On October 9th 2019, an armed assailant attacked a synagogue in Halle and the nearby kebab shop Kiez-Döner, murdering two people and injuring several others. On July 21st, the trial against him begins in the city of Magdeburg. Conrad Rößler has lived and worked in Halle for ten years. He’s a regular at Kiez-Döner and was about to have lunch when the assailant started attacking the kebab shop. Besides Conrad, three other guests and an employee were inside the shop. One of the guests, Kevin S., did not survive the attack.
The following conversation is part of an interview series with some of the co-plaintiffs in the trial. Rachel Spicker spoke with them about their experience of the attack, why they have decided to become a co-plaintiff and what they expect from the trial.
Belltower.News: What was your experience of the attack?
Conrad Rößler: Up to that point, it had been a normal day that I wouldn’t have necessarily remembered otherwise. I had the day off and decided to have lunch at Kiez-Döner. I stood at the counter and just ordered “as usual”, because I eat there on a regular basis. Then, I looked outside and saw a person wearing a helmet and some kind of military suit. My first impression was that this person was dressed up for a laugh. He came towards the door and threw an explosive device which bounced off the door frame and exploded in front of the shop. At first, I thought it was a firecracker, so I wasn’t really aware of the danger of the situation. But his intention was clear, he wanted to throw the explosive device into the store.
At second glance, I noticed that he had a gun. I still have this clear picture in my mind of him lifting the gun and shooting through the window. At that moment, all the guests started running into the back of the shop. I went up a small flight of stairs up to a small corridor that connects the one storage room with the kitchen. Then, I looked carefully towards the counter and the entrance. An employee was crouching behind the counter. He put his index finger on his lips as a sign to be quiet. I wasn’t sure if there was a back exit. If there wasn’t, getting caught in the back of the shop would have been a death trap, so I stayed in the corridor and hid in the toilet there.
More shots were fired and I heard screaming. Although I only saw one attacker, I assumed that there must be several, because of all the different voices and the noise. The light in the toilet was off. My heart was racing and my knees were weak. I tried to calm myself down and tell myself that this was a panic reaction that would soon stop, that I would soon be able to think clearly again. I dialled 110 and, on the other end of the line, they already knew what was going on. They told me to stay calm, remain in the toilet, and that emergency services were already on site. The person on the phone said “Auf Wiedersehen”, which is a German way of saying “goodbye”, but literally it means “see you again”. I thought: “Well, she’s optimistic”. Suddenly, there was another explosion. It gave me a fright and I let go of the door handle for a short time and then couldn’t lock the toilet. The door made a noise and I thought, “shit, now the attackers know where I am and it’s all over.” I came up with a plan to duck and run headfirst if the attackers found me. Then, I quickly wrote to my family that I love them.
After a while, it went quiet – until suddenly, I heard someone shouting: “Is there anyone else here?” It sounded like the police. I answered, but I was still afraid that they might think I was an attacker, or that maybe even that the attackers themselves were the ones asking. When the police took me out of the shop, I realised that it was finally over. Outside, I walked towards the others who were in the shop. The employee, who gave me the sign to be quiet, and I hugged each other and told each other that we had made it. It was a very emotional moment.
How do you feel about the attack today?
That depends – I have different perspectives. Of course, it’s a negative memory. And the attack has had a negative impact on me: for example, I often feel uncomfortable in public spaces or whenever it’s loud somewhere. When I enter closed rooms, I think about where possible exits are, about where I could hide if I had to. I automatically have these thoughts, but they don’t necessarily impact my quality of life. Nevertheless, there have also been positive consequences for me, as strange as that might sound. I try to enjoy life and make the most of it. For example, I have taken up an old hobby again and have more social contact than before the attack. I have received enormous support from the “Mobile Opferberatung” (Mobile Victim Support) in Halle, from my family, my lawyer and my friends. Since the attack, one thing in particular has been even more on my mind: I don’t understand why there’s still so much racism and antisemitism in our society. It makes me really sad and frustrated. It’s so senseless that people have to die because of it. We need to educate people about what these ideologies mean, how we can recognise them, and how we can take a stand against them – even if we encounter them in our own social circles.
Why did you choose to become a co-plaintiff?
We have to recognise the political dimension of this attack. The attack wasn’t simply committed by a “lunatic”; he is a far-right fanatic. He acted out of antisemitic and racist motives. And this political dimension needs to be addressed and recognised by the court and the public. As a co-plaintiff, I have the opportunity to follow the trial and gain an insight into what’s going on during the proceedings and how the case is being dealt with. I want to use this opportunity and I want to use my voice. Furthermore, we have to acknowledge that attacks like these don’t just happen out of the blue. We have to be aware of how these ideologies are linked, of where racism and antisemitism, but also other far-right attitudes, can lead to – and how they are part of our society. As a society, we must recognise that although he acted alone that day, he did not think alone. He was well-connected in far-right online communities. Even offline: far-right and racist violence takes place on a daily basis. It’s part of Germany’s political climate, in which far-right thinking and attitudes are being normalised by, among other things, the electoral success of the AfD.
What do you expect from the trial?
The first word that comes to my mind is justice. But I am also aware that full justice can’t be served when two lives have been lost and people have suffered as a result of the attack. Perhaps compensation is a better word for it. I hope that the assassin will be properly punished for what he has done. And I hope that the co-plaintiffs and all those affected by the attack will be able to raise the issues that are important to them during the trial.
Further information on the trial: Together with NSU-Watch, the VBRG is documenting the trial in German, English and Russian. On the blog halle-prozess-report.de, you can find information, reports and perspectives on the trial from co-plaintiffs and their lawyers, with support from activists and supporters.
At the beginning of the trial, a group of co-plaintiffs published a joint declaration in which they have called on the media not to mention the attacker’s name to deny him a platform. We have respected this wish in this interview.