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24th Day of Trial Short Report: “Enough is Enough”

On the 24th day of the Halle trial on December 8, 2020, eight joint plaintiffs gave closing statements on the main proceedings against the confessed Halle attacker. Ten representatives of the joint plaintiffs also gave their closing speeches. The statements and pleas of the joint plaintiffs have thus been concluded.

The closing statements of the joint plaintiffs focused on solidarity: all of the eight victims of the attack who gave statements or had statements read out on the 24th day of the trial emphasized their solidarity with the other victims and their sympathy for the relatives of those murdered. Several joint plaintiffs were particularly critical of the fact that the acts committed against Aftax Ibrahim and İsmet Tekin had still not been recognized by the Federal Prosecutor General (GBA) as racist murder attempts. Ibrahim had been hit by the accused’s car in Halle; shots had been fired in Tekin’s direction by the accused during his exchange of fire with the police. With regard to both acts, the federal prosecutor had denied an intention to kill in the charges and in his closing argument.

Talya Feldman reported in her statement on Tuesday morning that she had decided to participate in the proceedings as a joint plaintiff when it became clear to her that the attack on the synagogue should not be charged by the federal prosecutor as a multiple murder attempt. She said that even though the assessment by the GBA regarding the synagogue had changed, it is disheartening and devastating for her that Ibrahim and Tekin are in a similar situation today, and that the attacks against them are still not recognized as racist murder attempts. Clearly, Feldman opposed the assessment of the attack as the act of a lone perpetrator, she said. The accused may have acted alone on the day of the attack, but he was a symptom of the ideology of White Supremacy which infiltrates our society. The fact that the BKA denied this context of the crime and that investigators had said in the trial that it was not their task to analyze the links of the attack to “other forms of radicalization taking place online and offline” infuriated her. She appealed to the press, even after the accused’s last word on the coming day of the trial, not to make themselves accomplices and not to quote him or mention his name. They would otherwise be complicit in a cycle of brutality that must finally be broken, she said, “Enough is enough!”

In her statement, read by her lawyer Alexander Hoffmann, joint plaintiff Jessica W. expressed her enormous disappointment with the trial: The fact that the GBA, parts of the joint plaintiff’s representation and above all the BKA officials had not wanted to address the ideology of the accused had seemed “condescending, naive and painfully short-sighted” to her. Some joint plaintiffs and the team of the project “Global White Supremacist Terror: Halle” (https://halle.nsu-watch.info) had done a better job than the police investigators, on a voluntary basis. One of the worst antisemitic attacks had been entrusted to inexperienced and incompetent beginners. The trial could have been a chance, W. said, “not to minimize right-wing extremist terror for once, but to admit that its roots reach far beyond this one man, this one courtroom, this country.” That chance had been missed, she said.

In her statement, joint plaintiff Christina Feist also criticized the investigative work carried out by the police: It was not the police officers, but the joint plaintiffs and experts such as Karolin Schwarz, Benjamin Steinitz and Matthias Quent who really contributed to illuminating the background of the crime during the trial. It was only through them that the backgrounds and contexts of the crime were clearly analyzed and antisemitism, racism and misogyny were highlighted as motives. 

The last word in the trial, according to Feist, was the presiding judge Mertens, whom Feist, like several representatives of the plaintiffs, thanked for her good conduct of the trial. However, outside the courtroom, all people have the last word. It is important to learn lessons from the trial and to stand behind them. For the rest of her life, she will remember Jana and Kevin, Feist said. And because she remembers, silence is not an option, she said.  

Joint plaintiff Naomi Henkel-Gümbel prefaced her statement with the words “There is meaning beyond absurdity” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972). She said that the spiral of absurdity inherent in the attack had continued to spin relentlessly since October 9, 2019, raising many questions: “How could the attack have happened? How could there even be any doubt I was the victim of an attack? […] How can I go on? […] Can I call this place my home?” she kept asking herself. She criticized the fact that Aftax Ibrahim and İsmet Tekin were still in limbo, despite all the evidence, and that there had also been repeated racist remarks made by the accused during the trial. However, many were also strengthened by the trial: “What grew out of the misery of that day was solidarity,” said Henkel-Gümbel. Many joint plaintiffs had listened to each other and stood together. This process did not end with the main hearing. Every word, every deed of every individual counts when it comes to turning evil into something good and continuing to fight for an open and just society. 

Anastassia Pletoukhina, who survived the attack in the synagogue, recounted in her subsequent statement how her way of dealing with the act had changed over the days and months. As a social scientist and social pedagogue, she asked today, “And now? What do we make of it?” She said it’s not just the conviction of the accused that’s important to her, but also the consequences that will be drawn from the attack: She wanted to address the question “Do you want to stay in Germany after the attack?” which the presiding judge had asked Jewish survivors several times, to all people. She herself said yes, but set conditions: listening, taking each other seriously, confessing mistakes, acting in the spirit of democracy and not being afraid of compassion must be the consequences of this attack for all people.

The words of Conrad R., who could not be present at the trial due to the psychological consequences of the attack, were read out by his lawyer Sebastian Scharmer: R. addressed the accused directly and reminded him that his irrational act had caused him to be excluded from society: “We mourn together for the victims of your ideology, but we do not lower ourselves to your level. We grant you the rights that you want to deny others. You have the right to live. Just not with us anymore.” R. said the proceedings showed what ideals are desired in this society. He thanked all those who had given their time and strength to those affected. 

Iona B., who had survived the attack in the synagogue, also found thoughtful words in her spontaneous closing remarks: the world as it appeared in the statements of the accused’s environment, the everyday racism in the village seemed familiar to her. B. pointed out the responsibility that each individual bears for living together. She sometimes wondered whether she might already know the next assassin, whether she too had kept silent too often when racist resentment was spread. For the accused’s sake, she hoped that one day he would turn around on his wrong path and realize the injustice he had caused. 

Max Privorozki, the chair of the Halle Jewish Community, pointed out the great responsibility of the accused’s family. He said that it was not the Internet or the political events in 2015 that were responsible for the radicalization of the accused, but his closest environment. According to Privorozki, the GBA should also re-examine whether there is legal guilt here. Privorozki said he believed that the souls of Jana L. and Kevin S. would shine from heaven for those celebrating Hanukkah in two days’ time as part of the Festival of Light. Everyone is free to choose their own faith, he said: “We chose the light, the accused chose the darkness. So he will have to live in darkness in the future as well.”

At the beginning of his closing statement, lawyer Alexander Hoffmann said that people would like to dismiss the attack as a “crazy act of a madman”, as a rampage or as the act of a “village idiot” in order not to have to question their own way of life, thus picking up on some formulations that other representatives of the joint plaintiffs had found for the act. These classifications were inaccurate. In order to find out how one can personally and socially counteract the spread of the ideologies of the attacker, said Hoffmann, these must be analyzed in a well-founded manner. The accused had understood the widespread right-wing hatred as legitimacy and an order to take action. “A verdict is a verdict,” Hoffmann said, no more and no less. The underlying ideology must be fought outside the courtroom, he said. 

Attorney Scharmer also criticized the trivialization of the attack as the act of a crazed lone perpetrator. The perpetrator may have acted alone on the day of the attack, but he was part of a society in which racism, antisemitism and misogyny were made acceptable: The attack was part of a long series of right-wing crimes and murders. Attorney Scharmer urgently appealed to the court to clearly state the background and consequences of the crime in the verdict, and also to give the victims a face and not to describe them as “interchangeable objects from the point of view of the perpetrators,” as happened in the verdict at the end of the NSU trial in Munich. 

In a detailed closing speech, Attorney David Herrmann, who represents his father, who survived the attack on the kebab restaurant, evaluated one after the other the numerous serious crimes that the accused had committed out of “contempt for humanity and racial mania” in the “land of the perpetrators of the Shoah” and expressed his sympathy for the numerous victims of the attack. Attorney Herrmann also made it clear that for him the acts against Aftax Ibrahim, İsmet and Rıfat Tekin and Conrad R. were attempted murders. He said that the Federal Prosecutor’s terse words about the crime against Aftax Ibrahim had made him angry in particular.

 Attorney Blasig-Vonderlin also referred to the social roots of the accused’s ideas. It was frightening to think about the popularity of the PEGIDA or the Querdenken movement, for example, although everyone could know what ideas were being spread there. Right-wing extremist movements would be the basis for acts like those of the accused. “Do not look away!” appealed Blasig-Vonderlin to all present, “This act concerns us all!”    

 Sharp criticism of some joint plaintiffs and their representatives was made by attorney Jan Siebenhüner. He was particularly disturbed by the criticism of the task forces. There were certainly mistakes in dealing with the victims and the tone was “rough”, Siebenhüner said. However, he said that this could be explained by the exceptional situation in which the emergency forces found themselves. Siebenhüner also defended the way in which Jewish victims were treated, which was often criticized as particularly insensitive, and the lack of any understanding of the special features of the holiday of Yom Kippur: this lack of sensitivity had nothing to do with antisemitism, but was due to the requirement of neutrality and the widespread atheism in the East. The form in which some joint plaintiffs and their representatives criticized the police only caused damage, Siebenhüner said.

Attorney Tobias Böhmke also criticized that the political statements of the accused were countered by some representatives of the joint plaintiffs with their own political opinions, which had no place in a courtroom.

The trial will continue on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. The defense will then make its closing arguments, and the accused will also have the right to his final word. The verdict in the Halle trial is scheduled for 11 a.m. on December 21, 2020.