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#HalleTrial Antisemitism Far-right extremism

4th Day of Trial Short Report: “The signs were there, we must not overlook them”

Six family members and acquaintance of the accused were summoned to the fourth day of the trial- 29 July 2020. The presiding judge Mertens announced at the beginning of the day that the witness M., an acquaintance of the defendant, had sent a certificate stating that he was unable to travel due to illness and could therefore not testify in court. After a brief investigation, the judge found doubts whether the certificate was sufficient in its current form, and set to look into the matter again.

The first witness to appear in court that day was the accused’s mother, Claudia B. The 51-year-old former elementary school teacher exercised her privilege to refuse testimony, which the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for immediate relatives of an accused in Germany. The father of the accused, the radio and television mechanic, Roland B., also refused to testify, as did the accused’s half-sister, Anne B. Alexander Hoffmann, the attorney for the co-plaintiffs, contacted the 31-year-old Anna B. directly, after she announced she will not be testifying, and made it clear that as the video recording of the crime is submitted as evidence, the question of her incriminating her half-brother is irrelevant, while her testimony could help those affected by the alleged crime. Thereupon, the presiding judge Mertens denied him the floor, as his objection was an attempt to exert improper influence on the witness.

However, Anne B.’s former partner, who has a four-year-old child with her, and is still in close contact with her, was required to testify. Mario S. described his insights into the family’s family life: He had known the accused and his parents for about eight years and considered the relationships of the family members to be normal. However, to his words, the accused had a special role in the family: he was perceived as the center of the family and got much attention. At the same time, the accused was very quiet during the years in which S. got to know him, for example during joint meals. S’ said that only occasionally did the accused make hateful comments, and was altogether a loner who had almost no social contacts. Nonetheless, S. described situations in which the accused expressed racist and antisemitic views openly, which had a potentially threatening effect on the witness. For example, S. reported an argument, which was already mentioned on the third day of the trial, in the course of which the accused pulled out a knife. In another example by the witness, the defendant savagely insulted two men who were conversing in a pizzeria in a language other than German.

The witness tried to distance himself from these statements. He himself had been active in the right-wing extremist scene in his youth, but claims to have changed his views in the meantime. However, he still had friends on the extreme right who stated that the German Chancellor Merkel should be “removed”. He reacted evasively to questions from lawyer Pietrzyk about those times. Only gradually did he admit that he was personally present during violent racist attacks, adding that he did not want to be involved in them. 

Lawyer Özata asked Mario S. about his personal online activities and mentioned a specific name of a YouTube account. S. initially denied recognizing it and only later confirmed that it was his account. On the said account is a ten-year-old video to be found, in which the accused and presumably the witness can be seen playing a drinking game together, in the course of which racist statements are repeatedly voiced. The video raises doubts about a previous statement regarding the accused’s social isolation at the time, and illustrates an atmosphere in which racist statements seem normal.

The co-plaintiffs confronted the witness, in particular, with the question of why he did not contradict the accused’s racist and antisemitic statements. Lawyer David Hermann asked the witness whether he would intervene if his own son in twenty years’ time became completely socially isolated, made racist statements, collected military equipment and spent his days working in a shed with heavy metal parts: “Any normal person would have to be quite sensitive to that”. The lawyer combined this with an address to all present in court: “The signs were there, we must not overlook them.”

The witness’s statements regarding his four-year-old son were disturbing. When interacting with his son, the accused usually showed a completely different side of his, and was relaxed and in a good mood. Nonetheless, the witness described a scene in which his son jumped around on the accused’s bed, which the accused rushed to stop immediately. Lawyer Pietrzyk confronted the witness with a suspected explanation for the described strictness, with which the accused reacted to the jumping: under the bed, he was probably already storing explosives and weapons.

The following witness to be questioned was Karin D., a former colleague and friend of the accused’s mother. Thereafter, followed the accused’s former primary school teacher Dagmar H.. Both described the accused as a bright, intelligent child who was however always a loner. While he was extremely introverted and quiet at school, he seemed to be lively among his family. D. described the emotional burden that the accused’s illness caused his mother in 2013. After the accused’s recovery, his mother Claudia B. warned him that he would have to go out and socialize again and that she would have to kick him out of her home if he failed to take back control of his life. Ms. B. reacted to this statement angrily. Ms. B.’s inhuman and antisemitic thoughts, which were mentioned in her suicide note and which the witness shared, left Ms. B. quite surprised.

The last witness to be heard on the fourth day of the trial was the 29-year-old Martin H., who shared a room with the accused during their basic military training in 2010. He described the accused as a difficult individual who was far low in the hierarchical structure of the unit, yet would “fight back with hands and feet”. H. himself however, got along with the accused quite well. He could not remember any specific racist or right-wing statements by the accused. However, during H.’s police interrogation, he came to the conclusion, that he could imagine hearing antisemitic or homophobic remarks from the accused. According to the witness, this kind of behavior was common practice in their group at that time. During the police interrogation following the crime, the witness described the accused in retrospect as a “clichéd amok-runner”. During the trial, the witness clarified, that by this description he meant a person, who could sense that his life had gone wrong and who was therefore developing fatally.

At the end of the trial day, the presiding judge and the co-plaintiffs discussed whether it would be feasible for the representatives of the co-plaintiffs to adopt a standpoint by next Monday, concerning a comprehensive list for “self-reading procedure” (Selbstleseverfahren), which the presiding judge had prepared. Some representatives of the co-plaintiffs complained about the insufficient time limit, as they have to clarify their position with their clients, while the issue of which pieces of evidence would not be presented to the public in the main hearings was also at stake.