The Affected Speak

On 1 September 2020, the eighth day of the Halle trial, survivors of the assassination attempt testified for the first time.

On 1 September 2020, the eighth day of the Halle trial, survivors of the assassination attempt testified for the first time. The joint-plaintiffs testified about their experiences of the attack and subsequent impacts it has had on their lives. In addition, an officer from the State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA), who was in charge of forensics, was interviewed and finally a video from a surveillance camera in front of the synagogue was shown. Repeatedly, strong criticism was voiced against the police’s methods and their treatment of the survivors. During the survivors’ statements, the accused laughed and attempted to provoke them.

The first witness summoned from the synagogue was US citizen Mollie S. She lives in Berlin and traveled with a group to Halle on 8 October 2019 to commemorate the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. The joint-plaintiff described her experiences on the day of the alleged attack in detail. After the morning prayer on 9 October 2019, she went for a walk alone in the immediate vicinity. If she had done so a few minutes later, she would probably no longer be alive, Mollie S. stated. Sitting on a park bench, she heard loud noises and decided to sit tight and wait for the time being. When she went back to the synagogue to meet the only people she knew there, she was sent away first by police officers. It was only later that she was allowed back into the synagogue through a side entrance. Several months after the crime, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After a statement about her family history, she said that the accused “messed with the wrong person” and that “from this day forward […] this man will not cause me anymore personal turmoil – it ends today. There is no space for hate.”

Afterwards, the joint-plaintiff Ijona B. described how she experienced the attack. For a long time, they had no information about what was going to happen and waited in vain for a policeman to come to the synagogue and explain the situation to them. “There was no reasonable communication on the part of the police,” said Ijona B. She also expressed her astonishment that hours after the attack there were still police officers on duty “who had no idea that we were Jews”. Eventually, they were led into a bus with no privacy barrier, where they had to wait for another hour. There, they were “at the mercy of the photographers” which “made everything even more difficult”. The survivor concluded with clarity: “As shocking as it was for all of us […], that will certainly not stop us or not me from going to synagogues and living the Jewish life openly. We will not let him or anyone else take that away from us.”

Rabbi Jeremy Borovitz was also in the synagogue during the attack. He also spoke about how police forces treated him and described individual situations as “abstruse”. For example, they needed to transfer their kosher food from a large suitcase into smaller individual plastic bags before they were allowed to take it with them. A Catholic nun was waiting at the evacuation bus for pastoral care. Despite the well-meant gesture, considering a long history of forced conversion, this was “disturbing” for them in that situation. He testified that he felt that the police treated the people from the synagogue more like suspects than like victims. The reception in the hospital, however, was quite different, where staff treated the victims with much kindness. Nevertheless, even in the hospital, during the closing prayer, the survivors of the attack had been asked by police officers to terminate the prayer prematurely, as a debriefing was pending. When asked where he could spend the night, since he was denied access to the synagogue, he only received an answer that was incomprehensible to him, that he had to wait “for the state”. He further expressed his shock regarding the fact that on the day following the crime, newspapers printed pictures of his fifteen-month-old daughter’s face on front pages. Rabbi Borovitz nevertheless expressed hope and said Jewish life in Germany would “continue, flourish, grow”. He added that this requires the cooperation of German society. 

The Hazzan (prayer leader) Roman Yossel R. was also in the synagogue at the time of the crime. During his questioning, he mentioned, among other things, his history of migration as a quota refugee from Russia. He received a lot of help and support from the German state, increasingly identified himself as a German and finally received a German citizenship. The attack “shattered my world” because he and the other visitors of the synagogue were only attacked because they were Jews. For a short time, he therefore considered emigrating to Israel. However, the expressions of solidarity after the attack dissuaded him from doing so. Roman Yossel R. addressed the accused directly in his statements: “The street was full. Thousands of people, very few of whom were Jews. They sang Shalom – Peace. […] Then, I understood that this is the Germany I know.” He then decided to stay. Finally, he said to the accused: “What you have done has accomplished nothing.”

The accused repeatedly provoked the witnesses during the interrogations. When Mollie S. testified that she worked for a Jewish NGO, he laughed – whereupon the presiding judge Ursula Mertens admonished him. Attorney Dr. Kati Lang noted that the accused laughed during the interrogation even at words such as “Holocaust”. She added that this sort of behavior does not dignify a German court. When Ijona B. testified that she had a hard time coping with the death of the two victims and that she personally would have preferred that “he would have shot at me and not killed two other people who had nothing to do with it”, the accused is said to have mumbled “me too,” in response, according to the joint-plaintiffs’ representatives. On another occasion, he provoked with Nazi language, which led to repeated admonitions.

After the subsequent questioning of an LKA officer in charge of securing evidence at the crime scene, excerpts from the video of a surveillance camera of the synagogue were shown. The video shows that about a dozen cars drove past the armed assassin in front of the synagogue and the lifeless body of Jana L. A policewoman who arrived later also passed by the body of Jana L. several times and did not appear to have given any first aid. A representative of a joint-plaintiff noted that proceedings concerning the failure to provide first aid are already in progress.

The day ended once again with a dispute, this time between the representative of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, Senior Public Prosecutor Stefan Schmidt, and representatives of the joint-plaintiffs, regarding the possibilities of using criminal records from a trial in Mönchengladbach. Christian W. is being investigated there, who is said to have distributed the video of the crime on an image board (4chan). In contrast to the opinion of the public prosecutor’s office, several representatives of the joint-plaintiffs considered these investigation files to be relevant to the alleged crime and the question of guilt, therefore they had submitted a corresponding motion.

The proceedings will continue on 2 September 2020. Then, other survivors of the attack will testify.