Anastassia Pletoukhina’s Closing Statement at the Halle Trial
This statement was published together with several other statements from survivors of the attack, which you can read here.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Lawyers representing the co-plaintiffs,
All those affected,
Representatives of the general public,
Since 9th October 2019, I have gone through various different phases in terms of my personal state, public behaviour and trust in our democracy and my attitude towards the collectivising term “WE”.
The first phase was characterised by survival. We had survived the attack and for months afterwards we felt the adrenaline coursing in our veins, which drove me personally to shout at the top of my voice: “You won’t wear us down, damned anti-Semitism”, “You won’t break us”, “We’ll come out of this stronger than we were before”, “And no! We are not afraid” – we proclaimed this loudly, and I did too, into every microphone held in front of us, almost like a mantra. Then in the personal setting, amongst ourselves, the usual questions were: “And what about the panic attacks? Is it still hard to be in confined spaces? Are you sleeping well again by now? Have you found a good therapist yet? Are you taking good care of yourself?” Together we were silent and occasionally we cried together in silence.
But subsequently other phases occurred. A period of feeling down emotionally, a realisation of what has happened to us, reintegration into everyday life, which is still proceeding step by step, reactions from those close to us and from the general public.
I have noticed how it became difficult for some of those affected, and also for me personally, to talk about the events of 9th October with friends and also with our parents. All of us had such different feelings, with which each of us was after all alone. I am still trying to find words to express my feelings and how they manifest themselves in my everyday life.
However, what I found most disturbing was that many of my acquaintances attempted to act as if the attack had not happened or as if it had not affected people with real lives, real plans for the future. As if it hadn’t affected people they knew personally. At some point I realised that it is fear that makes these people silent. Fear of feeling, fear of asking, fear of questioning: themselves, their own family history, society and that famous “never again”. “Has ‘never again’ mutated after all into ‘yet again’ while we were asleep?”
I am also afraid of these questions, especially the last one. However, I am already practised in articulating precisely this fear. I have a language for it and experience in using it. I know how to ask these questions of those around me and of society. Now the time has come for others to find this language for themselves as well, to face up to their fears and learn to articulate them before they mutate into denial and hatred.
The group of survivors of the attack on the synagogue has been very active and present in the media and in society over the past year, both in Germany and beyond. I, too, have used this channel to speak about precisely those fears I just mentioned. However, it is important for me to not simply talk but also to look for approaches to taking action and to make proposals about how we can optimise the school system, how the police can make improvements, what could be expected from politicians. Various topics were important for each of us but we shared one wish: to increase awareness of the injustice that we have experienced as Jews, but also as migrants, women, people affected by racism and as members of a society in which this was possible. For me personally, this event forms part of a pattern of right-wing terror that has existed for years, which had always been present in my perception, surging up in waves, sometimes more aggressively, sometimes more subtly. That was the case both for me as a Jewish woman but also as someone with an unmistakably Slavic-sounding name.
Yes, we are unfortunately experts on issues of disadvantage and exclusion. As citizens of this society, we have thought a thousand times about what could be changed, but who was really listening to us?
And yet the attack on 9th October seemed to be a turning point. Unfortunately, it was only with the attack in Hanau on 19th February 2020 that the burning political issue of right-wing terror really became clear and could no longer be dismissed as a matter of isolated individual cases.
I am a social scientist but also a social pedagogue with a very practical focus and the most important questions for me are always: And now what? What will we make of this? How do we apply the experience, what conclusions do we draw from it and how do we make our society a fairer place to live together?
For me, this trial offers an opportunity to stand united against inhumanity; an opportunity to urge some of the systems within the state that bear responsibility to express empathy, to take action against the objectification of those affected, to act against the continuity of violence, to counteract the perpetual process of looking away and relativising these issues at all levels of society.
As someone who lives in Germany, what is important to me in the trial is not only that the defendant is sentenced, but also that structural imbalances and weak points are revealed, that public awareness be raised concerning everyday manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism, chauvinism and above all concerning the unfortunately omnipresent lack of empathy for one another, the lack of critical faculties and the inability to reflect on one’s own actions, and the constant fear of feeling and empathising, of reflecting on one’s own family history. There is a constant attempt to barricade oneself behind politically correct statements, while betraying them at the very same moment by not acting accordingly.
Yes, it is painful but we must go through this as a society if we want to preserve our democratic values.
We have talked about the culture of remembrance, paying lip service to politics, as well as about the predominance of obedience to authority, which often pushes aside any compassion for individuals.
These manifestations are as far removed as can be imagined from human beings and from “seeing” another human being. In the course of this trial, we have been able to establish how complex an individual’s biography is and how many events, people and circumstances lead to someone taking the kind of action that is at the centre of this process. I do research on life-stories and I see the biographies of each person as individual developments within the context of the society in which the person in question lives, moves and acts. An individual life-story can serve as a litmus test that reveals societal developments and show us exactly what is happening in the society in which we live. Every life-story is important and that of the defendant has also revealed patterns that explain his actions, his development, as well as external influences and the general framing circumstances that ultimately led to the attack. In my view, it is those precisely those general framing circumstances and structural influences that we can and must begin to address within society.
I am regularly asked what being Jewish means to me as a person with a Jewish background. For me, it means choosing every day to live according to Jewish law and to show that I am Jewish in the public sphere. I choose every day to be Jewish, which means beautiful traditions and a strong community, but also means confronting various forms of resentment and hatred.
At several points, the co-plaintiffs were asked after their statements in court whether they would like to continue living in Germany. The question was primarily directed to Jewish co-plaintiffs, as if it was only a question that could possibly be considered by Jews. Almost an expectation that they would reconsider. Or was it a fear that they would reconsider? The famous suitcases, packed and waiting.
I expected that this trial would touch people. To make people who either follow it closely or just occasionally see it in the news or on social media empathise and reflect on the society we live in and the responsibility each and every one of us has within that society and for that society.
The attack affected me as a Jew. However, the attitude represented by the defendant also affects me as a migrant, as a woman and as part of German society, which is so diverse and varied that each and every one of us can belong to some minority that could be marked out for discrimination under certain circumstances. Let us then ask everyone within this society: “Do you want to stay in Germany after the attack?”
I can speak for myself and say: Yes, I want to stay here in this country. But I have a few conditions. And they are: listen, take these issues seriously, reflect, admit mistakes and act in the spirit of democracy. But first and foremost: really see other human beings and do not be afraid of empathy.
Listen to the victims, consider their perspective – and not just that of the attacker! This is a collective action organised by the Association of Counselling Centers for Victims of Right-wing, Racist and Antisemitic Violence in Germany (VBRG), in cooperation with Belltower.News, NSU Watch, democ.de, OFEK and RIAS. We have documented the closing statements of some of the people who were attacked. We would like to thank the victim counselling services that have supported people throughout this trial.