitting behind the long desk of the community office with grave faces. They have been talking about almost nothing else since the attack in Halle. "I don't feel safe," says one of Wasserman's younger colleagues with tears in her eyes. She does not want to say her name. She is too afraid, especially for her daughter.
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Wassermann has experienced right-wing radical agitation and death threats in his many years as chairperson. He digs out a few pieces of paper, anti-Semitic threatening letters. The community receives such letters regularly, and they are often decorated with swastikas and pictures of Adolf Hitler.
Standing on the steps to the entrance door of the hall, Wassermann says that it was graffitied with a swastika some time ago. Now the door has been repainted and the swastika is no longer visible. But the fear remains. "We can't change the situation, we don't have the power," he says, shrugging his shoulders. "What can we do?"
No financial support for security measures
He has been trying, for a long time, to get financial support for more protection. But the Jewish community in Dessau is small, with around 300 members, and it has no money for security. All of the community's funds are being poured into the construction of a new synagogue — as the old one was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938. Six months ago, Wassermann wrote a letter to the Interior Ministry of Saxony-Anhalt. But at the time, the ministry refused the financial request for security measures.
This irritates Wassermann. "We need security measures, we have no other option. It's about our members' safety. The lives of our members come at a higher price than security measures. Who is to blame if something happens?"
For Dessau's Jewish community, all they want is to live their faith in peace. The members are proud of what they have established, or re-established, because Jewish life once played an important role in the town. The philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, was born here, as was Kurt Weill, composer of the Threepenny Opera. Weill's father was cantor here, in the same city where, out of fear, Jewish life today takes place almost exclusively within the walls of the Jewish community.
Shortly after the attack in Halle, a police car sits parked in front of the building. Wassermann, however, is uncertain how long it will stay.
In December 1959, two members of the Deutsche Reichspartei (DRP) right-wing extremist party painted swastikas and the words "Germans demand: Jews out" on the synagogue in Cologne. Anti-Semitic graffiti emerged across the country. The perpetrators were convicted, and the Bundestag passed a law against "incitement of the people," which remains on the books to this day.
People across the world were horrified at the March 1994 attack on the synagogue in the northern city of Lübeck. For the first time in decades, a synagogue in Germany burned. Four right-wing extremists were eventually convicted of arson. The day after the fire, 4,000 locals took to the streets under the slogan "Lübeck holds its breath." In 1995, the same synagogue was hit by another arson attack.
Armed with paving stones, more than 100 Palestinians from Lebanon attacked the Old Synagogue in Essen in October 2000. The incident occurred after a demonstration against "violence in the Middle East." A police officer was injured. Mahmud Alaeddin, deputy head of the general delegation of Palestine in Germany, distanced himself from the attack.
A 19-year-old Palestinian and a 20-year-old Moroccan damaged Düsseldorf's New Synagogue with incendiary devices and rocks in October 2000 as "revenge" against Jews and the state of Israel. "We need the respectable people to rebel" against anti-Semitism, then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder demanded. The federal and state governments and various NGOs launched campaigns to counter extremism.
Shortly after being inaugurated in September 2010, an arson attack hit the New Synagogue in Mainz during the night of October 30. The spectacular Deconstructivist building by architect Manuel Herz was erected on the site of the former main synagogue that was set on fire during the Kristallnacht, the Nazis' national night of pogroms, in 1938.
In July 2014, three young Palestinians hurled incendiary devices at the front door of the synagogue in Wuppertal. In a highly controversial decision, the court ruled there was "no evidence whatsoever" of anti-Semitic motives. Jews in Germany and the foreign media were outraged. The chairman of the Jewish Community Wuppertal declared the ruling as "an invitation to further crimes."
A man wielding a knife climbed over a barrier at Berlin's New Synagogue on the eve of Shabbat on October 4, 2019, during the holy period between the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Security personnel overwhelmed the attacker, whose motive remained unclear. Police released him afterwards, a decision Jewish leaders called "a failure" of justice.
About 80 people were in the synagogue on Wednesday afternoon to observe Yom Kippur, the Jewish calendar's holiest day. The alleged attacker reportedly attempted to shoot his way into the synagogue but was prevented by a safety door. Two passersby were shot to death and two were injured. The suspect, who has a history of right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist rhetoric, was detained.