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Halle Trial “It felt like a state of war”

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Max Privorozki is president of the Jewish Community in Halle. He is one of 43 co-plaintiffs in the trial against the far-right Halle attacker. (Quelle: Privat)

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.

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?

Max Privorozki: When I think of the attack, two memories keep coming back to me. For me personally, the worst moment was when I saw how Jana Lange was murdered. At first, I didn’t know that it was a woman and I didn’t know that she was dead. I saw through the screen of the CCTV camera how the attacker shot at her and she was left on the ground. We couldn’t get out to help her. That was a very bad moment. The second memory is of when the attacker started shooting at the door. While this was happening, members of the community locked and barricaded all doors and went upstairs. We stayed downstairs with several men and watched what happened outside on the screen. As we watched how the attacker started to shoot at the outer door, I noticed a panic rising inside of me. So many thoughts went through my head. How good are his weapons? How professional is he? Will the doors hold? What if he shoots through the outer door and only one door separates us from him? Will that door hold? What if he really kills us? It was impossible to fully assess the situation. Even after the immediate danger was over, it was hard. We didn’t know exactly what would happen. We heard many rumours, including that there were several shooters, and that there were several attacks in the city. It was very loud around the synagogue, as police helicopters circled above us. At first, we didn’t know what all these noises were or what they meant. It was also difficult to guess how much time had passed. Today, I understand what people mean when they say things that happen in a very short amount of time can feel like an eternity. The whole day not only felt like a state of emergency, it felt like a state of war.

How do you feel about the attack today?

I still have difficulties with certain sounds that I associate with the attack, like helicopters. When I hear these noises, I feel uneasy. In general, I can say that we as a community and I as community leader have received a lot of solidarity, both nationally and internationally. I am very grateful for this. Within the community, a wide range of multilingual counselling is available, to help members of the community to come to terms with the attack and its consequences. We’re well equipped in that sense. What’s most important is the exchange, the cohesion and the feeling of community. We didn’t cancel a single event after the attack and our community work has continued. It’s important that members have a place where they can meet and exchange. This was made much more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic. But we are also learning to deal with this. As a community leader, I must of course respect the fact that each community member has their own experiences of the attack and has developed their own strategies for dealing with it. Over time, I realised that we have to think about how we define community. After the attack, we learned how much this act has influenced the lives of many Jews not just throughout Germany, but also internationally. It’s not just in Halle that people are processing this incident.

Why did you decide to become a co-plaintiff?

As a co-plaintiff, I have the opportunity to review files during the proceedings. This is important for me because I have two pressing questions. Firstly, I want to understand how a person becomes an assassin, a murderer, as a result of a certain political attitude and worldview. We have to understand how a person can develop such hatred that he puts words into violent action, so that we can prevent such attacks in the future. In doing so, we have to make sure that we completely clarify why he committed these acts. We must not stand by and allow the political context of this crime to go unnoticed. If we look at the attack in Hanau, for example, there is constant talk that the perpetrator is a madman and a lone wolf. The murder of the politician Walter Lübcke, as well as the attacks on Halle and Hanau, were committed with antisemitic and racist motives. And we have to call that out by name. We must also clearly name antisemitism as the motive for Islamist attacks, such as the one in Marseille, France, in 2015. These dangers have long been underestimated. Secondly, I would like to know who among his family and friends knew about this act in advance and possibly helped him prepare it. When I look at the prosecution, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office seems to believe that the case has been solved: they believe that the man was a lone wolf from beginning to end. That doesn’t sit well with me. I wouldn’t say that the indictment is untrue, but for me it’s incomplete. What did his family know about his attitudes and his plans? Maybe his mother didn’t know that he was going to commit this attack on October 9, but she certainly knew what attitudes her son had.

I’m also often asked for my assessment of the police’s behaviour, which has been heavily criticised. This isn’t easy to answer – the situation is complex. Yes, there was no police presence in front of the synagogue on that day. But the cooperation with the police was good before the attack and is even better now. I had absolute trust in the police. If the police say that it isn’t necessary, okay. I may have my own private opinion about this – but they are the experts, not me. They decide whether they have to be on site or not. I don’t know why the police’s assessment of the security situation here in Saxony-Anhalt is different from, say, other states and cities like Berlin or Munich. Members of the community keep asking me why this is so, but I can’t answer that. The authorities make that decision and when I ask them, they always give me the same answer – that they make regular assessments and, based on them, decide whether police presence is necessary or not.

Here are two examples: In the summer of 2014 during the Gaza war, police presence was more frequent at our synagogue. We didn’t ask for it, but I found it appropriate. In December 2016, after the terrorist attack on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz, I requested police presence because we were celebrating Hanukkah in a larger room, not in the synagogue. The room was relatively unprotected. They refused support because they didn’t think it was necessary. We felt it was necessary, so we hired a private security company, which of course cannot completely replace the police. Afterwards, we thought again about how we as a community could establish and implement possible security measures. October 9th shows that these measures have worked. But they would not have worked if the attacker had been better prepared and if he had had better weapons. Our own measures can’t replace the police, but they also shouldn’t.

So I am already asking myself, if the police and the LKA are the experts, then why did such a grave error in judgement occur on October 9, 2019? If the police now claim that they didn’t know that it was Yom Kippur, what more can I say? Every year, the State Association of Jewish Communities in Saxony-Anhalt sends the Jewish Annual Calendar to the State Chancellery, the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries and other individual cities. This calendar also contains explanations of the most important Jewish festivals and holidays. Therefore we didn’t inform the police separately. Presumably, this information was never forwarded. But what can I say, the attacker knew. Even though cooperation with the police now fortunately works within seconds, this situation leaves us with a strange feeling. Nevertheless, the police are indeed very often blamed for all kinds of mistakes. The police are a part of this society, they are a reflection of it. And in this society, there are problems which are also manifested in the police. This issue has to be tackled politically and proactively – not always just reactively.

What do you expect from the trial?

I hope that my questions can be answered and that the public, politicians and authorities learn from them. And I hope that the verdict will be fair.

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 media representatives not to mention the attacker’s name to deny him a platform. We have respected this wish in this interview.

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