The trial of a neo-Nazi man suspected of murdering two innocent civilians last Yom Kippur in a shooting rampage against the synagogue in Halle, Germany opened on Tuesday at the state court in Magdeburg, in the presence of more than 40 survivors and their relatives.
The assault on 9 October 2019 is considered one of the worst antisemitic attacks in post-war Germany. World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder visited the synagogue soon after the attack in October and underscored that “action, not words” were needed in the fight against antisemitism.
“The time has come when all Jewish places of worship and Jewish communal sites need to have enhanced round-the-clock security provided by state security services. We also need immediately to launch a unified front against neo-Nazi and other extremist groups, which threaten our well-being,” Lauder said in condemnation of the shooting, which was carried out against a backdrop of increasing antisemitism in Germany.
The 28-year-old suspect, Stephan Balliet, allegedly shot and killed a woman on the street and a man at a nearby kebab shop after failing to force his way through the heavy gate securing the synagogue, where 52 congregants were gathered for Yom Kippur services. There were no police guards on duty outside of the synagogue at the time.
Balliet, who showed no remorse at the trial and claimed that his actions were directly inspired by the Christchurch mosque shooter, livestreamed the attack on social media and posted a manifesto online just before the shooting in which he vowed to “kill as many anti-whites as possible, Jews preferred.” He has been indicted for 13 crimes, including two counts of murder, 68 counts of attempted murder, as well as bodily harm, incitement, and other charges. If convicted, he will likely face life in prison.
WJC Commissioner for Holocaust Memory and President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria Charlotte Knobloch called for Balliet to be punished to “the fullest extent of the law,” and demanded a deep investigation into the radicalization of extremists in the country.
President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and WJC Vice President Dr. Josef Schuster said following the start of the trial: “The state must not let up in the fight against right-wing extremism, antisemitism and racism. A decisive judgment about the suspect’s actions will send a clear signal against violence and right-wing extremism in Germany. Society must oppose hatred and agitation from the right.”
On his visit to Germany two weeks after the attack, WJC President Lauder also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convey the need for stronger security of Jewish institutions. Lauder stressed during this visit the need for police protection for all synagogues and Jewish schools in Germany, increased and substantial penalties for anyone who commits an antisemitic attack, and a prohibition against hate speech of any kind. He also called on German political parties to expel any members that engage in antisemitism, and further, for any political party that espouses a neo-Nazi ideology to be outlawed.
In late May, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer reported that antisemitic crimes in Germany had reached their highest levels since the country began recording such incidents in 2001. According to Seehofer, there were 2,032 reported antisemitic crimes last year in Germany. Over 90% of these crimes were perpetrated by far-right extremists.