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July 29, 2020 12:24 pm

American Survivor of Halle Synagogue Attack Confronts Neo-Nazi Gunman in German Courtroom

avatar by Ben Cohen

Neo-Nazi gunman Stephan Balliet on trial in Germany. Photo: Reuters / Christian Schroedter.

In a dramatic exchange in a German courtroom on Tuesday, an American Jewish academic came face-to-face with the neo-Nazi gunman who attacked a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur last year.

Ezra Waxman — a research fellow at the Technical University of Dresden — had been among the 51 worshipers trapped inside the synagogue’s main sanctuary on Oct. 9, 2019, as the heavily-armed Stephan Balliet attempted to blast his way inside.

Now a co-plaintiff in the legal proceedings against Balliet, Waxman was the first of the attack’s survivors to directly address questions to the accused, as the trial entered its third day at the High Court in the city of Magdeburg.

Waxman began by asking Balliet to explain how the latter’s antisemitic beliefs about Jews applied to him specifically. When Balliet replied by talking about Jews in general, Waxman interrupted him, telling the neo-Nazi, “I’m not asking generally, I’m asking you about myself.”

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In another exchange, Waxman asked Balliet — whose lonely personal existence has been a focal point of the trial — whether he would have carried out the attack if he had children or a girlfriend. Balliet answered that the attack would have been “less likely.”

During separate questioning from lawyers in the case, Balliet expressed no remorse for the attack while affirming his fundamental beliefs. At one point, he explained that would not describe himself as a “Nazi” or a “fascist,” but simply as an “antisemite.”

When asked whether he would have shot the children present in the Halle synagogue had he penetrated the building, Balliet’s answer was instant.

“Yes, so that my children won’t have to do so in the future,” he replied.

The court also heard the contents of a letter written by Balliet’s mother to her daughter that expressed similarly antisemitic and racist views.

In the letter — written, the court was told, before a failed suicide attempt — Balliet’s mother blamed German society for her son’s deed, citing the antisemitic conspiracy theories also espoused by him.

The 28-year-old Balliet is being tried for an antisemitic hate crime that includes  two counts of murder and 68 counts of attempted murder.

Two people were killed in the aftermath of Balliet’s failure to breach the synagogue’s heavy door: a female passerby who confronted him and a male customer at a small kebab restaurant that was attacked by Balliet after he sped away from the synagogue in his car.

Balliet was apprehended by police about an hour later, after he crashed his vehicle in a panicked attempt to flee from Halle.

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