Worshipers at German Synagogue Attacked by Antisemitic Gunman: ‘We Were Ready to Fight’
Worshipers at the synagogue in Halle, Germany, that was attacked on Wednesday by an antisemitic gunman recalled the tense moments when the assailant attempted to blast his way into the synagogue, saying, “We were ready to fight.”
The suspected attacker, identified as Stephan Balliet, 27, attempted to break into the synagogue with shotgun fire and explosives, but was prevented by a heavy door he could not dislodge.
He left the synagogue and shot a passerby to death, and then attacked a nearby Turkish restaurant, killing another person.
The Daily Mail quoted one worshiper, identified only as “Roman R.” as saying, “We barricaded the door to the prayer room with chairs” during the attack. “We were ready to fight.”
Jewish-American Rabbi Rebecca Blady, executive director of Hillel Germany, was also present and described the scene in a Facebook post, saying, “We’ve made it out with our lives, in health, and amazing spirits — with gratitude to G-d.”
“We had incredible prayers, full of beautiful songs and even dance, until we suddenly heard a loud bang outside,” she said. “We hardly had any information about what was going on, but we shuttled ourselves upstairs and into safe rooms.”
“Eventually we learned that a man with a rifle had tried to get into the synagogue,” she continued. “He struggled with a passerby. The passerby was killed. For whatever reason, the man with the gun was stalled or prohibited from entering the synagogue. G-d counted us all there today, one by one, as deserving of life.”
“Several hours later, with the threat of the gunman still at large, police units escorted us out of the synagogue and to a local hospital to check for signs of shock and trauma,” Blady said. “We prayed ne’ilah here to end the day with extra fervor and heard the sound of the shofar.”
“We came here to bond with a small Jewish community, to feel the Divine energy of Yom Kippur, to sing and dance a little more than we might have otherwise,” she added. “We are still here, trying to make sense of what happened and what is going on. Please know that we are safe.”
She expressed gratitude for the good wishes she has received and the support from the local community.
The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, said 10 Americans were present during the attack, and all were unharmed.
Max Privorotzki, the head of the Jewish Community in Halle, said, “We saw through the camera of our synagogue that a heavily-armed offender with a steel helmet and rifle tried to shoot open our doors.”
“We barricaded our doors from inside and waited for the police,” he added. “In between, we carried on with our service.”
Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, blasted the authorities for what he called negligent security practices.
“It is scandalous that the synagogue in Halle is not protected by police on a holiday like Yom Kippur,” he said. “This negligence has now been bitterly repaid.”
Germany’s commissioner on antisemitism, Felix Klein, told Deutsche Welt that more efforts needed to be made to protect the Jewish community.
“Of course it’s a miracle that we still have Jewish life at all in Germany after 1945, but we must reinforce our efforts all the time,” he said.
“Of course, there has always been antisemitism in Germany, even after 1945,” he continued. “But now it has grown and it is more visible, especially through the internet and social media. My aim of course is to make my job superfluous.”
Halle’s local MP, Karamba Diaby, visited the synagogue and spoke to members of the Jewish community.
“I was extremely upset when I heard the news yesterday, and I’m still stunned that something like this could happen in Halle,” he said.
“This is a very open district, with many generations and people from different cultures,” he added. “The fact that the perpetrator chose this district makes me extremely sad.”
The attacker was apparently a loner who spent most of his time online and had been radicalized by antisemitic and right-wing ideologies. He left a lengthy manifesto that outlined his beliefs, including his intention to kill “anti-whites” and Jews, and live-streamed the attack on the site Twitch, which is commonly used by gamers.