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September 2, 2021 3:14 pm

‘Unbearable’: German President Bemoans Continued Threat of Antisemitism in Rosh Hashanah Message to Jewish Community

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German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks to the media next to his wife Elke Budenbender and Saxony-Anhalt State Premier Reiner Haseloff outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany October 10, 2019, after two people were killed in a shooting. Photo: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Germany’s president on Thursday bemoaned the fact that the gun attack on a synagogue on Yom Kippur two years ago had not led to a “turning point” in the fight against antisemitism in his country.

In a Rosh Hashanah message to the German Jewish community, the federal republic’s President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, candidly described the present situation as “unbearable.”

“I very much wish I could tell you that the attack in Halle had led to a turning point,” Steinmeier said, referring to the Oct. 9, 2019 armed attack on the synagogue in the central German city. The gunman, a lone neo-Nazi named Stephan Balliet, drove to the synagogue on Halle’s Humboldtstrasse just before noon, as more than 50 worshipers inside the sanctuary held services to mark Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Balliet was equipped with eight firearms, several explosive devices, a helmet and a protective vest for the attack.

After failing to break through the synagogue’s locked entrance despite exploding a grenade, a frustrated Balliet shot dead a 40-year-old female passerby. After additional violent attempts to force his way inside the building were similarly unsuccessful, Balliet sped away from the synagogue in his car.

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He then drove to his next target — a Muslim-owned kebab restaurant where four diners and an employee were present. Balliet shot dead a 20-year-old man at the restaurant, believing him to be a Muslim.

Unrepentant to the end, Balliet was sentenced to life imprisonment in December last year, following a dramatic four-month trial.

In his message for the Jewish New Year, Steinmeier said that two years after the Halle atrocity, “Jews in Germany continue to be ridiculed, belittled, violently attacked.” According to German federal government figures released in February, at least 2,275 crimes with an antisemitic background were logged over a 12-month period ending in January 2021. Some 55 of those outrages were acts of violence.

Steinmeier asserted that antisemitic conspiracy theories fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic were gaining momentum. “It pains me and makes me angry that antisemitic hatred and anti-Jewish agitation are showing themselves so openly — in Germany, of all places,” the president said.

Steinmeier also used his message to pay tribute to the German Jewish community for a presence in the country spanning nearly two millennia.

“There is so much to discover and rediscover,” the president said, referring to a series of cultural, religious and sporting events that will be held over the next twelve months to honor 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany.

“Jews have helped write and shape German history, have made our culture shine,” Steinmeier declared.

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